This post is part of a series on travel close to home. You can find more posts from this series on my page Getaways Near Me (or You)
We moved my SIL from Anchorage to Bend two years ago this month. That was quite a drive! But now that SIL is closer, we’ve had more opportunities to visit and find we like spending time in Bend, a city we hadn’t really been to before.
Bend is a small city in the high desert of Central Oregon, with a reputation as the access point for some of the best skiing in the Pacific Northwest. Up in the Cascade Mountains, you’ll find fantastic ski resorts like Mount Bachelor, Hoodoo Ski Area, and Willamette Pass, with tons of things to do in the winter months.
If winter sports are your thing, Bend has you covered. But what if, like my husband and me, you are less fond of snow and more into sunny warm days? Well, you are in luck! Over the past two years visiting Sis, we’ve found great indoor and outdoor activities for people of all ages to do in the summer. Here are our choices for the 15 best things to do in Bend, Oregon, in the summer.
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The Weather In Bend In The Summer Is Perfect For Outdoor Adventures
The climate in Bend during the summer months is perfect for all your outdoor adventures. Because the area is in the high desert, the typical daytime temperatures are in the mid-80⁰s F. But don’t count out a few higher-than-average days that may be closer to 100⁰ F.
Nights are usually much cooler, with temps ranging from 65 – 70⁰. So, if you are heading out for some evening outdoor entertainment, bring a lightweight sweater or jacket.
Most days are sunny and bright. Still, you may have afternoon thunderstorms with fantastic lightning shows racing across the desert in August. These storms cool down the temps in Bend and force the opportunity for folks to take advantage of indoor activities.
Looking For Things To Do In Bend In The Summer? Head Downtown!
Old Bend and Downtown sits east of the Deschutes River and west of Highway 97. The streets of Downtown Bend are lined with restaurants, unique shops, art galleries, and of course, restaurants.
Our first introduction to downtown was dinner at one of Bend’s oldest restaurants, Pine Tavern. We sat on the patio overlooking the Deschutes, enjoying the sunset and the food.
After dinner, you can stroll through the downtown, peeking into the many shops and art galleries. Or, if you want to keep the party going, stop at one of the local brew pubs for a pint or cocktail and maybe even some live music.
On Wednesdays from May – October, the Farmers Market is open from 2 – 6 pm on Brooks Alley. You can pick up some of Central Oregon’s freshest fruits and vegetables to munch on all week.
At the start of each month are the 1st Friday Art Walks. Local artists and galleries come together to display their works.
Are you planning a visit a bit later in the fall? Can’t make it to Munich for Oktoberfest? Well, Bend has you covered. With all the craft breweries in town, Downtown Bend even has its own Oktoberfest for you to enjoy.
You can find information on all these activities and more in the downtown area on Downtown Bend. Check it out!
The highest point in Bend is Pilot Butte. The Butte is an old cinder cone just east of downtown Bend. This high point on the desert guided wagon trains heading west to a safe crossing on the Deschutes river.
As part of the State of Oregon’s State Park System, this urban park with a summit of 480Ft includes numerous interpretive panels on the area’s geography, geology, and natural history.
Nowadays, you can hike, bike, or just drive to the top to take in the incredible 360⁰ view from the top of the Butte.
But don’t make your ascent on Pilot Butte on the 4th of July. This is where the municipality chooses to launch its grand show of fireworks for everyone to enjoy wherever they are in town.
The Old Mill District-The Center For Things To Do In Bend, Oregon In The Summer
Before tourism reigned supreme, timber production was the economic driver in Bend. With its location along the Deschutes River, Bend was a natural place to set up industrial mills to handle all the lumber harvested in the surrounding forests.
At the height of their production, the Brooks-Scanlon and Shevlin-Hixon were two of the largest pine sawmills in the world. The mills ran round the clock, employed over 2,000 workers each, and sent untold tons of timber off to market down the Deschutes.
In the 50s, logging slowed, and Shevlin-Hixon sold its interest to the Brooks-Scanlon Mill. All mill operations finally closed in 1983, and the area was entirely run down until its redevelopment in the early 1990s.
Today the Old Mill District is a vital neighborhood full of shops, dining, concert and theater venues, and a launching point for many activities along the Deschutes River.
The Hayden Homes Amphitheater will host entertainers (aks Les Schwab Amphitheater) like John Legend, Bonny Raitt, Wilco, and more this summer. Check the schedule to see if one of your favorite performers will be in Bend while you are!
If shopping is your thing, the Old Mill is the place to go. You will find everything here, from unique, one-of-a-kind boutiques, like Francesca’s, focused on trending female apparel, to Confluence Fly Shop, dedicated to fly fishing.
What is the one thing that is missing when shopping in the Old Mill District? Sales Tax. That’s right, Oregon has no sales tax. The price on the tag is the price you pay.
You can refresh your weary bones over ice cream, pasta, sushi, burgers, or wine when you’ve shopped till you drop. Whatever your palate is looking for, you will find an eatery in the Old Mill District to suit your taste. My husband’s fave is “Greg’s Grill.” Probably cause that’s his name.
Cool Off In And Around The Deschutes River
You heard that right; if you want to cool off and still find things to do in Bend In the summer, head over to the river. The Deschutes runs through the middle of town and offers all kinds of water activities.
Float The River
Have you ever wanted to just flow along with the river? Well, you can here in Bend. Folks do it every day. Assuming you’re on vacation and didn’t bring an Innertube to Bend, don’t worry; it’s easy to find a rental shop for the occasion.
Check out Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe in the Old Mill District. The folks here can also help arrange transportation from Drake Park (the exit point of your float) back to wherever you parked your car.
You have some options when taking a float on the Deschutes. Most people start at Riverbend Park (southwest of the Old Mill District) and end up at Drake Park (Downtown Bend). Floating this part of the river will take you about two hours.
But if you don’t want to spend that long floating down the river, you can start your float at either Farewell Bend or McKay Park, just below the Bend Whitewater park. The endpoint of your float is the same, Drake Park in Downtown Bend.
Generally speaking, your innertube does not count as a boat. But if you lash two or more floating devices together, they become boats. At this point, the coastguard PFD (personal floatation device) rule applies.
Whatever float you choose, it’s good to follow the guidelines set out by the Enjoy Protect Respect movement.
- Enjoy the river by being safe, wearing a life jacket, and correctly securing your gear to your floating device.
- Protect the river by hauling everything you brought in back out again. And lastly,
- Respect the river by knowing the approved access point and only using these for entering and exiting.
Here are a couple of tips if you go floating or choose surfing/kayaking below:
And wear water shoes, not flip-flops, you don’t want to lose your shoes in the river!
Surf The River And Kayak Some Whitewater
McKay Park is located on the west side of the Deschutes across from the Old Mill District. This is where you gain access to Bend Whitewater Park. This part of the river has three distinct channels.
- The Fish Ladder is a fantastic option for adding a bit of “rapids” adventure to your float.
- The Whitewater Channel is for all you kayakers and surfers looking to up your game. This channel has waves created by 26 underwater pneumatic bladders making whitewater waves in real-time for your recreational pleasure.
- This same channel also produces some great waves for surfing. You won’t get a long ride like at Bondi or Kiahuna Beach. But where else have you found where you can surf on a river?
- The last channel on this part of the river is the Habitat Channel. The area protects the river and provides a habitat for the local migratory wildlife.
Bike The River
Mountain biking is all the rage these days, and there are some fantastic trails around Bend. One of the most accessible trails is the Deschutes River Trail. This trail leads you along the river for over 12 miles through forests, canyons, and right through the heart of Bend.
Outside of town, the River Trail can be pretty challenging. Mainly covering unpaved roads and having some reasonable ascents to cover. In Bend, the River Trail is a paved path with gentle elevation changes.
But if you prefer to bike on a roadway with a little less challenge, check out the Deschutes River Trail – Old Mill Reach.
You can hop on the trail on either side of the river and bike, walk, jog, or run along the river. The course is a loop here in town. You can hop on the river trail at most of the waterfront parks.
For example, start at Miller’s Landing Park on the northeast side, ride south, and cross west over the river at the end of Farewell Bend Park. From here, head north/northeast up to the Bend White Water Park, where you can cross back over to the east side and your starting point.
This is a gentle 3-mile ride you can do in a surrey with the whole family (rentals are available in the Old Mill District). You can even bring your dog (on a leash, of course).
Enjoy Some Brews On The Bend Ale Trail
Bend is up and coming on the charts for its contributors to the craft beer scene. Deschutes Brewery -Bend Public House, Bend Brewing Company, Silvermoon Brewing, and Boneyard Beer Pub are just a few local brewers you can sample on the Bend Ale Trail.
What is the Ale Trail? Well, first, you need to get your “Passport.” You can get your passport by stopping by any 18 participating establishments or the Bend Visitors Center. You can print a copy at Visit Bend OnLine. And yes, there is even an app for the Bend Ale Trail: check out the app store or google play and download yours before heading out.
Next, all you need to do is visit the breweries and show them some love. Each time you stop by one of the shops, their team will stamp your passport. Get 10 stamps, and you win a prize; get all 18, and there’s an even better prize.
A map comes with your passport along with the rules of the trail. You can follow the course any time of the year (and I favor Bend in summer), but Bend has dedicated November as Bend Ale Trail Month.
During the month there are special prizes just for visiting and contest for even more rewards. Share your visit on Instagram with the #bendaletrailmonth. You may be randomly selected to win gift cards, HydroFlasks, and more.
While all the breweries are fantastic, my SIL has recently settled on Boneyard as her favorite. Stop by and have a pint. We sampled the Boneyard RPM, Crooked Pils, and the Incredible Pulp when we stopped by.
What’s New On The Bend Food Scene?
We’ve already talked about Pine Tavern and Greg’s grill as fun and tasty places to dine. This last time we were in Bend, we only had one meal out (spent most of the time at sis’s house), but it was great! I got to choose and picked Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails Downtown. Wow! Creative cocktails (I had a Vieux Carre) and terrific entrees.
Without a doubt, cupcakes are all the rage nowadays for a party. For SIL’s mom’s 90th Birthday last year, we decided to get on the bandwagon. After reading all the reviews, we chose to get our cupcakes at Ida’s Cupcake Café. What a fantastic choice! Ida’s has unique and original flavors; you can mix and match your dozen. They even threw in a cute 90th B-Day decoration and some “confetti.”
Make sure you order in advance, as there may be no cupcakes left over for casual walk-ins.
Food Trucks Are Hot Right Now, And The Trend Is On Point In Bend
The Lot on the west side of the Deschutes across from Drake Park took the Food Truck trend and made a home for it to live. Here you will find a taproom serving beer, cider, kombucha, hard seltzer, and wine, up to five food trucks to dine from, and a covered open-air seating area to dine in.
On the east side of Bend, near Sil’s house, is OnTap Bend. Again following the craft beer trend OnTap Bend offers an indoor tap house and an outdoor beer garden. You are bound to find good food with up to six food trucks on-site.
The Lot and OnTap Bend are open daily from 11 am – 9:00 pm and offer live music and entertainment.
Visit Newberry National Volcanic Monument
A short drive about eight miles south of Bend on Highway 97 is the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Created in November 1990, the Monument covers over 54,000 acres of lakes, lave flows, and excellent geologic features inside the boundaries of Deschutes National Forest.
The highest point in the Monument is Paulina Peak at 7,985 ft. From here, you have unobstructed views of the Cascades, Newberry Caldera, and the high desert of Central Oregon and beyond.
There are numerous cinder cones and vents (maybe as many as 400 in the park). And it’s believed that the caldera sits over a magma body that is only two to five kilometers deep. Yes, Newberry is still seismically and geothermally active.
LavaLands Visitors Center
Start your visit to Newberry at the Lava Lands Visitor Center. This interpretive center helps orient visitors to the park using a 3D topographic map. Also, exhibitions covering the area’s geologic and cultural history are at the visitor center.
In peak season, mid-June through Labor Day, a shuttle runs from the visitor center to the summit of Lava Butte. I suggest you take the shuttle if you want to see the summit. The only other way to access Lava Butte’s summit is to walk or bike: no private motor vehicles are allowed.
The Monument is free to visit, but there is a parking fee of $5 per vehicle per day. If you like us, have your handy dandy “America The Beautiful Pass,” and your parking is free. You will also get in free at Lava River Caves (see below) and hundreds of other National Parks nationwide.
Lava River Cave Interpretive Site
Walking down a mile-long lava tube on a hot summer day can be a unique way to cool off. At the Lava River Cave Interpretive Site, you can do just that. The temperature in the cave stays around 42F year-round.
This cave is the longest lava cave in Oregon and was one of the first lava tubes discovered. It is an easy walk, but be mindful that at the start, you will descend 55 stairs that you will have to ascend on your way out.
Once you leave the entrance to the cave, it’s pretty dark (no electric lights), and the Park recommends that visitors each bring two light sources.
From experience, I can tell you that the flashlight on your phone will not be sufficient. So, if you don’t already keep a strong flashlight in your car, I recommend you pick up one of these. Strong light output and rechargeable through your cars USB outlet.
Also, you should wear closed-toed shoes with good traction soles and bring a lightweight jacket; as mentioned before, it’s cool in the cave.
A couple of caveats about visiting the Lava River Cave.
- Bats live in the cave. If you have an aversion to bats, this may not be the place for you.
- Because of the bats, you cannot wear or bring anything into the cave that you may have used in any other cave or mine. There is a disease called White-nose syndrome caused by a fungus. You may pick up the fungus on your gear, and it is highly transmissible and deadly to bats
High Desert Museum
Say you’re not into bats but still want to learn more about the high desert and its wildlife, the High Desert Museum is the place to go. Located between Newberry and Bend, the museum is an interactive place full of wildlife, cultural exhibitions, and local art.
The permanent exhibits at the High Desert Museum include:
- The Desertarium, where you can see some of the desert lizards, snakes, frogs, and salamanders from behind the safety of glass.
- The Spirit of the West exhibit displays a short walk-through time. Starting with a Northern Paiute shelter and following through alongside an Oregon Trail wagon to a hard rock mine and into the boomtown of Silver City.
- Outside you are invited to visit the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center, where you can get close to owls, hawks, golden eagles, falcons, and more.
Want to Get Out of Bend? Take a Road Trip On The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
We first talked about scenic byways when writing about Highway 101 in California. If you get a chance to drive one of these highways, take it. The scenery, whether mountains or coastlines, is breathtaking.
According to our friends at Wikipedia – A National Scenic Byway is a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation as having one or more of six “intrinsic qualities.” These qualities are: archeological, cultural, historical, natural, recreational, and scenic.
This program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-traveled roads and promote tourism and economic development.
The most scenic byways are designated All-American Roads and must meet two of the six qualities. Getting this designation means the highway has features that do not exist elsewhere in the United States and are unique and vital enough to be tourist destinations by themselves.
As of January 21, 2021, 184 National Scenic Byways are located in 48 states (all except Hawaii and Texas).
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway starts on Century Drive and winds through 66 miles of high mountain peaks and lakefront vistas. The drive will take about 3-5 hours to complete, with a few stops to look around.
This is not a circle or loop; the Cascade Lakes Highways ends at OR-58 near Crescent and Odell Lakes.
The byway offers stunning mountain views, including Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top, South Sister, and more. Take a picnic lunch and stop at one of 14 alpine lakes to enjoy abundant recreation, history, and wildlife.
Fantastic opportunities to fly-fish, swim, and hike are all along the byway. You can even stop and see the headwaters of the Deschutes River.
How To Get To Bend Oregon
Flying Into Bend, Oregon
The Redmond Municipal Airport services Bend and Central Oregon. Redmond is located north on Highway 97, about 17 miles from Bend. Rental cars are available at the airport, and the drive is a quick 30 minutes or less.
Depending on where you are flying, you can choose from many carriers like Alaska, United, Delta, and the new Avelo Airlines.
Alaska is great for west coast locations like Seattle and Los Angeles. American and United can be more efficient if coming from Phoenix or Denver.
Flight time from Los Angeles runs about 2 hours. From most other west coast cities, it takes just over an hour.
Driving To Bend, Oregon, From Western Cities
Rather drive than fly? No worries, Bend is an easy drive from many western cities. We drive from the San Francisco Bay Area to Bend, usually stopping overnight along the way. But a stop isn’t necessary; the drive is only about eight hours long, even with bio-breaks.
From Seattle, head south on I-5 to Portland, then over to US 26, and turn to the south just past Mount Hood, where you finally merge onto US 97. All in, with no crazy traffic in Seattle or Portland, you can do this route in about six hours.
You’ll also find easy driving routes from places like Boise, Coeur d” Ailene, and Spokane.
Where To Stay In Bend
There are many lovely places to stay in Bend, from B&B’s to full-on resort hotels. I have stayed at the three hotels below and received fantastic service at each.
Hilton Garden Inn – Old Mill District – This is one of the first places we stayed when we first started visiting Bend. Its location in the Old Mill District is very convenient for all the action.
If you want to be within walking distance of Downtown Bend, the DoubleTree is a great choice.
Recently, we’ve found it more convenient to stay closer to SIL’s house, and she lives on the east side. Home2Suites is new and offers all the amenities while being close to the family.
There Are So Many Things To Do In Bend, Oregon, In The Summer. What Will You Chose?
Our list here is just a start of the many things you can do in Bend, Oregon, in the Summer. Head out there and create your own unique experience in the Bend Area. Then come back here and let us know what you did!