Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Off the Beaten Path Hikes with Stunning Views
Tucked away in Central Oregon's high desert lies the vibrant town of Bend, renowned for its access to pristine wilderness. While tourists flock to well-known hikes like Tumalo Falls and Pilot Butte, locals know that some of the most breathtaking trails lie off the beaten path.
One such hike is the Tam McArthur Rim Loop, a 6-mile trek with panoramic views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains. The trail starts in the ponderosa pine forest but eventually breaks out above the trees, rewarding hikers with an unobstructed vista of the Three Sisters peaks, Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, and the whole of the Deschutes National Forest sprawling below. Early risers can catch a fiery sunrise from the exposed ridge line.
For those seeking solitude, the Brush Creek Trail is a peaceful alternative to crowded routes. This peaceful path follows a winding creek through aspen groves dappled with wildflowers in spring and summer. Listen for the rush of water over mossy boulders and keep an eye out for deer drinking from the stream. After about 3 miles, the dense forest opens up to reveal the snow-capped tip of South Sister.
Hardy hikers should tackle the strenuous Green Lakes Trail, climbing nearly 1,000 feet over 3 miles to reach the Emerald Lakes Basin. This string of aquamarine pools dot a grassy alpine meadow beneath the watchful gaze of the South Sister. Early summer still sees some lingering snow banks while July brings an explosion of wildflowers. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the tranquil lakeshore.
For those with 4WD vehicles, the winding, bumpy road to Green Lakes provides access to even more secluded hikes like Wasco Lake and Shale Lake. At Wasco Lake, wander through fields of lava rock to find a perfectly placid blue pool. Shale Lake's stark beauty derives from its location on the edge of the McKenzie Pass lava fields.
What else is in this post?
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Off the Beaten Path Hikes with Stunning Views
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Cool Off at These Secluded Swimming Holes
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Local Favorites for Coffee, Beer, and Live Music
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Adventures on Two Wheels: Cycling and Mountain Biking Trails
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Stargazing Spots to Escape the City Lights
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Art Galleries and Murals Around Town
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Best Places for Sunset Views of the Cascades
- Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Day Trips to Waterfalls, Hot Springs, and Ghost Towns
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Cool Off at These Secluded Swimming Holes
After working up a sweat on Bend's scenic trails, nothing beats taking a refreshing dip in a cool mountain pond. While many flock to crowded swimming holes at the Deschutes River, Tumalo Creek, and Lava Lake, those in the know escape the masses by seeking out Bend's hidden swimming gems.
Tucked away in the Deschutes National Forest, Proxy Falls beckons swimmers with its turquoise cascading pools perfect for wading on a hot day. The upper pools see less traffic, so head up the trail past Lower Proxy Falls to claim your own private paradise. Don't forget water shoes - the slippery rocks can be treacherous! Downstream, thrill-seekers can take the plunge from Lower Proxy's 10-foot ledge, just beware the freezing meltwater.
For warmer water and cliff jumping thrills, head to Quinn Falls near Sisters. Here, a 30-foot plunge and rope swing tempt the daring above jewel-toned pools along Tumalo Creek. Check online for road closures before heading out, asforest service gates on Forest Road 610 are only open seasonally.
At the remote Head of the Metolius, brave swimmers can take an exhilarating dip in the powerful outflow where the icy Metolius Springs burst forth from an underground cavern. Despite the chilly temps, the otherworldly blue-green waters beckon the adventurous. Locals often float downriver back to Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery for a more leisurely swim.
Nearby, Lake Creek Falls impounds a punchbowl swimming hole that stays warmer than the Metolius. Find the obscure turnoff on Forest Road 14 for 0.3 miles of bumpy dirt road leading to a secluded 10-foot waterfall pouring into a giant granite bowl. Wade in gingerly - there's no shallow end here!
For a quick dip after tackling the challenging Green Lakes Trail, hikers can take a break in the icy, turquoise waters of Moraine Lake. Fed by snowmelt from the South Sister glacier, the bracing alpine waters will shock you into alertness before the uphill return trek! Look for the unmarked spur trail to the lake 0.3 miles from the first Green Lake junction.
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Local Favorites for Coffee, Beer, and Live Music
After adventuring in the great outdoors, Bend residents know where to go to unwind with locally-crafted beverages and live tunes. In this laidback mountain town, quality reigns supreme when it comes to coffee, beer, cider, and music. Lucky visitors get to sample the best.
At the original Downtown Bend location of Backporch Coffee Roasters, you can watch the roasting process first-hand before sampling their Direct Trade organic beans. The cheerful baristas will gladly let you try any of their medium roasts before deciding. Don't miss the specialty espresso drinks like the Cowboy Cappuccino with housemade vanilla and honey.
Over on Bond Street, the expert team at Thump whips up flawless lattes featuring unique flavor combinations and stunning latte art. Try the Spanish Lavender Mocha for a floral twist or grab a Nutella Sea Salt Cold Foam as a midday treat. Thump stays open late to fuel your night out.
At Boneyard Beer Taproom, you can sip award-winning craft brews like the refreshing Revive Grapefruit IPA or their aromatic Hop-A-Wheelie Pacific IPA. Don't miss special small-batch releases exclusive to the pub. And bring your pooch to hang on the pet-friendly patio.
For inventive ciders and a laidback scene, find Craft Kitchen and Brewery occupying a converted bungalow on NW Galveston Ave. Their semi-sweet Common Press cider makes the perfect summer sipper. Pull up a chair on the sprawling lawn or snag a seat at the cozy bar to watch sports.
Music lovers shouldn't miss a show at Volcanic Theatre Pub, where regional and touring folk, funk and jam bands take the stage nearly every night. The intimate log-cabin venue offers theater-style seating, hearty pub fare and 16 craft beers on tap from Oregon mainstays like pFriem and GoodLife.
Or for live music with a side of axe-throwing, stop by The Pine Tavern's indoor and outdoor stages hosting acoustic acts and DJs spinning EDM. Challenge your friends to a round of axes and darts or get competitive over a game of pool at Bend's oldest tavern.
At the laidback Silver Moon Brewing, you can catch local singer-songwriters while sipping their signature beers like the refreshing Ranchstyle Lager. Enjoy good pub grub on the dog-friendly deck. Don't miss open mic Tuesdays when aspiring musicians try out new material.
For a dose of performing arts, tickets at the Cascades Theater in the Old Mill District run under $20. Enjoy musical theater, funny improv comedy by The Brody Theater, and concerts by bands passing through Bend.
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Adventures on Two Wheels: Cycling and Mountain Biking Trails
With over 400 miles of singletrack and hundreds more miles of paved pathways, Bend is a mecca for cycling enthusiasts. Road cyclists flock to the town to tackle famous climbs like the paved Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, while mountain bikers come from around the world to ride trails like Phil's Trail near Phil's Trailhead.
For many, biking is the best way to experience Bend's natural splendor up close. Riders can feel the rush of speeding down Singletrack Trails like Funner at Phil's or Tiddlywinks at the Deschutes River Trail, with the scent of pine and sagebrush enveloping them. Mountain bikers get their adrenaline pumping while trailing through the Deschutes' lava flows and high desert terrain. Road cyclists grind up challenging hills like the scenic McKenzie Pass for panoramic vistas of volcanoes dotting the horizon at the summit.
Local mountain biking guide Evan raves, "Bend has the most diverse, high quality singletrack trails in Oregon with terrain for every skill level. Beginners love the gentle contours and smooth dirt of trails like Swampy Lakes in the Deschutes National Forest. At the Phil's Trail complex, intermediate riders improve skills on flowy trails like Badlands that curve through aspens and lava fields. Experts take on technical rock gardens and jumps at the Marvin's Garden trails just 15 minutes outside town."
For cyclists burned out after a ride, Bend also offers a thriving craft beer and coffee scene to refuel. Pedal Bend owner Chris suggests, "Post-ride, swing by GoodLife Brewing for a Huntington Hop cider and wood-fired pizza on the dog-friendly patio. Or hit up Backporch Coffee Roasters downtown for fresh micro-batch roasted beans. Grab a Chemex pour-over and chill in their lounge with your bike."
With a sunny, dry climate, Bend offers ideal weather for year-round cycling. But late summer through fall is peak season. Evan says, "Fall is my favorite time, with cool crisp mornings but still sunny midday. The larch and aspens turn vibrant yellow and the trails are less dusty. For road cyclists, the shoulder season also means less traffic when tackling the scenic mountain passes."
As Chris raves, "Bend perfectly combines award-winning breweries, cute coffee shops, and incredible singletrack. Where else can you ride through old growth forests to a postcard-worthy vista, then end the day relaxing fireside with a craft IPA in hand? Bend brings together all my favorite things."
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Stargazing Spots to Escape the City Lights
Far from the light pollution of big cities, Bend's high desert location provides some of the best stargazing opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. While vacationers love soaking in dramatic sunsets over the Cascades, those in the know chase nightfall to experience Bend's equally stunning starry skies.
As avid astrotourist Evan gushes, "On a moonless night, Bend's dark skies reveal celestial wonders not visible in most urban areas. With zero light pollution, the Milky Way gleams brightly overhead. From the high desert, you can even spot the Andromeda Galaxy over 2 million lightyears away with the naked eye on a clear night!"
For optimal stargazing, embark on one of Bend's dusk astronomy tours to catch the transition from sunset to night sky. Local astronomer Chris suggests, "I love watching the sun dip behind the mountains as the vivid reds and oranges give way to twilight's pastels before darkness falls. Then the show really begins as pinpricks of starlight appear in the deepening blue. It's magical."
Chris revels, "I'll never forget the gasps from a family when Saturn's rings first came into focus through my telescope lens. Or the wonder as a little girl spotted the Pleiades Cluster - she nicknamed it the 'Seven Sisters.' Guiding newcomers to enjoy Bend's celestial show is incredibly rewarding."
Nearby Smith Rock State Park offers ideal stargazing terrain with wide open vistas. Head to Misery Ridge Trail at dusk to watch the sky transform as the last light fades over the Crooked River. Set up a telescope at the viewpoint or recline on a boulder with a blanket to trace constellations emerging overhead.
For stellar stargazing sans hike, drive up Skyliners Road off Century Drive past Mount Bachelor. Pull off at one of the turnouts dotting this windy gravel road through the Deschutes National Forest. At nearly 7,000 feet elevation, the air is crisp and clear for optimal viewing. Dress warmly as temperatures plummet after dark.
A moonless night reveals a dazzling tapestry in Bend's dark sky. Evan effuses, "I'll never forget seeing the Milky Way strewn overhead like a river of stars flowing from horizon to horizon. And the meteors streaking through the inky blackness during August's Perseid shower. Bend's night sky is mesmerizing."
Less experienced stargazers can get a crash course during Full Moon Stargazing events at Sunriver Nature Center. Peer through high powered telescopes at celestial oddities explained by knowledgeable instructors. Cosmic highlights include nebulas, star clusters, planets, and even galaxies beyond the Milky Way.
Sunriver also offers astronomy-themed lodging perfect for dedicated skywatchers. Book a stay at the Galileo Room in the astronomy-themed Copernicus Lodge to drift off beneath a ceiling studded with fiber optic stars. The deck boasts telescopes for scanning the heavens after nightfall.
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Art Galleries and Murals Around Town
Beyond exploring Bend's natural splendor, a thriving arts scene awaits discovery in this vibrant mountain town. Venture into the walkable downtown to discover acclaimed art galleries and stunning outdoor murals capturing Central Oregon's singular beauty.
At the Atelier 6000 cooperative in the Old Mill District, you'll find a rotating showcase of works by over 60 local artists across mediums including painting, photography, jewelry, ceramics, glasswork and sculpture. Wander through curated exhibits displaying impressive landscapes of recognizable Oregon vistas, alongside still lifes, abstracts and portraits interpreting the region through an artistic lens. Beyond admiring the creations of painters like landscape artist Toni Harrison, you can also take a workshop to hone your creative pursuits.
Over at Mockingbird Gallery along Bond Street, art aficionados can browse two floors of contemporary fine art by both local and nationally acclaimed artists. Co-owner Lisa Clopton-Zagorin shares, "We exhibit challenging, thought-provoking work across all media meant to engage the viewer and encourage dialogue." Be sure to climb to the mezzanine to admire dramatic abstracts and impressionist scenics up close in the intimate viewing room.
For those intrigued by Bend's multicultural history, stop by the Old Mill District for a self-guided walking tour of dramatic larger-than-life murals depicting the logging and Native American roots of this former sawmill town. Grab a map inside the Box Factory building to embark on your exploration before stopping into the retail shops and restaurants inhabiting these revitalized industrial spaces.
The sprawling "History of Bend" mural greets visitors entering the district with vibrant scenes of wagon trains, Native American summer camps, and pioneers timbering the surrounding forests. Around the corner be sure to admire the striking portrait of a Bend lumberjack in action hand-painted by local artist Joe Klingler.
No mural tour is complete without viewing the stunning vista of the Cascade Mountains' North Sister peak in simulateous sunset and moonrise captured by artist Michelangelo Lovelace on a Box Factory exterior wall. Meander along the Deschutes River walkway to continue uncovering treasured murals around every turn.
Beyond the Old Mill District, Bend's Westside boasts colorful street art like the playful #BendLife mural on Oregon Avenue celebrating this outdoor mecca. And the new Casa de Tamales building hosts a thought-provoking portrait honoring immigrant stories. Scattered across alleyways, parking garages, and street corners, over 50 vibrant murals await exploration.
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Best Places for Sunset Views of the Cascades
After a day filled with adventure, few things feel more rewarding than watching the sun sink below the rugged horizon of the Cascade Mountains surrounding Bend. As dusky hues paint jagged volcanic peaks in shades of crimson and amber, you'll understand why locals make chasing the ephemeral sunset an essential daily ritual.
For photography enthusiast Micah, "There's nothing quite like arriving at a lookout point and seeing the fading light splash the mountainsides in vivid color. That magical 30-minute window of radiance is different every night. Some sunsets light up the undersides of clouds in bright pink and orange pastels while others silhouette the evergreens in inky black."
He suggests heading to Pilot Butte State Park to ascend the cinder cone's modest summit. From here, unobstructed views extend from the Sisters peaks to Broken Top and Mount Bachelor. Watch the changing light shift across this panoramic scene from the comfort of a bench or whilst strolling along the level gravel path encircling the butte. Just arrive early to snag a parking spot.
For sunset chasing without the crowds, point your car west on Century Drive towards Mount Bachelor. Pull off at one of the many paved turnouts along this scenic route to take in the sun sinking behind the Three Sisters' jagged forms, illuminating a glowing palette from golden hour to vibrant dusk.
In the Deschutes River woods, the Old Mill District's riverside boardwalk offers front row seats to sunsets reflecting off the water. Stroll across the footbridges watching the currents shift from crystalline blue to burnished copper under the dimming light. Ducks paddling along the banks and flickering fire pits enhance the laidback ambience.
A 10-minute drive east along the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway leads to Sparks Lake where vivid sunsets paint the edges of South Sister in pink hues. From a picnic table at the campground, watch the changing colors shift across the rippling lake surface as the light fades. Keep an eye out for resident osprey diving for fish in the fading rays of the setting sun.
Hidden Gems of Bend: Tips from Oregonians on Exploring This Outdoorsy Town - Day Trips to Waterfalls, Hot Springs, and Ghost Towns
Beyond Bend's city limits, a wealth of natural wonders and historical oddities beckon discovery by day trippers. From thundering waterfalls to remote hot springs to Old West ghost towns, Central Oregon offers no shortage of destinations for memorable road trips under an hour's drive from town.
Avid waterfall chaser Wendy raves, "Tumalo Falls is an absolute must-see just 15 minutes from Bend. I love hiking the easy paved trail through towering Douglas firs to reach the overlook. There's something mesmerizing about watching the glacial meltwaters spill nearly 100 feet over mossy basalt cliffs into a forested canyon."
The trailhead accessed from Bridge Creek Road provides ample parking, making Tumalo a convenient option for families. Adrenaline junkies can get their heart racing by scrambling down to the plunge pool at the base of the falls.
At 80-foot Proxy Falls, visitors willing to tackle a steep mile-long trail are rewarded with a refreshing mist as crystalline cascades cut through verdant moss walls in the Deschutes National Forest. Arrive early as the cramped parking area fills up.
For remote hot spring soaks under wide open skies, Wendy suggests a 4WD adventure to Paulina Lake. She says, "I love watching clouds drift across the blue expanse while immersed in the warm, mineral-rich waters. Just be respectful of the fragile ecosystem." Obtain a recreation permit for day use in advance to minimize your impact.
Soak in solitude surrounded only by the sounds of nature at White River Falls hot springs. Reach the rustic rock pools via a 3-mile hike through ponderosas northeast of Willamette Pass.
History buff Rob relishes exploring remnants of Oregon's early settlements along the Santiam Wagon Road. He says, "Visiting these decaying structures transports me back to frontier-era Oregon. I especially love hiking through the abandoned cabins at Tumalo's ghost town of Shonly, hidden in the Deschutes Forest."
For a luxurious overnight hot spring experience, book one of the geothermal cave pools at Summer Lake Hot Springs Lodge, under an hour's drive from Bend. After sunset, stargaze from the privacy of your own personal spring tucked into the hillside.