Framed by rolling farmlands, sunny gorges and trout-filled waters, Madras and the surrounding steppes and canyons are Central Oregon’s ticket to family fun. From Lake Billy Chinook to the awesome airplanes that arrive in August for one of Oregon’s best air shows, the region and the city of 7,500 people play host to no shortage of adventures and attractions. Here’s how to help the family wrap up another memorable summer.
Hiking, Boating and Stargazing at Cove Palisades
Winding your way down from the high-desert rim into the yawning chasm of Lake Billy Chinook near the town of Culver, it’s impossible not to be giddy. The lake’s twinkling cobalt waters pool under towering cliffs to form one of nature’s best interpretations of a massive Crayola accident, with swirls of deep blues, blacks and greens. You have more than 70 miles of shoreline here, and a perfect way to access the best of it sits at The Cove Palisades State Park, a 4,402-acre wonderland where the Deschutes, Metolius and Crooked rivers collide.
You’ll find two campgrounds here offering more than 100 tent and RV sites that make a great base camp for exploring the area. Take the family on 10 miles of hiking trails. For views that will drain your camera battery, set off on the Tam-a-láu Trail, which climbs about 600 vertical feet over the water. At the top you’ll get spectacular views of the Cascades and the lake below.
Getting on that water is easy too. The Cove Palisades Resort & Marina offers houseboats, ski boats, pontoon boats, paddleboards, floating islands and more, all for rent. Pack a towel and a fishing rod before kicking back under a blast of stars.
Crazy-Cool Planes at an Oregon Air Show
Back in the 1970s, aviators from near and far would fly out to a local ranch for a yearly get-together, an event that helped Madras eventually secure a proper airport. Today these gatherings have morphed into the Airshow of the Cascades, a two-day event that includes everything from Top Gun-style F-18s to a skydiving exhibition by the Army’s most elite parachuting team, the Golden Knights.
The 2022 show kicks off on August 26 with helicopter rides and glider flights. The Air Force’s Warthog — with its unforgettable looks and flying pattern — will be there, and visitors get access to the Erickson Aircraft Collection, admission to which is included in the ticket price. Stick around in the evening for live music, fireworks, and fish and chips. For an extra fee, you can camp on the grounds to be there bright and early on Day Two.
Play on the Trail, on the Water or in the Sky
Mountain bikers know that the open, rolling sagebrush steppes that press into Madras from the east make for fun riding at the Madras East Hills network, a 12-mile web of flowy single-track. Get a cinnamon roll at Eagle Bakery (open Fridays and Saturdays), then spend the morning flying around berms and over whoops on Strong Whiskey, or take it easy on Sunset Ridge Loop.
If the kids want air, take them to the Madras Bike & Skate Park and let them rip around the concrete bowls, tabletops and rails. For an even bigger thrill, take the leap with Central Oregon Bungee Adventures off the spectacularly airy Peter Skene Ogden Bridge, home to the tallest commercial bungee jump in North America. That’s 250 feet (gulp!). Want to try your hand at skydiving? Skydive Awesome! will help you get the best views of the Cascades with a tandem leap out of a plane.
When you’re done, cool off at the Madras Aquatic Center (including a 100-foot slide) or play under the spouts, tipping buckets and misters at Sahalee Park. Wrap up the best day of summer at Madras Brewing with street tacos and a Billy Chinook Mexican stout.
Indigenous Culture and Lavender Fields
It’s a gorgeous 15-mile drive north of Madras to Warm Springs, where a trip to The Museum at Warm Springs is an absolute must. The 25,000-square-foot attraction houses an impressive array of artifacts, and experts offer classes on making Native American breastplates, dresses and leggings. Don’t miss the traveling exhibit “Faces From the Land: A Photographic Journey Through Native America by Ben and Linda Marra,” which documents North American powwow dancers and runs until September 24, 2022.
For lunch swing by the Twisted Teepee, a nonprofit food cart and business accelerator program designed to help train Warm Springs’ future entrepreneurs. Try local dishes like luckame’n — a chowder-style stew that might be flavored with corned beef or salmon — with tasty fry bread.
Farming has been a part of Madras since the town was first drawn up in 1902. Today one of the most beautiful blooms flourishes all summer long at Cascade Lavender, a small family farm where the Pearson family grows 100 types of these aromatic flowers. In August you can head out for U-pick sessions, or just watch as workers harvest and distill the tips down into fragrant and useful essential oils.