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With throngs of visitors soaking up the high-desert sun in the summer and snow lovers making mountain-centered trips in the winter, Bend is one of Central Oregon’s most popular destinations. But avid hikers know that fall is one of the best times to plan a Bend getaway. In autumn you have the chance to hit your favorite trails with cooler weather, fewer crowds and a color explosion amidst the trees. After a day on the trail, there are endless places to sample local chefs’ takes on the fresh fall harvest. Here are some of the best Bend-area trails to explore this fall — and places you should refuel afterward, many of which are along the new High Desert Food Trail.
Remember when you’re visiting these trails to make sure that you’ve taken safety into consideration and that you’re leaving each natural attraction as pristine as you found it for the next group. For more travel tips and inspiration, check out VisitBend.com.
Cliff Views and Festive Food
Located just northwest of Bend, Riley Ranch Nature Reserve spans 184 acres, but arguably its most stunning feature is its 30 acres of rimrock cliffs. The two trails, both under 2 miles long, offer glimpses of migratory birds, wildlife and native plants, including juniper and pine forests. The region is also home to unique lava flows and rocky canyons. After the immersive experience, stop in at The Bite in Tumalo, which boasts five food carts, beer on tap and a festive vibe. The locally owned eatery regularly hosts live music, so check out their schedule to pair your meal with some great local tunes.
Aspen Trees and Greek Eats
Celebrating 100 years in 2021, Bend’s Shevlin Park has a ton of features worth celebrating. You can fish along Tumalo Creek and hike along the 6-mile loop around Fremont Meadow, with views of the aspen trees that light up yellow in the fall. After walking or biking the trails, tuck in at The Lot Food Carts and Taproom, home to a variety of food carts. This spot includes the not-to-be-missed gyros at Greek Street, which has been serving up family recipes in Bend for more than 20 years.
River Trail and Island Fare
You can’t visit Bend without catching a glimpse of the Deschutes River, which runs through the heart of downtown. The Deschutes River Trail stretches 12 miles along the river, meandering through some of the best landscape Central Oregon has to offer, including ponderosa forests and basalt rimrock. There are five sections of the trail, with one of the most accessible by the Old Mill District, making it a breeze to have a meal at one of its many fantastic eateries. Check out the tropical cocktails and Asian-fusion tapas at tiki lounge Rapa Nui.
Mountain Biking and South American Sausages
Local mountain bikers have long loved Bend’s Phil’s Trail, the 12.4-mile out-and-back trail network southeast of Bend. While hikers and runners are welcome, its mountain biking features are the primary draw and make it one of the most popular trail systems in the Pacific Northwest. On your way back into town, stop in for a bite at Bangers & Brews, a family-run restaurant that specializes in gourmet sausages with Argentinian flair.
Lava Tubes and Tasty Sandos
Located southeast of Bend in the Deschutes National Forest, Horse Butte Loop is a 9.9-mile trail featuring Central Oregon’s distinctive lava tubes. Sitting on the northern flank of the Newberry Volcano, the moderate path — used by both hikers and mountain bikers — passes several underground lava passageways. Be friendly on the trail and respect all trail users. Back in Bend, sink your teeth into the sandwiches, salads and seasonal favorites — including homemade pickles and other fermentations — on the eclectic menu at Nosh Street Food.
Bird Watching and Delicious Dumplings
Straddling the Deschutes River, Sawyer Park is home to trails that are popular with bikers and walkers, but especially those who are interested in birds. More than 140 species of birds have been spotted in the park, including bald eagles, ruby-crowned kinglets, lesser goldfinches and violet-green swallows. Don’t forget your binoculars and a copy of the Oregon Cascades Birding Trail Guide, with maps and other detailed info. You can also stop by the Visit Bend Welcome Center for a free copy of the Old Mill District and Deschutes River Corridor Checklist. After you’ve had your fill of wildlife viewing, head over to Dump City Dumplings, which serves up both classic and creative dumplings alongside a well-curated craft-beer and cocktail menu.
Mountain Views and Middle Eastern Eats
Created by an extinct volcano, Pilot Butte is a lava-dome butte that rises to an elevation of 500 feet, giving it one of the best views of Bend and nearby mountain peaks. That means that spending time on one of three trails at Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint — especially on a clear day — is bound to be a memorable experience. After you’ve soaked up the scenery, head over to Joolz, a Middle Eastern restaurant that uses locally sourced ingredients and family recipes for its hummus, baba ghanouj, lebneh, falafel and other classic dishes with modern flair.