You may have seen those Instagram-celebrated spots for rock-climbing and river rafting, the famous craft breweries and chef-driven restaurants that put Bend on the foodie map. But did you know about the free summer concerts, or the fact that Bend is within day-tripping distance of Crater Lake, the Pacific Crest Trail and other see-it-to-believe-it geologic phenomenon? The cultural and creative heart of Central Oregon, Bend beckons with an abundance of fantastic, and sometimes unexpected, diversions. Here are some we especially love.
1. Find your favorite outdoor music spot
There are lots of opportunities for catch amazing shows throughout the year, but summer is all about the outdoors. The Les Schwab Amphitheater near the bustling Old Mill District hosts its annual Concert Series June through early September and also hosts the Bend Brewfest in mid-August, featuring past artists such as Willie Nelson and Paul Simon. Another favorite is the Clear Summer Night Concert Series, held at the Athletic Club of Bend, with its intimate courtyard setting and fantastic acoustics. Four shows each summer spotlight acts like Lord Huron and the John Butler Trio.
Going strong for three decades, the free Munch and Music at Drake Park — held summer Thursday evenings at a picnic-friendly riverfront park on the edge of downtown — features food, drink and arts vendors; lawn seating; and a family fun area with a bouncy house. Monthly First Friday Art Walks downtown are another great time to catch live music and partake of Bend’s many other opportunities for appreciating the arts. Finally, the 4 Peaks Music Festival takes place on a gorgeous high-desert ranch southeast of the city over four days in late June.
2. Get enlightened with a guided tour
Tapping into the expertise and friendly guidance of a local tour company in Bend can make it far easier to get acquainted with some of the region’s most intriguing activities and lesser-known sights. Highly acclaimed Wanderlust Tours is one of the area’s top operators, offering fascinating guided treks through volcanic caves, moonlight canoe paddles and nature photo seminars.
Shutterbugs can discover some of the top spots for capturing the amazing images during one of the Bend photo tours and workshops offered by Bend Photo Tours. The Roundabout Art Route offers participants a chance to set out on their own (going by bike is a popular way to do this) and view nearly two-dozen pieces of eye-catching public art installations. Or you can book the Bend Art Safari tour from Bend Tour Company for an expert-led Roundabout Art stroll. Whichever way you go, print out the online tour map (available upon booking) and check off each work of art as you encounter it — then return the completed map to Bend Visitor Center for a prize.
3. Hit a less-crowded trail
In planning your adventure, consider that many of Bend’s alluring high-elevation spots are accessible after the Cascade Lakes Byway reopens, which tends to be around Memorial Day, depending on snow melt. Even then, many trails will be snow-covered until late summer. Always check closure information before you go, and choose a trail with relatively few crowds, such as the Six Lakes Trail, which can be experienced as a rigorous 17-mile out-and-back trek through the breathtaking Three Sisters Wilderness, or by taking in a moderately challenging 3-mile section of this hike that begins near Elk Lake on Cascade Lakes Highway. In the same area you’ll find the trailhead for Sisters Mirror Lake, which includes a section of the iconic Pacific Crest Trail. Bring plenty of water for amoderate 8.6-mile loop trail includes views of majestic 10,363-foot South Sister Mountain. Gray Butte, which at 5,108 feet offers visitors spectacular views of Smith Rock without the crowds that flock to famous Smith Rock State Park, is another lesser-known gem. It’s a moderately difficult 6.4-mile loop that requires a steady, and sometimes steep, 1,778-foot climb in elevation. To keep these trails beautiful for generations to come, practice Leave No Trace etiquette — stay on marked trails, obey leash laws, clean up after your four-legged buddies and keep a distance from wildlife.
Bring your mountain bike for plenty of heart-pumping thrills, too. Bend is home to nearly 300 miles of singletrack, including the flowy Wanoga Trail Network, ideal for fat bikes (tires 3.8 inches or wider) and easy-to-access shuttle service by Cog Wild. Brush up on Bend’s mountain bike guide for a list of outfitters, events, trail maps and tips. Set a great example as an outdoor steward and know that if a trail is muddy, it’s best to stay off — if you’re leaving ruts, it’s too soft to ride. Be mindful that mountain bikers need to yield to all other users.
4. Seek out these unexpected eats and drinks
Bend’s culinary scene comes to life in the summer. Be sure to stop by the Bend Farmers Market to sample the freshest local, seasonal produce and to pick up other grab-and-go treats, such as craft kombucha, artisan gelato and Sparrow Bakery’s famous cardamom-dusted ocean rolls. In the Bend Box Factory area, fuel up on caffeine, or enjoy a cocktail, at Riff Cold Brew, which produces several different types of artisan cold brew, each with a different flavor profile. Downtown, a dapper, modern take on a classic American steakhouse, Bos Taurus serves up choice cuts of beef.
Either at the brand-new tap room or downtown tasting room, woman-owned Spider City Brewing earns raves for its bold brews. On the eastside, try the tongue-twisting Shepplekofeggan witbier at Monkless Belgian Ale, one of 18 stops on the Bend Ale Trail, a must-do for ale aficionados. Do assign a designated driver when exploring the trail. The good sport who takes on this role is eligible to receive a complimentary Hydro Flask True Pint at the Bend Visitor Center. Another option is to take a guided tour of the breweries. Dinner with a view? Relax in the chairlift as you ascend to Pine Marten Lodge at Mount Bachelor, 7,775 feet along the slopes, and enjoy Mexican or Italian cuisine at the highest-elevation dining venue in the state. Due west, about 30 miles outside the city, cozy Elk Lake Resort features hearty dining — from elk chili omelets to elk burgers — in a rustic lodge setting.
5. Set Bend as your basecamp for exploring
Just 10 miles south of downtown, visitors can access the otherworldly landscapes of 54,000-acre Newberry Volcanic National Monument, which last erupted 1,300 years ago. Here you can go for a hike through Lava River cave and up to top of Lava Butte, explore an 80-foot cascade at Paulina Falls and make your way to rugged Paulina Peak, which rises to nearly 8,000 feet and offers dazzling views across 17-square-mile Newberry Caldera.
Bring a warm beverage and go stargazing after sunset at Pine Mountain Observatory, open Friday and Saturday evenings throughout the summer. About a 75-minute drive southeast of Bend, you can take a guided tour of Fort Rock Cave (late May through July), or take a mile-long loop trek along the Crack in the Ground, a crevice that’s 20 degrees cooler than the surface. During the warmer months, Oregon’s iconic Crater Lake National Park is about a two-hour drive from Bend (access through the park’s North Entrance depends on snow conditions). A two-hour drive northeast of Bend through scenic Ochoco National Forest leads to the Painted Hills Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, a landscape of ancient striated rock formations in brilliant red, brown, orange, and black hues.
If you go:
Choose your lodging: Bend has dozens of terrific lodging options,from hip boutiques hotels to cozy inns to scenic campgrounds. It’s a good idea to book well advance, as much as a few weeks, if you’re planning to visit on a summer weekend, especially if there’s a big concert or festival going on.
Keep trail openings in mind: Flagline Trail, near Mt. Bachelor and accessible from Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, reopens Aug. 15 after elk-calving season has ended. The trail is notable for its zippy downhill stretches and sometimes technically demanding terrain as well as some breathtaking views of the Cascades. Another off-the-beaten-path winner, Dry River Canyon, opens Aug. 31, after peregrine falcon nesting season. The 2.3-mile dog-friendly hike (one way) along the primitive dried-up river bed in this slice of Oregon Badlands Wilderness may be just the prescription before returning to the hustle and bustle.
For more on how to appreciate and care for Bend’s resources, check out both the Visit Bend Like a Local and Bend Pledge pages, and consider signing up for a voluntourism event— from pulling weeds and picking up litter to rebuilding trails in some of Bend’s most-loved areas.