A visit to Bend in the fall offers the same outdoor and downtown activities as the summer: world-class mountain biking, sport climbing, sapphire lakes set against snow-capped peaks, a culinary scene to match the legendary craft breweries, and a trout-laden river running through it all. But with fewer people and crisper weather, the wild places are quieter and more colorful. Here are nine ways to enjoy the dry, sunny autumn in Central Oregon, before winter sweeps across the Cascades and it’s time to dust off the snow gear.
If you can only make one trip to Bend this fall, these are the not-to-be-missed things to do.
Mountain bike a flowy trail at Wanoga
Take a Cog Wild shuttle to the top of the Wanoga Trail Complex for a flowy meadow start that gets steeper as you go. Closer to town, catch the C.O.D. Trail to test your technical skills before leveling out at LOGE CAMP, the new close-to-the-mountain hotel and hangout spot. A cold IPA and an Adirondack chair await — once you’ve cooled off with a lap on their new skills track.
Paddle with views at Hosmer Lake
Head west around Mt. Bachelor to find the teal water of Hosmer Lake and stunning views of South Sister peak and Bachelor. Stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes are the ideal way to enjoy the shallow water and perhaps catch a glimpse of brook and rainbow trout ghosting just beneath the surface (no gas-powered motors allowed). The best time to visit is June through October, before snow limits road access.
Hike a volcano at Paulina Peak
In less than 3 miles (one-way) and 1,600 feet elevation gain, the hike up Paulina Peak passes through ponderosa pine forests before opening to dramatic views of Newberry Crater and its two lakes, Paulina and East. The craggy summit is a jaw-dropping reminder of the volcanic past that shaped the central Cascades. Note: The road to the trailhead is gated shut for the winter season after snow falls, and reopens in late June. Hikers may snowshoe in for a great workout.
Climb Smith Rock
Rock climbers seems to inch up every face of Smith Rock’s faded orange walls. A climbing haven and birthplace of bolted sport climbing, Smith can be crowded on fall weekends, but there’s plenty of rock to scramble along the trail that courses through the state park, passing under eagle nests and beside bathing river otters in the Crooked River. Visiting between October and April is the best time to avoid crowds; try to carpool and plan a trip mid-week. Consider hiring a guide at Smith Rock Climbing School for a great intro experience.
Fish the Lower Deschutes
The Wild and Scenic Lower Deschutes River winds through a stunning high-desert canyon-scape with walls up to 2,600 feet tall. Trout and steelhead wait in eddies below the myriad rapids. Its geology and amount of year-round fishing opportunity — from Chinook and steelhead to sockeye, redband trout, bull trout and more — make the Deschutes one of the best places in the country to fish from a drift boat or a raft. A dirt road parallels the river for 18 miles below Sherars Falls, making for easy bank-fishing access.
Roam leash-free on the Deschutes River Trail
What’s better than walking your dog along a river trail? Walking with your dog off-leash! Between September 15 and May 15, walkers can let their pups roam free along the Deschutes River Trail, a well-graded path following the river for 8.5 miles along its tumultuous course toward Benham Falls. Be sure to pick up after your dog, and make sure to respect all trail users — two- and four-legged alike.
Sip a beer at Crux Fermentation Project
Craft brewers in Bend helped launch Oregon’s movement decades ago, and Crux Fermentation Project continues with the same pioneering spirit. Perhaps harkening to its downtown location in a former AAMCO transmission plant, Crux never stops tinkering. Fall is fresh-hops season, so grab a seasonal release and a chair on their outdoor patio and taste why they’ve won multiple awards at the Sisters Fresh Hop Festival.
Eat tacos at El Sancho
Just a mile from Crux, El Sancho is a locals’ favorite for Mexican food after a long day outside. The brightly-painted, funky-kitsch outpost is known for its street-style tacos, margaritas and cheery sunroom, where you can kick back with views of the mountains. The food and upcycled decor are inspired by the owners’ travels throughout Mexico and the Pacific Northwest. You can also find El Sancho year-round at their Taco Shack at Crux.
Find family fun at the High Desert Museum
Part museum, part conservation center, the High Desert Museum answers all your questions about Central Oregon’s critters, fish, reptiles, cultural history and dramatic volcanic past. Kids and adults alike can pet desert turtles, watch river otters play, look for camouflaged snakes and even see Luna the great horned owl take off.
If You Go:
For detailed info on these and other dining and lodging hot spots in Bend, go to VisitBend.com. While you bask in your vacation glow, consider supporting Pledge for the Wild, an initiative of several mountain towns, including Bend, designed for you to help keep these places you just enjoyed wild and pristine. Here’s how it works: text WILD4BEND to 44321 to make a small donation to the Deschutes Trail Coalition, who’s working hard to keep Bend’s wild places special. Wondering how much you should give? Say you and your family spend three hours in the morning hiking Paulina Peak, then head to Hosmer Lake for four hours of paddling and lounging, totaling seven hours of free recreation. Consider texting a donation of a dollar per person/per hour — in this case $7 per person — to Pledge for the Wild as a way to keep those spaces beautiful for generations to come.