Words like “epic” might get thrown around a lot, but for Bend, the label fits. An active weekend in Bend without a car provides just enough time to soak in Central Oregon’s legendary sun, explore the Cascade Range, lap up life on the river and relax in the state’s great logger-turned-lager town.
From Union Station in Portland, you can book a bus to Bend with Greyhound or take the family-owned private coach company Central Oregon Breeze, which weaves through the Mt. Hood Territory and the Warm Springs Indian Reservation before depositing you in Central Oregon outside of the Bend River Promenade Mall in the north part of the city. (From there you can access the Bend Hawthorne Station, the city’s transit hub, by taking Cascades East Transit’s No. 4 line.) Cascades East Transit provides an expansive bus network in the city and inter-city buses to other nearby towns; these routes are referenced below by number. You can also pedal around Bend via the city’s ever-expanding bike-share network.
Stay Close In
Plan on two overnights in a central location so you have easy access to public transport. The eco-friendly Oxford Hotel offers amenities above and beyond, like Breedlove guitars and complimentary cruiser bikes, and is situated right downtown. Also downtown, the locally owned Wall Street Suites is a retro motel converted into a very-Oregon boutique with spacious rooms outfitted with full kitchens. SpringHill Suites, situated close to Riverbend Park, provides a little room to spread out (and keeps you close to festival events in the summer), while the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel allows you to call the Old Mill District shopping area your home base.
Lay of the Land
From these central locations, getting out into the landscape is easy. First take in the view from above. Walking to Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is easy enough (you’ll recognize it as that giant hill overlooking the city, just a 2.6-mile walk from downtown), but you can also hop on bus No. 7. Check bus hours and weather conditions ahead of time. At the butte, two of three available trails lead to the summit, nearly a 2-mile, round-trip hike.
See all the people carrying tubes? They are headed to Bend’s most popular summer activity, a float down the Deschutes River. You can rent an inner tube if you don’t have one. Sun Country Tours has a trailer offering rentals in Riverbend Park; one pass gets you two hours of river time and a shuttle back to the city.
You can also do it yourself: Nab an inner tube at retail locations throughout the city and head to Riverbend Park. The Ride the River bus, $3 for an all-day pass, makes a loop between Riverbend Park and Drake Park. Put in at Riverbend, float the calm waters alongside the city, pull out at Drake Park, hop on the bus and repeat. Be sure to read about the safety precautions for this fun, must-do local activity.
Another river favorite, the newly opened Bend Whitewater Park on the Deschutes River has made a big splash with kayakers, tubers, surfers and more. Located near the Old Mill District, the whitewater park has three distinct “channels,” each suited for different water sports and skill levels.
The Hills are Alive
In summer access Mt. Bachelor by taking No. 10 from the Bend Hawthorne Station to the Simpson at Columbia stop. Walk three minutes to the Mt. Bachelor Park-N-Ride and take Rt. 18 to Mt. Bachelor. Here the scenic chairlift takes you to the top for a stellar view. Hiking options abound on Mt. Bachelor, including a trail to the 9,065-foot summit. For a milder adventure, you can throw the disc at an 18-hole disc golf course. In winter the same bus route allows you to strap on your snowshoes, race down the mountain on inner tubes or ski for the day.
Two-wheeled travelers also have plenty of options to get out of the city. On Mt. Bachelor, you can tote your mountain bike for a thrilling single-track ride down the mountain. Mountain bikers can also book bike shuttles with Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours for shuttles and guided rides in the Cascades. For road cyclists, Prineville-based Good Bike Co. operates shuttles, tours and even offers bike rentals, including mountain bikes.
Rock the Day Trip
Smith Rock State Park, popular with both cliff climbers and day hikers, spans 650 acres and hovers at about a 3,000-foot elevation 30 miles north of Bend. The easiest — though not most cost-effective — way of getting here by car from Bend is via taxi or private shuttle. Far less convenient, Central Oregon Breeze operates bus service between Bend and Terrebonne, though this option requires a 3.5-mile trek from town to the state park on narrow roads without sidewalks. Hiking options at Smith Rock range from the easy Canyon Trail and River Trail to more moderate trails and the newest, hardest trail, the Summit Loop. Along the way you’ll see rock climbers scaling one of about 2,000 routes up the craggy cliff and connecting with the place known as the birthplace of the sport in the United States.
With more than two dozen breweries, Bend has rightfully earned its nickname “Beer Town U.S.A.” The city has more breweries per capita than any other city in Oregon. Beer lovers will want to hit the Bend Ale Trail to sample what Central Oregon’s innovative brewers turn out. It’s easy to plan your own tour: Sneak in a tour at the Deschutes Brewery, and belly up to the bar at Crux Fermentation Project, GoodLife Brewing and Sunriver Brewing Co., just to name a few standouts. But you don’t have to go it alone; you can book guided beer tours by bike, bus and even horse-drawn carriage.
Walk the West
Looking to extend your trip? Head to nearby Sisters by catching bus No. 29. The half-hour trip places you in the heart of ranch country. The town has a distinctly Western vibe and a walkable, charming downtown, where you can peruse more than a dozen art galleries, artisan shops and even America’s first-ever beer spa. Get a few scoops of ice cream, and spend a few hours strolling town and soaking up the Central Oregon sun.
If You Go
Check ahead — If you’re traveling during the off-peak season, it’s wise to call ahead to ensure that businesses are open and tour operators and transit routes are running as scheduled. Central Oregon experiences many crisp, sunny days during winter months, though cold temperatures and inclement weather can cause closures.
Cab services — Tired of walking? Car-sharing services Lyft and Uber operate in Bend, and you can download their mobile apps to hail a ride to destinations in and around the city. A number of other cab and shuttle companies service Bend and Central Oregon.
Gear rentals — If you don’t want to lug it around with you, plenty of outfitters can set you up with outdoor gear rentals, from bikes to kayaks and beyond.
Leave no trace — No matter where your car-free travels take you, be sure to practice leave-no-trace ethics. Stay on designated trails, leave what you find where it’s at, respect wildlife and be considerate of locals.