With its powdery snowfall, mountain ranges and 300 annual days of sunshine, Central Oregon is one big outdoor playground any time of year. But autumn is a special time, when summer crowds are gone and locals invite visitors for one last call before winter dramatically changes the region’s landscape. Here are six ways to explore the best of Central Oregon’s outdoors this fall.
1. Harvest time with beer and corn
The Western-inspired town of called Sisters hosts two big events to celebrate harvest, starting with the Fresh Hop Festival (Sept. 29, 2018), which turns nine this fall. This time around, Three Creeks Brewing will host 15 friendly competitors to see which brewery can make the tastiest beer brewed with hops picked the day before the event. The following month, Sisters is home to the Harvest Faire (Oct. 13-14, 2018), a juried arts and crafts fair that’s been drawing around 200 street vendors and shoppers to the town’s center for nearly four decades. Also in the area are a pair of pumpkin patches in nearby Terrebonne that have some pretty impressive corn mazes, including Smith Rock Ranch (where you can also shoot pumpkins out of a cannon) and DD Ranch, which has a cafe serving farm-fresh food. Finally, The Suttle Lodge & Boathouse will lead hungry eaters on an autumn mushroom hunt around the forests of Sisters, with a harvest dinner to follow (Oct. 26-27, 2018).
2. Art, history and music
You can go on a very serious art crawl in Sisters, with its Fourth Fridays series (Sept. 28 and Oct. 26, 2018). There’s no better way to meet the artists and admire their gorgeous handmade wares — from dinnerware and vases to lamps, wall art, teapots and more. Each event showcases the works of regional artists at nearly 20 galleries, complete with music, hors d’oeuvres and plenty of Oregon wine. Finally, one of the region’s biggest draws, Sunriver Resort, is celebrating its 50th birthday. Families that have been vacationing here for generations can mingle with first-time visitors to take advantage of special birthday events — everything from bike and beer tours (Wednesdays, ongoing) to more family-friendly activities like playing horseshoes, badminton and croquet in the resort’s retro lawn games series (now until Sept. 30).
3. Trails with fish and waterfalls
There’s no better way to answer summer’s last call than by strolling through nature via one of the region’s many hiking trails. The Black Butte Trail near Black Butte Ranch may be only 2 miles long, but once you reach the end of it, you’re more than 6,400 feet above sea level, where you can take in sweeping views of Broken Top, Three Sisters and, on a clear day, the entire Cascade Range. The Metolius River Trail near Camp Sherman is a magical 5.4-mile round trip with just 100 feet of elevation change, tinted with fall colors as you follow the river downstream. You’ll pass gushing springs and soon, the open-air ponds of the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery, where you can pay a quarter to feed the fish. Waterfall lovers may want to explore the Ogden National Recreation Trail in La Pine, an 8-mile roundtrip along Paulina Creek with a handful of waterfalls and views of Paulina Peak as your reward. You can access the trail from several entry points and also camp here at McKay Crossing Campground.
4. Mountain biking with swoops and jumps
Just as hiking provides a final tip of the hat to summer, fall mountain biking day trips are another excellent way to welcome the season, and Central Oregon has a lot of them — 300 miles worth in all. Choosing the right trail for you depends on whether you’re in the mood for a leisurely ride under a canopy of trees or whether more grueling alpine rides are more your speed. Beginners can ride the scenic and relatively flat Suttle Lake Loop in Sisters (stop at the Suttle Lodge for a bite to eat). Also in Sisters, just steps from FivePine Lodge, you can choose your distance and technical level on the 20-plus mile Peterson Ridge Trail System. More advanced thrill seekers will love Canyon Trail West in Redmond and the Last Chance Trail at Mt. Bachelor, which takes you as high as 2,000 feet above sea level. The good news, though, is you don’t even need to own mountain bike to enjoy a weekend ride, as the region is ripe with rental shops, like Sisters’ Blazin Saddles.
5. Fishing with flies and tackle
Central Oregon is a trout fisher’s paradise, with river fishing and fly fishing on the menu. The mighty Deschutes River, for instance, is known for its trophy trout and smaller, quieter holes like Davis and East lakes. And fall is a great time to visit the town of Maupin to cast for steelheads as they return to the rivers for their winter run. If you’ve never fished the area and don’t know where to start, don’t be afraid to ask. The towns of Sisters and Sunriver are filled with instructors and guides who’ll offer you expert advice on when to fish and where from a number of tour agencies and tackle shops, including Sunriver’s The Hook Fly Shop (home of Cascade Guides and Outfitters) and The Fly Fisher’s Place in Sisters. And remember that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers several weekends of fee-free fishing each year, including during Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 23-24, 2018).
6. Golf with deals and high-desert views
In Central Oregon, there’s no real bad time to play a round of golf, but playing a round in the fall brings fewer crowds, cooler, crisper weather and some serious deals. Black Butte Ranch’s Big Meadow Golf Course — a 7,000 yard-long course in Sisters that “Golf Week” has called one of the best places to play in all of Oregon. Sunriver Resort has four courses and offers sweetheart deals such as unlimited stay-and-play packages to appeal to the most avid golfers. Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond offers golf packages that includes a round a day, a complimentary cart and access to its practice facilities for as little as $99 per day. The city-run Desert Peaks Golf Club in Madras is open to the public year-round, with nine holes of family-friendly links in the middle of the high desert.