With their spirited embrace of the outdoors, appealing four-season climate, acclaimed craft beer and artisan food scene and friendly vibe, Bend and other parts of Central Oregon have emerged into one of the West’s most exciting LGBTQ+ destinations. They’re especially popular among fans of snow sports, biking, rock climbing, hiking and the outdoors. As evidenced by the countless businesses throughout the region that proudly display inclusive You Are Welcome Here stickers in their windows, this dynamic and fast-growing region is increasingly queer-welcoming. Here’s how to stay, eat and play in Central Oregon in the winter.
Check Out Winter PrideFest
Well-known for its popular Central Oregon Pride weekend in late June, Bend is quickly becoming famous for hosting one of North America’s coolest LGBTQ+ winter-sports gatherings, Winter PrideFest. More than 1,200 participants flock to the blissful slopes of Mt. Bachelor each year for this five-day festival, which is typically held each March. In 2023, a range of ticket options include admission to fun events like ice skating, day and night time snowshoe treks including a bonfire snowshoe led by Wanderlust Tours, a Saturday night dance party at Justy’s, lodging packages at Bend’s hip Campfire and Waypoint hotels, and lift passes to Mt. Bachelor. Don’t forget to RSVP for any free events throughout the five days, including a “Welcoming Snocial” at Crosscut Warming Hut No. 5.
In conjunction with Winter PrideFest, celebrate pride and kick off Women’s History Month with BendFilm and The Tower Theatre, which will screen two special documentaries fresh off their world premieres at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. On March 3, It’s Only Life After All provides an intimate look into the lives of one of the most iconic folk-rock bands in America — the Indigo Girls. The following night, Little Richard: I Am Everything tells the story of the black queer origins of rock & roll, including a post-screening Q&A with filmmaker Lisa Cortes. OUT Central Oregon also hosts a slew of gatherings all year long, from dance parties to queer book club discussions, so be sure to check its online calendar.
Embrace the Season With Outdoor Fun
Central Oregon’s renowned skiing and snowboarding season typically continues through May. This is also a great time of year for rock climbing at legendary Smith Rock State Park, a popular hiking and climbing attraction that is widely considered the birthplace of American sport climbing. Due to its popularity, visitors are asked to take extra care to preserve and protect Smith Rock’s beauty, and to follow all posted signs, regulations, and stewardship practices.
A couple of excellent, locally based LGBTQ+-supportive outfitters organize guided outings geared to female-identifying participants. She Moves Mountains offers rock-climbing clinics and workshops at Smith Rock for all experience levels, as well as multiday yoga and backpacking excursions. AdventurUs Women has Nordic ski weekends in Sisters as well as backpacking seminars and multisport summer retreats in Bend.
Central Oregon also offers spectacular hiking terrain. As winter wanes and spring approaches, a number of areas offer great opportunties for shoulder-season hikes, including the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, Riley Ranch Reserve, Shevlin Park, and Wychus Rim. OUT in the Wild Adventures offers queer rock-climbing events as well as the services of experienced LGBTQ+ guides. Or book everything from spelunking adventures to kayak paddles through Wanderlust Tours.
Another awesome way to get your blood pumping and take in the region’s scenery is to go cycling. Good options for renting wheels include The Hub Cyclery and Bend Electric Bikes. Cog Wild offers guided winter fat-bike rides as well as mountain biking trips as the weather warms up.
Sample Top Regional Fare at These Restaurants and Bars
Bo’s Falafel Bar is a favorite hangout in the local queer community and hosts occasional drag brunches. Fuel up in the morning with a rosemary-honey bagel sandwich filled with eggs, cheese and maple bacon, or try a savory falafel bowl at lunch. Located in Bend’s stately 1917 Spheir Building, Domaine Serene Wine Lounge is a sophisticated spot for sampling this celebrated Willamette Valley-based winemaker’s ethereal pinot noirs, chardonnays and méthode champenoise sparkling wines.
Other popular eateries include Chomp Chomp, known for inventive pan-Asian fare and a well-curated list of Japanese whiskies, and 900 Wall, a romantic bistro that focuses on creatively prepared, locally sourced Pacific Northwest cuisine. And when in Central Oregon, be sure to stop by an acclaimed craft brewery or two — Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond, Deschutes Brewery Public House in Bend and Funky Fauna Artisan Ales in Sisters all produce stellar sips. For a complete list of queer-owned restaurants, breweries, and other businesses in Central Oregon, check out Everywhere is Queer, which was founded in Central Oregon but provides a searchable and ever growing database of queer-owned businesses worldwide.
Book a Stay at These Welcoming Hotels
One of the main host hotels during Winter PrideFest, Bend’s only Booking.com Proud Certified hotel — the festive Campfire Hotel — is a stylish boutique motor lodge with a retro-cool look, year-round outdoor pool and fire pits, karaoke nights in the lively Canteen Bar, and occasional drag shows and queer pool parties. Just up the road, Waypoint Hotel is another smartly renovated and reasonably priced property with a playful look and feel.
Surrounded by some 20,000 sweeping acres of wilderness between Bend and Redmond and featuring an outstanding golf course, beautifully appointed hotel rooms and vacation homes, and four terrific restaurants, Juniper Preserve is a wonderful place to treat yourself to a restorative getaway. The tranquil Juniper Spa offers a full menu of blissful treatments along with yoga, meditation, myofascial release and other classes to help you maintain and improve your well-being.