: Shellie Bailey-Shah

Ultimate RV Road Trip Through Central Oregon

March 16, 2020 (Updated April 30, 2020)

Editor’s note: Call ahead to make sure the attractions and businesses listed below are open before you go. Restaurants and cafes may be open for takeout only. Plan now for your future trip, when it’s safe to travel again.

With more scenic byways and tour routes than any other state, Oregon is a perfect destination for RVers. My family and I have been RVing for more than a decade and have crisscrossed the country three times. Still, our favorite road trips run through our home state of Oregon — among them, this route through Central Oregon.

Below are my picks for favorite campgrounds, plus activities and dining where you’ll find ample parking for your big rig. (Hear me talk more about the subject as a recent guest on this episode of The RV Atlas podcast.) Whether you’re a first-time renter or a road warrior, buckle up for this road trip through Central Oregon.

Banana french toast wit syrup on a plate at Cottonwood Cafe
The quaint cottage of The Cottonwood Cafe allows furry friends in their pet-friendly backyard. (Photo by The Cottonwood Cafe)


What to do

Sisters has an irresistible, small-town charm. Mosey — yes, I said mosey — down the main street lined with Old West facades and wooden posts with hanging lanterns. Stop in one of the galleries showcasing Western and Native American art or a boutique selling Western wear so that you can look the part. 

The region boasts dozens of family-friendly hikes. If you don’t have use of a tow vehicle and need adequate RV parking, opt for Koosah Falls and then hike to nearby Sahalie Falls. Or head to the Wizard Falls Hatchery and its overflow parking lot to access trails along the scenic Metolius River. Plan to arrive early in the morning to avoid congestion. If biking is more your speed, you can rent a road, mountain or e-bike from Blazin Saddles. Or if you’re looking to sit on a different kind of saddle, head over to Black Butte Ranch for guided horseback trail rides. 

Where to camp

You can’t beat the location of city-run Creekside Campground. Less than a five-minute walk to downtown restaurants and shops, Creekside sits adjacent to a city park that often hosts community events. The campground has 60 sites but only 27 have full hookups (water, sewer and electricity), so book early.

Where to dine

Eat breakfast at The Cottonwood Cafe, housed in a quaint cottage with a pet-friendly backyard, or at Sisters Coffee Company with freshly baked scones and excellent lattes. Fashioned after a livery stable, Three Creeks Brewing Company is a family-friendly brewpub with comfort food and craft beers made from Oregon-grown hops and water from the surrounding Cascade Mountains. Your four-legged family members are welcome on the outdoor patio.

Lava Rive Cave in Bend
Bring a flashlight or lantern plus warm clothing to explore the 1-mile-long Lava River Cave. (Photo by: David L. Moore / Alamy Stock Photo)


What to do

Just a 30-minute drive from Sisters, Bend is where Oregonians go to play. If you’re looking for trailheads with RV parking, try the urban Pilot Butte Trail from the Pilot Butte Neighborhood Park parking lot or the Tumalo Mountain Trail from the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park lot. Wherever you decide to hike, go early or on weekdays to avoid crowds. Always bring a printed trail map and let others know where you plan to be. Check out our other Take Care Out There guidelines before you head out.

After a morning hike, escape the heat inside the High Desert Museum, just five minutes south of downtown Bend. This unique museum reveals the natural world and cultural history of the West’s High Desert region through art exhibits, interesting animals, and pioneer and Native American history. If you have kids, don’t miss the hands-on homesteader ranch where they’ll be eager to do chores that they likely refuse to do at home.

The Bend area has a tremendous amount of geological history to share. Start at the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and then explore the Lava River Cave, which actually is a 1-mile-long lava tube. Bring a flashlight or lantern plus warm clothing, as the temperature is a constant 42°F.  

Where to eat

Along with a thriving brewery culture, you’ll find a happening food-cart movement here, too. I’m particularly fond of the food carts at The Lot. Honestly, the fish tacos with tomatillo-avocado salsa at Fricken Faco are among the best that I’ve ever tasted.

Where to stay

Tumalo State Park is ideally located on the banks of the pristine Deschutes River and just a 15-minute drive from downtown Bend. Tumalo offers full hookups at all of its 23 RV sites. The 2.4-mile Tumalo segment of the 12-mile Deschutes River Trail is accessible right from the park. You’ll also want to tube on the Deschutes, a wildly popular activity on hot summer days.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a less rustic option, consider Crown Villa RV Resort. Here you’ll find oversize sites, manicured lawns, a tennis and pickleball court, and a hot tub.

Paulina Plunge in La Pine
Along the way on the Paulina Plunge you will stop at six waterfalls, two of which are natural water slides. (Photo by Shellie Bailey-Shah)

La Pine

What to do

The town of La Pine is home to The Paulina Plunge, a mountain bike route where you descend more than 2,000 vertical feet on fat-tire bikes. Along the way, you stop at six waterfalls, two of which are natural water slides — yes, water slides. The tour company provides a shuttle to the top of the mountain and back, bikes and helmets, plus a guide to make the trip with you. It may just be the most memorable part of the Central Oregon adventure.

Where to eat

You’ll have worked up an appetite for sure, so head to Cinco de Mayo Mexican Restaurant for its smoked-beef-brisket tacos or The Harvest Depot for cheeseburgers and hand-dipped milkshakes in La Pine.

Where to stay

Surrounded by towering ponderosa pines just 30 minutes south of Bend, LaPine State Park is another campground that sits along the crystal-clear waters of Deschutes River. You can easily access hiking and biking trails along with secluded fly-fishing spots. The campground has 82 full hookup sites in addition to 47 electrical sites with water.

About The

Shellie Bailey-Shah
Shellie Bailey-Shah is travel writer who has the distinction of having visited all seven continents, but she favors her home state of Oregon. She lives with her husband and sons in Portland and has logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the family's RV.

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