Before any of us traversed the well marked trails around Bend, or floated along the Deschutes River, or paddle boarded through the crystal blue lakes of Central Oregon, this land was inhabited by over eight indigenous tribes, including the Wasco, Warm Springs and Paiute peoples who make up the Confederated Tribes of Warm Spring and still call this land home today.
I am so grateful to have been able to spend one month exploring this place, experiencing the high desert climate, the lush forests, and dwell amidst the expansive Cascade mountain range that you can see from any spot on a clear day in Bend.
And I’ve certainly only grazed the surface of learning what this place has to offer. But I’ll do my best to recap some of my most cherished memories from the past few weeks. If you love to get outdoors and explore, keep this post handy for when (not if – but when!) you plan your trip to this part of the Pacific Northwest. I simply cannot wait to return and add to this list.
We paid a visit to each of these spots, all outlined with a bit of detail about the experience, what to expect, and how to get the most out of it below.
Our first week in Bend, we ran into an old co-worker of mine from my days at Ogilvy (!!!) at a brewery. She told us to check out Smith Rock and that if we could only do one thing, we would not regret this. She. Was. Right. It’s a short drive outside of Bend, but we left around 6:45 am on a Sunday morning and were on the hike by 7:30. It was chilly at first but we warmed up quickly. You can take a few different routes, staying close to the ground on some more accessible trails, or take to higher ground and climb up “Misery Ridge” which, as they’ll tell you on their website, isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s true. It was a semi-challenging 20 minutes right at the start of the trek but once we reached the top (photo on the left) the view was everything. The rest of the 90-minute hike was also gorgeous with sweeping views of the landscape in every direction.
We even stopped for a while to watch a slackliner cross two peaks at the top of the canyon for about 15 minutes, so you can definitely do this hike faster or slower than we took it. We also wanted to try to go back to trail run it because most of it is quite doable, save for that pretty steep section of Misery Ridge. Add that to my “next time” list!
You’ll read this throughout this entire post, but we love to pack snacks. One definitely doesn’t need as many snacks as we brought, but we like to be extra prepared. We made overnight oats and ate them at the top of the canyon. Breakfast with a view!
This day of hiking is still a highlight of the entire Bend experience for me. We were home by 10 am and out biking around downtown bend by 11 (more on biking and downtown hanging options later!)
This wooded path is a perfect in-town oasis. It’s about a 15-minute drive from downtown and came recommended to me by a friend I met here in Bend at yoga. It was the perfect place for us to test out my new trail running shoes (yep, I’m that person who came here and immediately found a reason to buy a new pair of shoes … but like, for real, they were necessary!!!)
We took the Shevlin Loop Trail (4.7 miles) and jog/walked it. This was the perfect little outdoor activity for a weeknight when we were both indoors all day working but didn’t have time to get too far out for a bigger hike. We stopped at our self-proclaimed “spot” on the way back, 10 Barrel. (Tangent: I don’t like beer unless it’s sour beer, and that’s something Stephen and I have found we both enjoy together, so whenever we travel we like to check out places that have sour beers on tap and 10 Barrel Brewing has some great ones).
Whychus Creek trail was our first Friday afternoon hike upon arriving in Bend. It had great views (a scenic overlook just a few minutes into the trail) and was a very relaxing walk. Also would have been great to trail run through. Admittedly, we did get a little lost. We were looking for Wychus Creek Falls, but turns out that trailhead was a few more miles up the road. We ended up just meandering through the woods and the forest and enjoying losing track of time. We brought sandwiches and ate them at our car with the trunk popped, overlooking the forest. Afternoon snack with a view! (You can see how this is becoming a theme.)
We fully intended to go back out and look for the falls again, but a month goes by fast and we had a lot more things our bucket list. Add this to the “next time” list!
If you’re staying in Bend for the weekend, have a packed itinerary, and don’t have much time to get too far out of town for a hike, this 4-mile total trek is absolutely worth it. It’s a rather strenuous uphill 2 miles (but interesting views and so fun the entire time), and culminates in 360-degree views of mountains on all sides.
We didn’t even intend for this, but it turns out it gets pretty crowded so we lucked out by starting the hike at 7:30 am. We didn’t run into another soul until we were almost back down at the trailhead. This hike is straight off Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway (a gorgeous stretch of highway that is worth driving on just to drive). It’s a super convenient trail that you can hike or mountain bike on. We were pretty content with hiking it and not trying to trail run it (like I said, 2 miles straight up).
This was another perfect workday early evening walk/jog. We ended up walking most of it but could have easily made it a trail run. You can drive directly to Tumalo Falls to see the waterfall, but honestly, our favorite part was the trail leading up to it. It’s about 6.5 miles out and back with the pinnacle of the hike at the falls.
It was a bit heavier foot traffic right around the falls, but on the way out we only came across 3 mountain bikers. Other than that, the trail was ours. It hugs along Tumalo Creek, and at the time of day when we went, around 5:30 pm, the sun was perfectly placed in the sky to still be warm but not too hot out. There was plenty of shade which made it cooler, and that made the portions of the trail that were out in the sun feel great.
If you’ve got the time to do a lot of trails and hikes, this one is a really lovely one close to Bend. But my favorite two trails that we experiences that were super close to downtown are, I would argue, a MUST.
Later on this post, I’ll talk about paddle boarding around this area. We found Dillon Falls first because we were on a paddle boarding excursion. But two weeks later, we drove back here to walk/trail run around and I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
Stephen, I’ve come to learn, has a weird spidey sense for navigation. We’d never been on this trail before, and he somehow knew exactly where to cut over to get to the falls. Once we found the trail closest to the water, we just followed it. Step after step, we found cool places to climb on rocks, see the water from different angles (at certain points, VERY up close and personal). It just felt like we were playing the whole time. I kept thinking to myself, “how is this place real?” Once again, we didn’t run into one other hiker.
This was the first place that we kind of deviated from the obvious trail to get closer to water. It was still clearly marked as a trail, but you could tell it was less traversed. I adopted the phrase, “snake check, one, two, snake check, one, two” like a mic check. It just felt like at any point we were going to happen upon some real wildlife and I wasn’t about to be the one to scare a snake. You can hike or run further north beyond Dillon Falls on closer to Bend, or you can take the trail south towards Bentam Falls.
We only spent about an hour around the Dillon Falls trail, then hopped in our car to check out the Benham Falls because at this point in the day (we got here around 3 pm), we didn’t want to run or hike 14 total miles out and back.
On phone calls with friends since we’ve been in Bend, I’ve said things like “it’s magical,” and “I love it here,” but honestly I think it was the day that we explored Benham and Dillon Falls by foot that I realized how special this part of Central Oregon is.
We were here on a Saturday afternoon around 4:30 pm. Yet again, we saw one other group of people in the parking lot outside of the falls, and we passed by one person on the trail. We were able to take in this incredibly immersive walk uninterrupted. I don’t even think Stephen and I spoke to each other much while we were out here. The quiet was so peaceful and we felt so comfortable just being where we were, just taking it all in.
To get to this trail, we put our little Subaru Forester into Sport mode (something Stephen was super excited about finally getting to do) and, fair warning, it became a real goal of ours to not hit any chipmunks on the way. We had to swerve and dart out of the way at least 20 times while on the unpaved road that leads you to Benham Falls.
The actual waterfall itself at the southernmost part of the trail is beautiful and a sight to take in, but if you keep going north on the trail, there are so many more gorgeous spots along the river that took our breath away. There’s a little beach about 20 minutes into the walk that you can climb down to. On my “next time” list will be connecting the dots and going all the way from one set of falls to the other and back on foot. For now, I was so content with this Saturday afternoon of exploring. We got home around 7 pm and I think I fell asleep before it even got dark out. A weekend well spent 🙂
A one-hour drive south from Bend, this is an area you can go and spend the day if you want. The hike that takes you to Paulina Peak, a 6-miles out-and-back hike with portions of elevation gain that feel strenuous and others that just feel moderate. It was one of my favorite hikes to do. There are so many cool components to this trail, so many different topographic elements, and views of Paulina Lake from above almost the entire way up. It’s over 7,000 feet of elevation and makes for a really stunning view at the top. Again, you can drive to the top to see the view, or spend the morning (we tried to get on the trail by 8 am, and ended up getting there more like 9 am which still wasn’t bad in terms of foot traffic) hiking up, enjoying a snack at the summit, and then making your way back down.
You can take a dip in Paulina Lake, although we weren’t totally prepared and didn’t bring towels with us. We opted to just enjoy lunch at a picnic spot near the lake and the head back towards town, but there are also hot springs nearby!
I fell in love the instant we set foot on the path around these two waterfalls. They are connected, and the loop around them is an easy walk or could be jogged, but I would prefer to walk, and walk SLOWLY at that, any day. It was achingly beautiful. Every single view. Everywhere we turned. Every shade of green and blue.
Our time-tested approach to heading out early paid off here, too. When we arrived we easily found a parking spot and there was only one other car there. We didn’t see anyone on this hike for at least 90 minutes. But as we were coming around the other side of the loop, approaching our starting point, we saw throngs of people crowding around the marked off waterfall viewpoints.
As much as I appreciate those dedicated viewing spots of scenic panorama shots and unobstructed views of waterfalls, I would so much rather find the quiet spots where no one else is. Usually that takes some climbing around but I’m all about that. And especially in a place like this, the joy I feel from climbing around in the dirt is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. At one point, we lowered ourselves down to the basin of Koosah Falls and I swear, I thought Stephen was going to jump in. The water was so crystal blue, so calm and so inviting, I wouldn’t have blamed him. We enjoyed Stephen’s “Snack Mix Vol. 2” (which was literally just a pre-packed trail mix blend from Trader Joe’s, plus sesame honey almonds) by the water, and contemplated becoming forest people and just living right there for the rest of our lives.
If you’re making a day trip to Koosah and Sahalie, you can find tons of other trailheads along the same scenic highway and through Willamette National Forest. One small highway that veers away from McKenzie Highway (that isn’t always open, it’s closed for half the year) takes you to Proxy Falls. I didn’t think I could love a place like I loved Sahalie Falls, but wouldn’t you know, nature has enough wow-factors in supply to keep me wide-eyed time and time again. This was proven to me at Proxy Falls. While I wouldn’t call this a hike, necessarily, you can make this little exploration as much of an adventure as you’d like.
The loop around Lower and Upper Proxy Falls isn’t a strenuous walk at all. You can view the falls and take in the beauty of the covered forest walk without venturing beyond the path at all. But if you take a few turns (still on the trail!) that bring you closer to the falls, it becomes an outdoor-lover’s paradise. We tightrope-walked across designated trees (we could tell this had all clearly been done before, we weren’t pioneers at this particular route) to get so close to the falls, you could literally stand underneath them. We were so up close and personal to these truly majestic views, we could see every nook and cranny of the cliffside where the falls were coming from. It was incredibly cool and shady along this hike, and it held almost an eerie nature to it. Still the place was dripping with beauty as far as I could see. Truly, it felt like we were the only people on the planet here (except for the one other group we saw hiking with their super nervous doggo who did NOT want his humans to be climbing along any slick tree trunks).
This was the perfect way to get outside and into nature while still being in our neighborhood. A short walk from our Airbnb, we walked and jogged up a few times throughout our stay in Bend. No, it’s not the most scenic or wild of experiences you can find in this part of Central Oregon, but it’s got incredible views on clear days and in terms of a way to get outside, break up the workday, and get away from tech for a bit, you can’t beat this option.
On the first weekend we were in Bend, we couldn’t wait to get out on paddle boards. If you live out here, it seems like it might be a necessary purchase. All week long we watched people paddling around the Deschutes near downtown Bend, hanging out with their dogs on their paddle boards. Talk about a DREAM. I think I almost convinced Stephen that we also needed to purchase inflatable paddle board (but after one Google search for prices for even used boards and that idea was put to rest).
Elk Lake is maybe 45 minutes away, but through the Cascade Lakes scenic highway which is honestly a dream to drive through. Once you’re there, you can rent paddle boards for 2-hour increments. Bonus: You can take your drinks out on the lake with you. We grabbed some sours and paddled out to enjoy the sweeping views of the mountains in the distance. The lake is big enough that you can spend all two hours paddling around and not get bored, or you can just pick a spot, lay your paddle down and take a nap in the middle of the lake on your board. Both solid options.
Elk Lake resort also has a restaurant and bar and often has live music in the evenings. Had we made our reservation just a bit later, we likely would have stayed. But the smoke also started to roll in so we headed out right after our time on the water was up.
On the way out to Elk Lake resort, we passed by this small but absolutely serene little lake and I teared up. I thought to myself, “I have to be out there,” and by the next weekend, we made it happen.
Tumalo Creek Rentals in Bend offers 24-hour rentals for inflatable stand-up paddle boards. We rented them for the day and made the most of our time with our boards, stopping at Devil’s Lake first.
The upside to paddle board rentals: you can take them anywhere you’d like and there are TONS of cool spots to paddle around Bend.
The downside: Unless you buy an electric charger, you’ve got to manually pump them up … which we did .. 3 full times in one day 💀
Once we got the hang of the pump, we traded off every 50 “reps” (yes, we did call that our workout for the day) and it didn’t end up taking too long. Devil’s Lake is small but every inch of it is gorgeous. It’s so peaceful early in the morning, too. We were there until about 10 am, at which point the only other folks who were out were fishing. Stephen and I both took a dip in the water. Although the sun was shining, it was frigid and I was super happy to just lie in the sun after that plunge. Since motor boats can’t go on this lake, it’s so peaceful, and because it’s a relatively shallow lake you can see through the turquoise waters all the way to the bottom.
On my “next time” list is absolutely spending a few more hours out on Hosmer Lake. Talk about peaceful. This lake felt more like a river without the current. It had so many winding turns that you could paddle through, we couldn’t possible make it all the way around in the time we had. Because we only had boards rented for one day and we knew we wanted to make it to Dillon Falls too, we only spent about an hour and a half paddling here. But boy was it a 90 minutes well spent.
Hosmer Lake is definitely not swimmable, but to paddle through was a dream. Stephen and I aimed to paddle as quietly as possible. We didn’t want to disturb anything. We watched a mother duck and her row of little ducklings resting on a piece of driftwood not even three feet from us. We paddled around lily pads and reed grass where butterflies danced about. Once we hopped onto the boards from the boat dock and paddled away from the main lake, we barely ran into anyone. It was so serene.
I already talked about how much I love the land-side experience of Dillon Falls and Benham Falls, but the first way we experienced this area close to Bend was via water. I wrote all about the experience here. Ultimately, we saved the most taxing trek up a river for the end of the day, after we’d already hiked up Tumalo Mountain, been to 3 different lakes, and inflated our SUP boards three times. Our goal was to pop into the water at Dillon Falls, paddle upstream to get to Benham Falls and float back down, but we only made it a portion of the way before letting the current carry us downstream.
On my “next time” list is allotting a morning to this adventure because I know it would be a gorgeous one! Pro tip: bring snacks on every paddle board excursion you go on 🙂
There is so much to enjoy about being in Bend without ever getting in your car, as we found out on Day One of our arrival. People are always out and about, running, walking and jogging along the river. This list of trails in and around downtown Bend is a lovely guide, and I used it to find the 2.7-mile Old Mill District loop which was the perfect mid-day jog or walk.
We brought our bikes with us, which ended up being such a good call to have in Bend. There are tons of bike lanes (even on the highway!) to get around, and lots of nearby bike trails. We don’t have mountain bikes, or else we would have explored more of the off-roading trails but the West Bend Trail is a perfect paved path that takes you sort of out into nature while still being right in town. We stumbled upon it accidentally and I ended up taking it 2-3 more times to get to yoga with Rebecca Bell, a fellow lululemon ambassador who I connected with here! (Her classes are so wonderful and she’s virtual so check her out!)
If you don’t have your own bike, there are tons of places to rent bikes for in-town or mountain bikes.
Tumalo Creek Rentals is the place to go for the tourist experience of floating down the Deschutes River. If you live here, you can drop your own float in anywhere, but as far as the rental experience goes, Stephen and I had a blast spending a random Thursday afternoon floating for a couple hours. You hop in at the Park and Float designated location, drift down the river and go through a couple super gentle rapids (just enough to have a bit of a laugh before relaxing for the remainder of the time that you float), and get to see the view of the gorgeous homes along the river from a different vantage point. You hop out at Drake Park and Tumalo Creek Rentals takes you back to your car at the starting point. Such a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
The only reason I know about this is because it’s Stephen’s favorite hobby. He’s been to six courses out here. If you’re SUPER interested in the nitty gritty details about each course, I’ll put you in touch with him directly 😆. What I do know is this: there are tons of options for you to golf via public courses that range from a 10-minute drive to a 45-minute drive from Bend. The terrain is super cool, as you get the experience of being in the high desert. And if you’re up for playing at a resort course or can find a friend who’s a member at a private course, there are even more options around.
I rode with Stephen through Brasada Canyon and had an absolutely marvelous time taking photos of the scenery. I obliged Stephen by “practicing my putting game” (aka taking up some time for him while we were waiting on the folks at the next hole) but all in all, I didn’t mind the 4-hour excursion one bit. I know my grandfather was laughing and smiling, looking down from above and watching the whole afternoon unfold.
Bend is incredible. There is so much to do. In the best way possible, we couldn’t see everything. It’s left me wanting more and has also nestled its way into my heart forever. We’re heading to the coastline for a few days before continuing our journey down the coast of California. As much as I don’t feel ready to go, if these last few weeks have taught me anything, it’s that there is so much beauty in the world. Slowing down to be exactly where I am, not dwelling on the past and not planning too far ahead for the future, is exactly where I want to be.