written by James Sinks
Remember when mom used to take you to the playground? This Mother’s Day—or any day, really—you can return the favor.
And when it comes to choosing the right playground, few places on the planet tout more satisfying options than Central Oregon, where a seemingly endless menu of recreation, restaurant, and relaxation options await moms of every age, interest and mobility.
Here, happy trails are everywhere, from ski trails to bike trails to river trails to hiking trails, and you can even hop onto the Bend Ale Trail and sample a smorgasbord of breweries. If mom likes clubs as much as diamonds, the area boasts two golf courses ranked highly as girls’ trip destinations by Golf Digest. And if she needs to relax, unroll a yoga mat or unwind at any of dozens of upscale spas and salons.
Once known for smoke-belching sawmills and wide-open ranches, the high desert on the east flank on the Cascades began its tourism transformation with the arrival of ski lifts on Mt. Bachelor in 1958. Today, the visitor industry largely drives the economy in and surrounding Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Sisters.
And just as the best playgrounds will have adrenaline-inducing slides and jungle gyms, Central Oregon owes its reputation as a world-class tourism hub partly to the destination resorts that began dotting the local landscape around 1970, when Black Butte Ranch opened near Sisters and Sunriver opened on the site of a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineers camp south of Bend.
Today, Central Oregon is home to six such resorts including Brasada Ranch, which earned the nod as the best in the western U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler. Another resort is on the drawing board near Redmond. While they have different price points, the resorts all feature lodging, golf, restaurants, pools, and Instagram-worthy views. And mimosas.
In fact, mom won’t even need to step foot off the property—but it’s also not far from any of them to Bend, where mom can follow the example of legendary Klondike Kate, a one-time vaudeville singer and dancer who lived downtown from 1917 to the 1950s and was known for being both generous and for always living her best life.
With so many possibilities, the most daunting question might be: Where do you even begin? Luckily, resorts have front desks, and they are eager to help.
When you roll into the region, views are everywhere. Snap some family selfies at renowned climbing destination Smith Rock, just north of Redmond. If it’s not time to check in yet, wander the upscale Old Mill District along the Deschutes River and the up-and-coming Box Factory, where you’ll find boutiques and several winery tasting options including Bledsoe Family, based in Walla Walla and owned by a Bend resident and a former professional quarterback.
Hungry? In downtown Bend, you can get a mean meatball sandwich from the nice crew at local favorite Planker Sandwiches (they even have gluten free bread).
Spring is oﬃcially shoulder season in Central Oregon, but you can shrug that off. Here, it’s the opposite of some places where there’s less to do between spring break and summer vacation. The abundance of both cold- and warm-weather outdoor activities is celebrated each spring by the Pole Peddle Paddle relay from Mt. Bachelor into Bend, in which racers ski, bike, run, and ply the river in kayaks or stand-up paddleboards.
After checking in at Sunriver Resort, you can rent cruisers and explore the pine-forested property on 40 miles of paved trails, or head to the guests-only year-old indoor Cove Aquatic Center, where there’s a waterslide, a lazy river for dad and the kids, and a hot tub and bar for mom.
No matter where you land in Central Oregon, there’s bound to be a location of Mexican-Peruvian-themed Hola nearby. At happy hour or later, mom will be very happy about pitchers of margaritas, nachos, and Coca-Cola marinated pork. Are potatoes more her thing? The seasoned fries are so popular at Tetherow’s The Row Pub that it sometimes goes through 500 pounds of spuds per week.
Outside, the sky over Central Oregon is typically clear, so you can thank mom (you should thank mom often) under a tapestry of stars. If you’re at Range Restaurant & Bar at Brasada Ranch, you can do it while toasting up s’mores on the fire pits. Or, if your sense of adventure doesn’t go down with the sun, Wanderlust Tours can help you take mom on a moonlight canoe trip.
Scenic backdrops will accompany you on an assortment of hikes, from the popular Deschutes River Trail to the paths that weave through the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, south of Bend.
Magma is the mother of Central Oregon. The region owes its rugged landscapes of fissures, rimrock and lava cones to its geologic legacy.
Today, those scenic backdrops will accompany you on an assortment of hikes, from the popular Deschutes River Trail to the paths that weave through the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, south of Bend. From the not-all-that-glitters-is-gold department, the black yet shiny Big Obsidian Flow in the Newberry Caldera is easily accessible via a mile-long lollipop-loop trail.
If mom would prefer to trek between green things rather than black things, Central Oregon is home to twenty-three golf courses, and the majority of them are open to the public at least part time. The links at Sunriver and also Pronghorn, where one of the courses was designed by legendary pro Jack Nicklaus, each earned mentions on the Golf Digest 2021 list of best places for women’s golf trips.
Not far from the golf clubhouse at Sunriver, you’ll find the mellow Sage Springs Club & Spa, where there’s a relaxation room, hot tubs, and massages to ease a little stiffness if it’s sore shoulder season.
Joolz in downtown Bend is a Mediterranean oasis, where sultry and exotic flavors like Zaatar and sumac mingle with Northwest ingredients under a decor of lamps, hookahs and skeletal animal horns. Don’t forget reservations, and don’t miss the roasted cauliflower and Pacific seafood tagine.
To ease into the night, grab a round at Crux Fermentation Project or another of the twenty-two breweries on the Bend Ale Trail. For entertainment, catch a show at the Tower Theater downtown, dance to a headliner musical act at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater along the river, or see a movie at the Old Francis School, one of the amazing restoration projects by Oregon’s legendary McMenamin clan.
You can’t spell mimosa without mom. After a few mimosas, spelling might get a bit more challenging.
What’s not a challenge in Central Oregon is finding a decent spot for brunch. Make reservations, however, or expect a long wait. At Portuguese-inspired Cafe Sintra in Sunriver Village, enjoy spicy linguica sausage eggs Benedict, and mimosas with pineapple or orange juice. Wherever you end up, it’s a fine time to toast a weekend of channeling mom’s inner Klondike Kate.
For 40 years, the High Desert Museum has been welcoming families to its 135-acre grounds south of Bend. In those early days, not everyone was convinced that people would be interested in a showcase of high desert wildlife and culture. Two generations later, the place attracts almost 200,000 visitors annually (at least, before the pandemic doldrums, and the crowds are coming back) and is partnered with the Smithsonian. On Mother’s Day, moms visit for free—and dads get in gratis on Father’s Day. Stroll the galleries and exhibits, admire bronze art indoors and out, and visit a menagerie of critters, including tortoises, otters and owls. The popular birds of prey show happens at 11 a.m.
Remember when the ice cream truck used to roll slowly past the playground, and mom would relent and dig in her purse for change? Find some ice cream truck music on your smartphone, ignore your inner dentist, and make a final pit stop at Goody’s old fashioned ice cream parlor and candy shop. With sticky hands and a happy heart, maybe it’s time to thank mom again.
Niblick & Greenes (Eagle Crest)
Black Butte Ranch
Bend Ale Trail
High Desert Museum
Old Mill District
Sage Springs Club & Spa