written by Kimberly Bowker | photos by Rob Kerr
Home to good microbrews, good trails, and good paddling, Bend is a vibrant outpost settled on the high desert just east of the volcanic Cascade Range. The city nourishes outdoor enthusiasts—from skiers, to spelunkers, hikers, fly-fishermen, paddlers and bikers. Rivers, lakes and trails in the surrounding wilderness fill the crevices of this mountain town brimming with craft breweries where Patagonia is well represented. Behind every sip is a good mountain view.
Experience a sensuous start to the day in one of Bend’s megachill breakfast and brunch establishments. At Chow, it’s more about authenticity than dress code. Support local farmers by ordering dishes such as poached eggs and avocado served on a corn cake or house-made granola paired with a kombucha cocktail. Then walk the mile-and-a-half to downtown to browse some of the small shops, such as Lulu’s Boutique, Gypsy Soul or Pegasus Books.
Strolling the sidewalks, soak in local history viewing centuries- old buildings announced by the landmark signs that border Drake Park and Mirror Pond. Learn tidbits like how Bend got its name from the old land claim of “Farewell Bend,” a phrase uttered when pioneers departed and continued westward before Bend incorporated in 1905. For more history, traipse down Wall Street to the Des Chutes Historical Museum in the handsome former Reid School.
In the afternoon, become one with the culture and hit a brewery or two. The standard of craft beer in Bend is Deschutes Brewery, which recently announced expansion to Roanoke, Virginia. Visit some of the twenty-four breweries (such as Deschutes Brewery, 10Barrel Brewing Co., Crux Fermentation Project and Silver Moon) along the Ale Trail, and then bring your passport to the Visit Bend office for a special souvenir to take home.
It’s an easy amble to the Old Mill District just south of downtown. At the Farewell Bend Park, you can access the Deschutes River Trail, a major thread of Bend culture. Standup paddlers glide up the Deschutes River. Trail runners and hikers pace its three-mile loop. The dog park is barking. The historic buildings that anchor the Old Mill District are now shops and restaurants. The lumber mills began in 1916, supporting this once timber reliant town, until shutting down in the mid-1990s.
In the summer, join the masses and become a river floater, starting at Farewell Bend Park and ending at Mirror Pond. Finish a full day at The Lot, a food cart pod hosting about half a dozen carts that closes around 8 p.m. The nights are cool, but the benches here are heated.
Take the morning to venture farther into the heart of Central Oregon’s landscape. During the summer months, meander along the 66-mile Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway toward Mt. Bachelor. Explore some of the fourteen mountain lakes (Todd, Sparks, Hosmer and Elk, to name a few) to kayak, fish, camp or hike. Bring a picnic, or pull into Elk Lake Resort for lunch overlooking the water and mountains. In summer, Elk Lake Resort gets busy, but there is always outdoor seating for diners. Hikers from the Pacific Crest Trail often find their way into the lodge for a rare meal along their journey.
If you are looking for another type of outdoor adventure, head northeast to Terrebonne about 25 miles to Smith Rock State Park, the birthplace of sport climbing. Hiking and mountain biking trails take a steep decline along ravine toward the Crooked River, which runs through the park. The volcanic welded tuffs and cathedral rock spires jet from the landscape, an abrupt change to the area’s pumpkin and hay farms. While hiking, remember to glance up from time to time to witness leashed slackliners making their way to Monkey Face (a 350-foot spire) as one of many highlines. Climbers tackle more than one thousand routes and counting. Hikers have five self-guided trail tours to select. Keep an eye out for your spirit animal—deer, otters, butterflies, and bald eagles are just some of many that find home in the shadows of the harrowing cliffs.
Driving back into Bend, head to Jackson’s Corner, an out-of-the-way neighborhood deli between downtown Bend and the Old Mill. The pizzas, pastas and salads are fresh and made primarily from local ingredients. A long refrigerated wall holds as many regional beers as imaginable, wine, kombucha and other non-alcoholic drinks.
If you have kids in tow, head to the High Desert Museum—the perfect activity for less-than-perfect weather. Visit the outdoor living history buildings of a homesteading ranch and early twentieth century saw mill. Follow exhibits about the history of the high desert and experience frontier life in a replica of an Old West town. Birds of prey presentations, an otter habitat, porcupines and wild cats complete this western reality.
Golf and disc golf courses abound in Bend. At Tetherow and Rivers Edge, duffers will play beneath the gaze of the Cascade Range. Seventh Mountain Resort and Pine Nursery Park present the challenge of circumnavigating ponderosa pines and bent juniper trees.
After a full day of recreation, clean up and head to a fine dining experience at Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails in downtown Bend. For a more casual affair, try the burst of flavor at Asian-inspired Spork. An old charmer that has been updated in menu and appearance is the venerable Pine Tavern, which backs up to Mirror Pond in downtown Bend. Built in 1936, the Pine Tavern gets its name from the enormous oddity in the back dining room. It will deliver you back into the Deschutes Forest, this time with an expertly made Manhattan.