The inside guide to Bend, Oregon's adventure capital

With desert, canyons and mountains on its doorstep, the Oregon city promises plenty for adventurous travellers.

Mountain biking on Mount Bachelor’s flow trails.

Photograph by Alamy
By Celeste Brash
Published 4 Mar 2023, 09:00 GMT

At the edge of Oregon’s high desert — home to sage brush, river canyons and snow-streaked volcanoes — is Bend, the state’s outdoor sports capital and fastest growing metropolitan area. That proximity to nature means you can river raft in the morning, ski in the afternoon and be back in town for a locally produced T-bone steak for dinner, prepared by a lauded chef. There’s a craft brewery seemingly around every corner, too — best sipped under some of the best stargazing skies in the contiguous US. 

Start your trip by familiarising yourself with the region’s desert flora, fauna, volcanic geology and native culture at the indoor-outdoor High Desert Museum. If it’s given you an appetite for exploring the great outdoors, head out to the Newberry National Monument for surreal lavascapes, caves and waterfalls, or, alternatively, to the Smith Rock State Park, an hour’s drive north. It’s home to a yawning river canyon whose walls make it a magnet for rock climbers. For hikers, there are challenging rambles at Three Sisters Wilderness, Mount Washington and Mount Jefferson; you’ll need to arrange a permit in advance, but fields of midsummer wildflowers, pristine glacial lakes and soaring mountain views are well worth the forward planning. 

For an experience that blends education with an appreciation of the great outdoors, sign up for free, guide-led adventures with Deschutes Land Trust, which range from al fresco painting to stargazing. Alternatively, Wanderlust Tours leads fun, intimate canoeing tours during the summer and snowshoe tours in winter.

Shoppers in the Mill District in Bend.

Shoppers in the Mill District in Bend.

Photograph by Alamy

A 20-minute drive away is the winter sports resort of Mount Bachelor. This is a mountain for all seasons, however, where summer visitors will find downhill thrills in the form of a serviced mountain bike park or by speeding through the air on the high-altitude zip-line. If you’re keen to explore the scenery by bike, hire your wheels at Pine Mountain Sports and head to the Fall River Loop at La Pine State Park for thrilling trails and epic forest scenery. Alternatively, take it easy on the Deschutes River, with standup paddleboards and kayaks for hire at Bend Kayak School.  

But the peak is a whole other world in winter. The sprawling resort, strung around a 9,000ft-high stratovolcano, has some of the best snow in the US, but it’s far less known (and more affordable) than the big-hitting resorts of Colorado, Idaho and California. Disconnect from the world entirely at rustic, cosy Elk Lake Resort, which takes guests to its remote lakeside cabins via snowcat. Days are spent snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling or simply soaking up the views.

Back at ground level, Bend has a historic, riverfront downtown with some excellent dining options, including Yoli for the likes of Korean fried cauliflower and bokkeum-bap (kimchi fried rice). You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to steak houses, too: take in the fun cowboy atmosphere of Blacksmith; Wagyu steaks at upscale Bos Taurus, or T-bones and tenderloins at the lively Rancher Butcher Chef. Casual and colourful El Sancho, meanwhile, serves the best tacos this far north of the Mexican border.

Cocktails at Bos Taurus.

Cocktails at Bos Taurus.

Photograph by Lane Pearson

Some might say the food is a landing pad for beer — after all, Bend is often touted as having the most craft breweries per capita in the US. Bend Brewing Co has a beer garden, with creative brews and a soon-to-be-updated tap room right on the riverbank. At Worthy Brewing, look through the ‘Hopservatory’ telescope with one of their seasonal brews in hand, or try the easy-drinking IPAs at Bevel Brewing, alongside grub from some of the town’s best food carts.

Pair your pint with a stay at Mcmenamin’s Old St Francis School Hotel. An Oregon classic, the quirky hotel has several eclectically decorated pubs on site (including one hidden in a broom closet), a cinema and heated pool. Before you bed down, head out on an eerie Bend Ghost Tour with a local mystery writers Jools Sinclair and Meg Kehoe — just hope for sweet dreams afterwards.

How to do it

Airlines including British Airways and American Airlines fly direct from Heathrow to Portland, which is around a three-hour drive from Bend.

Published in the US Cities guide, distributed with the March 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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