Central Oregon encompasses vastly different environments. From rainbow-streaked rock formations and soaring volcanic peaks to pristine forests and barren, moonlike environments, a road trip through this swath of the Beaver State will take you on an otherworldly journey through some of the most distinctive landscapes in America. Along the way, expect to find world-class hiking, fishing, paddling, golfing, biking, rock climbing and more at every turn.
Bend and Beyond
Bend blends urban cool with epic natural wonders. Sandwiched between high desert and the Cascade Range, this laid-back town acts as the gateway to all your outdoor adventures. Fly-fishing enthusiasts and whitewater rafters must head to the Deschutes River for its roaring rapids and abundance of rainbow and steelhead trout. Nature lovers can immerse themselves in lush woodlands, dramatic cliffs and ancient lava flows on the 3-mile Deschutes River Trail.
Smith Rock Adventures
Wildlife enthusiasts won’t want to miss spotting golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer and more within Smith Rock State Park. The Monument area is a favorite among climbers who scale the 600-foot cliffs. Hunters should take advantage of the many pheasants, quail, elk and deer that roam in the open grasslands, craggy mountains and national forests around Bend. In the winter, Mount Bachelor is your destination for snow sports—shred down powdery slopes, take a sled dog ride or join a snowshoe tour.
Back in town, Bend invites you to explore interactive exhibits at the High Desert Museum, shop at big-name stores and local boutiques in the Old Mill District, and discover beautiful public art on the Roundabout Art Route and Tin Pan Alley Art Collection. Beer connoisseurs will want to savor a libation or two along the Bend Ale Trail, a route comprising 16 breweries including local favorites like Deschutes Brewery, 10 Barrel Brewing and Bend Brewing Company. If you’re visiting in August, don’t skip Bend Brewfest, the second-largest beer festival in the Pacific Northwest.
Moon Walk at Lava Lands
Nestled within Newberry National Volcanic Monument, the Lava Lands were formed after a volcanic eruption approximately 7,000 years ago, leaving behind an ocean of jagged lava rock. Because of its striking resemblance to the moon’s surface, the area was even used by NASA as a training ground in the 1960s. Today, you can still play astronaut here at the Lava Lands Visitor Center, an interpretive hub shedding insight on the 56,700 acres of lava flows, sparkling lakes and geological wonders. Embark on the Trail of the Molten Land and Trail of the Whispering Pines to get a closer look of the lava rocks. Summit Lava Butte by foot or shuttle for 360-degree views of the desolate landscape. You can also take a helicopter tour to see the lava fields from a whole new perspective.
Meet the Three Sisters
The Three Sisters are a trio of volcanic peaks above 10,000 feet found within the Cascade Range. They are also a mecca for climbers and hikers. Experienced trekkers can summit South Sister, the third-tallest peak in Oregon, with no technical climbing skills—just head to Devils Lake Trailhead and take the 5.5-mile steep route to the top. Middle Sister is best tackled in good weather and can be accessed via the Hayden Glacier, located on the north ridge’s east side. North Sister is the hardest to conquer and should only be done by seasoned hikers with appropriate gear.
If climbing peaks seems daunting to you, don’t worry, because the surrounding Three Sisters Wilderness offers a multitude of easy-to-moderate excursions. Journey to Tam McArthur Rim from the trailhead at Three Creek Lake for sweeping sights of the lake, Three Sisters, Mount Bachelor and a string of volcanoes extending all the way to Mount Hood. Follow the popular trails around Green Lakes to get lost in the beauty of alpine lakes, wildflower meadows and rugged mountains. The paths around Moraine Lake, Chambers Lakes, Obsidian and McKenzie Pass all promise stunning scenery as well.
Big Sister, Big Fun
Put some time aside to explore the quaint town of Sisters. Small in size but big in character, this Wild West community offers plenty to keep you busy. Tee off at Aspen Lakes Golf Course, grab a pint of craft beer at Three Creeks Brewing, relax on the beaches of Suttle Lake, go fly-fishing in Metolius River or indulge in a bit of retail therapy at the many shops and art galleries downtown. In June, watch cowboys in action at the Sisters Rodeo, or jam out to the sweet sounds of blues and bluegrass at Sisters Folk Fest, held during the second weekend of September.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness
The peak thrills continue in Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Situated where the Willamette, Deschutes and Mount Hood national forests meet, this 107,000-acre oasis is dominated by Mount Jefferson, the shield volcano of Three Fingered Jack, and five glaciers. The possibilities are endless here, thanks to 190 miles of trails, 40 of which are part of the gorgeous Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Anglers can also reel in boatloads of trout from over 150 lakes.
Fabulous Fossil Beds
There’s no better place to uncover Oregon’s prehistoric past than at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Boasting one of the world’s most impressive fossil collections, this region has left an astounding record of flora and fauna evolution, changing climates and extinct ecosystems spanning over 40 million years. The area is also famed for its rock formations that come in all colors of the rainbow. See them for yourself at the national monument’s three different sections: The Sheep Rock Unit, Painted Hills Unit and Clarno Unit. You’ll find short trails at every unit, giving you easy access to the vibrant rocks.
Hills That Thrill
The real star here lies within the Painted Hills Unit, approximately 9 miles northwest of Mitchell. Striped in red, tan, orange and black, the jaw-dropping Painted Hills are popular subjects for photographers. Come at sunrise or sunset to see the sun bask the hills in dreamy hues. Up the road, Wheeler High School welcomes you to dig up your own fossils and take home what you find.
For More Information
Oregon Tourism Commission