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Brookings, Oregon
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Lakeview, Oregon
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Yachats, Oregon

Central Oregon

Discover the Beaver State’s rugged playground

East of the Cascade Mountains, the heavy Pacific rains and gloomy skies of the coastal region give way to Central Oregon’s surreal high desert and big blue skies. A prime recreation hot spot, Central Oregon is synonymous with a passion for the great outdoors. The region’s surreal volcanic topography — serrated mountains, lava caves, cinder cones and pumice deserts — yields an epic inventory of recreational activity, including superb hiking, biking, fly fishing, white-water rafting and downhill skiing on Mount Bachelor, Oregon’s top ski resort.

Bend and Around

A great place to start a Central Oregon adventure is the town of Bend, nestled on the eastern edge of the Willamette National Forest. Unfurling along the banks of the Deschutes River and with more than 200 glorious days of crisp blue skies and temperatures that rarely flirt with extremes, this town is one of the West’s most alluring lifestyle communities. Bend’s convivial downtown brims with eclectic stores, contemporary art galleries, arts and craft emporiums, and a range of restaurants worthy of a traveler hub.

The state’s passion for craft beer and coffee find expression in several excellent craft breweries and coffee shops. The local pioneer Deschutes Brewery offers a free, 45-minute brewery tour with the opportunity to sample the flavors of highly praised IPAs and porters.

Framed by several mountains, including Three Sisters, Broken Top, Tumalo and Mount Bachelor — the largest ski area in the Northwest — Bend delivers a tremendous array of outdoor activities within a short drive. The Deschutes River is the state’s most popular rafting river and is fabled among fly fishermen for its steelhead runs and wild red-side rainbow trout. The beautiful Tumalo Falls shouldn’t be missed. A scenic highway west of Bend orbits a gorgeous tapestry of lakes with both scenic and interactive appeal.

About 17 miles north of Bend lies Redmond, a town that features a wide array of outdoor activities. Don’t miss the Redmond Caves Recreation Area, a group of five caves that formed when a lava tube collapsed millennia ago.

Nine miles north of Redmond, Smith Rock State Park boasts thousands of rock climbing routes and is considered the birthplace of bolted sport climbing. Known for its sheer rock faces, the park is as scenic as it is thrilling.

Hitting the Trail

With its imperious stratovolcanoes, shield volcanoes, ancient lava flows and buttes, Central Oregon’s landscape has been defined by its epic volcanic history. Some 20 miles from Bend, the 750-mile Oregon Desert Trail takes hikers through a striking landscape of austere desert, foreboding mountains, and yawning canyons before reaching the soul-stirring Owyhee Canyonlands, where a breathtaking collage of red-rock canyons, trout streams and undulating hills (practically the size of Yellowstone) provide refuge to a diversity of wildlife.

A short drive from Bend, on the north flank of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, the Lava Lands Visitor Center provides the launchpad for excellent hiking with breathtaking views. Lava Lands was formed around 7,000 years ago after Lava Butte (a cinder cone) exploded. The mile-wide vestiges of serrated lava rock have created a surreal and geologically compelling landscape that served as a training ground for NASA astronauts. The multi-level Sun Lava paved path leads hikers along the Trail of Molten Land and the Trail of the Whispering Pines.

The Majestic Three Sisters

For mountain bike enthusiasts and nature lovers keen to get the off-the-beaten path, there are few better places in Oregon than the awe-inspiring snow-capped peaks of the Three Sisters region. Nestled beneath the eastern fringes of the Cascades, the Western town of Sisters is known as Oregon’s llama capital for its expansive llama ranches. With its evocative 19th-century storefronts, vibrant art scene, the annual Sisters Rodeo and a spirited, outdoorsy community, it’s a fine base for exploring the Three Sisters region.

Rising from Deschutes National Forest and framing Bend’s skyline (25 miles west), the Three Sisters trio of peaks range from 10,047 feet to 10,358 feet and provide the backdrop for myriad outdoor adventures. Surrounding the peaks, the Three Sisters Wilderness features over 260 miles of hiking and biking trails (that vary widely in terrain and length) woven through Ponderosa pine forests, sweeping meadows and bucolic pastures.

Agile hikers can take a long, steep ascent (no technical skills required) of South Sister via the South Ridge from either Devils Lake or Green Lakes. Teardrop Pool — Oregon’s highest lake — occupies a crater at South Sister’s summit.

Peak Experiences

Approached from either Bend or Sisters, the 104,523-acre Mount Jefferson Wilderness encompasses the titular Mount Jefferson, Oregon’s second-tallest peak and the defining feature of the High Cascades region. The mountain is draped with five glaciers: Waldo, Whitewater, Milk Creek, Jefferson Park and Russell. It’s also bejeweled with 150 lakes. The region forms an incredible backdrop for every outdoor adventure imaginable; more than 163 miles of hiking trails include a 40-mile swathe of the Pacific Crest Scenic Trail.

In the Willamette National Forest, the slopes of Mount Washington (an extinct shield volcano) can be accessed via the Pacific Crest Trail and provides scenic, accessible hikes and an easy summit route for novice hikers. Spliced between Mount Jefferson and Mount Washington, the pinnacle-topped Three Fingered Jack rises for 7,841 feet and is one of the oldest high volcanoes in the Cascades.

John Day Fossil Beds

One of the nation’s most prized fossil collections, the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument provides a fascinating chronological sweep of plant and animal evolution and ancient ecosystems over a period of 40 million years. A national monument, more than 100 miles of serpentine roads separate the fossil beds, which can take a couple of days to explore in their entirety.

Along with several engaging exhibits at the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, there are plenty of ways to interact with Oregon’s prehistory, including rafting on a designated portion of the John Day River (a National Wild and Scenic River) and hikes at all three units (Sheep Rock, Painted Hills and Clarno). With around 400 feet of elevation gain, the 1.6-mile Carroll Rim Trail provides a sweeping panorama of the Painted Hills and fine views east toward the Sutton Mountain Wilderness Study Area. The shorter, quarter-mile Leaf Hill Trail loop features an interpretive exhibit, which presents examples of fossils discovered during paleontological research.

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Central Oregon



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