FIVE Fun, Family-Friendly Things to do in Bend, Oregon


Mountains, pine trees, crisp blue sky – all enjoyed before a burger and beer at a local brewery. What’s not to love about Central Oregon? It’s an outdoor playground for kids and adults. Recently my family made the big move from Portland to Bend. Now that we are “locals,” I’ve discovered there is more to do in Central Oregon than visiting perennial favorites like the High Desert Museum, Mt. Bachelor, and SHARC.

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Here are our family’s FIVE favorite activities to do in Central Oregon:

1. Play Outside

Bend has great parks with playgrounds appealing to every age. The dry weather means that you can get outside and play on most days (with the right gear). A few local favorites are the pirate ship play structure at Columbia Park, three different age-appropriate play structures at Larkspur Park, and the nature play area at Rockridge Park.

2. Get Moving

The trail system in Bend for hikers and bikers is unparalleled. Shevlin Park has miles of paved and unpaved trails for strolling or biking. The Deschutes River Trail is great for kids; our favorite stretch starts from Farewell Bend Park and is great for spotting geese, osprey, and the occasional river otter!

3. Eat

Bend may not have the variety of ethnic restaurants that Portland does, but most restaurants are tasty, with friendly waitstaff, and even have kids menu options. To make a day of Central Oregon fare, start off with an ocean roll from Sparrow Bakery, grab lunch at Spork, and finish with a burger and beer at Sunriver Brewing Company’s Galveston Pub. Everyone will be happy and full!

4. Winter Fun

Skiing, boarding, and snowshoeing on Mt. Bachelor is always fun for the powder-minded. If you’re looking for sledding, locals go to Wanoga Snow Park. Ice skating options include the covered rink at The Pavilion, which has a cozy outdoor fire pit for relaxing, apres-skate. If cold weather isn’t your favorite, little kids often enjoy the play area at the Downtown Bend library, and older kids will love climbing on Cascade Indoor Sport’s Big Play Thing.

5. Summer Fun

When it gets hot in the high desert, Central Oregon families go to the water! Floating the Deschutes River is really fun and really popular. You can rent tubes from several local companies, and float through the center of town. Mid-way down the float is Whitewater Park, where you can decide to brave the rapids or walk around them and wave to the adventure-seekers splashing by. If flat water is more your speed, then there are several lake options along the Cascade Lakes Highway for wading, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and kicking back. Our family favorites include Elk Lake (which has boat rentals), Sparks Lake, and Devil’s Lake.

This is just the beginning of the great memories your family can make in the high desert of Central Oregon. Come on over here, and experience them for yourself!

What are your favorite Central Oregon activities?

Heather McPherson writes, raises children, and volunteers in Bend. She and her family recently moved to the high desert from Portland, where she worked as a nonprofit marketing manager. Heather believes honest storytelling builds empathy, connection, and understanding, and that a good meal makes everything better. She loves her husband and two children, long books, short hikes, expensive pastries, and cheap wine. You can read more of Heather’s writing at


  1. I agree with Jody – Smith Rock is fantastic. I also remember a beautiful day spent hiking at one of the State Parks nearby years ago. (Wish I could remember the name!) This list made me smile and miss Bend! I’m a contributor for the Birmingham (Alabama) moms blog – but I spent 2 summers in Bend in college. It is such a beautiful place! I keep dreaming of someday bringing my husband and daughter for a visit! 😉

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