Central Oregon: Fun Facts & Places to See

Central Oregon is a picturesque treasure of small-town charm, the great outdoors, world-famous cuisine, scenic communities, and a robust historic past. With all that and more, it can be a tad overwhelming to take it in. We’re all for bite-sized facts that are memorable, interesting, and capture a place’s essence (and we’re full of ‘em here), so we compiled our favorites to make your next adventure off the beaten path fun and exciting. 

Whether you’re exploring the magic of Central Oregon for the first time, or a seasoned local with a desire to learn more, here’s our fave facts about one of the most iconic and memorable places you’ll ever venture to. Enjoy!

First up, History.

What do early 20th century freighters, buckaroos, sheepherders, and timber cruisers have in common? Well, way back when they all hung out in downtown Bend. The Old Mill District, now a shopping and eating haven on the outskirts of the Deschutes River trail, housed the Brooks-Scanlon and Shevlin-Hixon lumber mills – the world’s largest yellow pine producers in the early 1900s.

Downtown Bend’s main streets also had quite the heyday. Wall Street was named after a lava rock wall that lined the street and was considered more respectable than Bond Street, with its gambling houses, bars, and houses of ill-repute. Today, these main streets are home to a variety of shops and cultural sites, including the Tower Theater.

Houston, we have a hole in the ground. Did you know that in 1964, NASA astronauts trained for the moon landing right here in Central Oregon? You can thank our robust volcanic past for that—much of Central Oregon’s terrain is well suited for moon-landing and takeoff simulation. Astronaut Jim Irwin of the Apollo 15 mission even placed a piece of volcanic rock from this area on the moon. Experience the grandeur for yourself by exploring the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Take a stroll around Lava Butte, or visit the Newberry caldera or 8,000-ft Paulina Peak. (Don’t be surprised if you start noticing volcanic rock pretty much everywhere after this.)

The Warm Springs Reservation was formed in 1855. Along with the Wasco and Paiute tribes, Warm Springs organized to become the self-governed Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in the 1930s. Now, the Reservation stretches from the Cascade Range on the east end to the Deschutes River on the west, across an area of 1,000 square miles. A casino, museum, and beautiful vistas are aplenty in this cultural slice of heaven.

the Brooks-Scanlon and Shevlin-Hixon lumber mills of 1919, Bend OR

Fierce competition, wooden bats, hot dogs, and er, actor Kurt Russell? The Bend Rainbows had a young Kurt Russell on their minor league team in 1971 (yes, the actor). Today, you can catch a Bend Elks game over at the historic Vince Genna Stadium, or do some of your own hitting at the Bend Fieldhouse batting cages.

Looking to get artsy? Central Oregon also stokes the fires of many a creative, with its thriving downtown, First Friday Art Walks, Bend Film Festival and so much more.

Central Oregon is a Geographic Wonder.

the mountain peaks, the lake and the trees

Where desert, trees, epic bodies of water, and starry nights combine to create a mecca of landscapes and memories to make, there’s never a dull moment here.

Trees, trees, everywhere. The largest known ponderosa pine in the world (world!) happens to be growing in the La Pine area. Good news: it’s only about 15 minutes north of town right outside La Pine State Park. Called “Big Tree,” it’s thought to be over 500 years old. Go for the small-town charm, volcanic scenery, big trees, and great souvenirs.

Nestled between expansive coniferous forests to the west and a high desert to the east, Central Oregon has it all, no matter the season. With peaks like Three Sisters, Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Jefferson and Hoodoo, it’s a mecca for buttes, hikes, and endless views.

Besides being a year-round destination for recreation, Mt. Bachelor also has a cool history (pun intended). This inactive volcano last erupted thousands of years ago, and the incredible views from atop its 9,068-foot peak allow you to eye a number of other peaks on a clear day. Quick tip: If you squint, you can even see Mt. Adams in Washington or Mt. Shasta in California.

Coming from a light-polluted city? You’re in for a treat. Prineville Reservoir State Park and Sunriver are recognized as International Dark Sky Places, with their minimal light pollution and wide-open skies. You can be sure to have a topnotch star-gazing experience in Prineville, or head to the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory for telescope peering and guided sky tours of ancient constellations.

Speaking of stars, with the company mantra of “Earth First. Beer Second.,” Worthy Brewing in Bend is all about the environment, and solar system. It houses a “hopservatory” in its solar-powered, sustainable space, complete with a native plant garden, vines of hops, and a 16-inch research-grade telescope for peering up at the planets. It’s a must-see (and sip).

What’s Central Oregon without lakes & rivers? Whether you’re into paddle-boarding, kayaking, fly-fishing or just plain floating, the high desert isn’t as desert-y as it sounds. Browse our top lakes to recreate, and you’ll soon have a favorite of your own (psst: don’t forget your camera.)

Who’s Hungry? We’ve got you.

With a thriving food scene that’s bound to make your mouth water, Central Oregon will take care of all of your post-hike or dress-up dinner needs, guaranteed.

Food cart pods in Central Oregon are all the rage. You can’t miss them! Show up in ski gear or dusty from a hike, and enjoy a variety of food options – from the high-end (lobster roll food truck at Boss Rambler, hello) to sushi, or the best fish tacos and fried chicken made in a converted double-decker bus (we’re looking at you, The Lot).

Beertown USA, anyone?  It’s no surprise that we’re big beer fans here in Central Oregon. And with more than 30 breweries, we have the variety to prove it. Bend in particular has the third-highest number of breweries per capita in the country. It all started in 1988, with the founding of the legendary Deschutes Brewery by Gary Fish in downtown Bend.

Speaking of a growing beverage scene, Redmond’s Prohibition-themed Gomper’s Distillery serves up easy sipping with handcrafted spirits. The must-tries? Signature gin made from hand-picked Oregon juniper berries, and another with golden pears and local, hand-picked lavender (yum).

a family grabbing food at the food carts

In Central Oregon, we like our ingredients local and our dishes quirky. No matter what you’re craving, this foodie paradise is top notch. In Bend and feeling fine? Notable chefs are aplenty here, so take your pick. Ariana is a fan favorite, with its eclectic dishes from Chef Ariana Fernandez and high-end, local ingredients that will make you swoon. When you’re more into down-home diner cuisine, look no further than Harvest Depot in La Pine. No matter where you are in the region, you’ll find great spots to eat.

Adventure is our Middle Name.

a lift at Mt Bachelor Resort

Imagine a ski resort with $3 tickets, one rope tow, and one poma lift, and you might be envisioning Central Oregon’s first ski resort on Mt. Bachelor in 1958. Termed “Bachelor Butte,” Bill Healy led the effort to found this ski area that started it all.

Feeling a night slide? Hoodoo sits on the summit of Santiam Pass and is the region’s only night-skiing destination (yes, you can also ski there during the day), offering star-lit turns and fun times Wednesday through Saturday.

Is your adventure cap on? How about your zest for spontaneity? Central Oregon is the perfect place for both. Take Smith Rock State Park, for instance. About 15 minutes north of Redmond, this one’s considered the birthplace of modern American sport climbing, with its sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt cut by the Crooked River. It attracts climbers, hikers, mountain bikers, and photography enthusiasts the world over.

If you’re into biking, you’ve come to the right place. Mountain biking, fat tire biking, gravel riding, it’s all fair game. For a challenging road climb through the forest up to an expanse of volcanic rock and a historic site, McKenzie Pass is key. It’s bikes-only in the spring and mostly stretches along  a winding (not to mention gorgeous) Route 242, a mountain pass that made the US Register of Historic Places. Talk about scenic.

A Destination for Memorable Events.

Fun fact: we’re kind of a big deal when it comes to places to see and things to do. Here’s a few of our best-kept secrets off the beaten path.

Did you know that the Cascade Air Show in Madras, which now draws over 10,000 people annually, started in a small field? The humble beginnings date back to the 1970s, when Pilot Ron Ochs hosted fly-ins at his very own ranch. Now, it’s kind of a big deal every August.

Experience the convenience and fun of Bend, the amenities of a resort, and quick access to outdoor, year-round adventures at Tetherow. It truly has it all, and was even voted #5 in Conde Nast’s “Top Resorts in the Northwest and West” Readers’ Choice Awards 2021. Paradise, indeed.

What are you doing on October 14th, 2023? Seeing stars, we hope. Central Oregon is expected to be in the path of an annual solar eclipse on this date. Mark your calendars, friends. It’s bound to be good. Thanks, mother nature.

Other stories

More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.

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