Summer is a time for kicking back, getting out of town, and making memories with the family. And if your travels bring you to Sunriver Resort this summer, you’ll find plenty of popular activities to enjoy at your doorstep—all without ever getting in the car.
Want to ride bikes through a massive lava flow and ascend a dormant volcano? Float the crystal-clear Deschutes River? Or even experience a quiet horseback ride through a colorful meadow? You can do it all—and more—at Sunriver Resort, just 20 minutes south of Bend.
So as you make your summer plans, here’s a guide to six car-free experiences to savor on your next vacation at Sunriver Resort.
Ride Your Bike Through 7,000 Years of Explosive History Along the Sun-Lava Path
The community surrounding Sunriver Resort is exceptionally bike-friendly—more than 40 miles of protected paths crisscross the area, after all—but there may be no better way to explore the area’s natural beauty than along the 5.5-mile Sun-Lava Path.
The wide, paved (wheelchair-accessible) path departs from Sunriver and heads through a variety of fascinating ecosystems—including forests, meadows, and more—while offering a quick detour to a trailhead for Benham Falls. But the gentle, mostly flat Sun-Lava Path also heads through an enormous lava flow before ending at the fascinating Lava Lands Visitor Center—so it feels at times like you’re cycling on the moon. There’s enough rock in that massive lava flow, in fact, to build a paved road that could circle the Earth more than six times.
Bill Kujawa, visitor services director for the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, says the trail offers an unprecedented glimpse into the region’s history. “It’s such a spectacular location on the Deschutes River,” he says. “You can see where lava flowed into the Deschutes and changed its course for eternity.” (He’s not kidding: Benham Fall is a class-5 rapid that exists only because a nearby lava flow altered the river’s winding path.)
And if you didn’t bring your own ride, good news: Sunriver bike rentals are available at the resort, with a variety of bicycles available.
Explore the Otherworldly Newberry National Volcanic Monument
At the end of the Sun-Lava Path is the Newberry National Volcanic Monument’s Lava Lands Visitor Center, which offers a broad overview of what makes Newberry so special, where to see volcanic sites, and more; there you can view a 3-D topographic map of the monument, learn about the area’s natural history, ascend the Lava Butte cinder cone, and walk along a pair of paved paths that head into the heart of a lava flow that dates back 7,000 years.
From the visitor center, you can also take a quick ride to the Lava River Cave—the longest lava tube in Oregon; there you can head underground for a 2.2-mile (round-trip) hike in one of the region’s most fascinating landscapes.
Before visiting, keep in mind that attractions throughout Newberry National Volcanic Monument are extremely popular in summer—especially Lava River Cave—so try timing your visits to early-morning hours, and try to visit on weekdays, if possible.
And be sure to pick up a copy of “Volcanic Vistas,” the park newspaper, when you visit; Kujawa says the seasonal publication offers a variety of ideas for visiting the monument—no matter your age, comfort level in the outdoors, or time restrictions. “There’s something to experience for everyone,” he says. “The Newberry monument is a living, breathing volcanic wonder—and it offers adventure, recreation, and sightseeing for all different types of visitors.”
Float or Paddle the Deschutes River
Floating the Deschutes River is a time-honored tradition around Sunriver, with several put-in and take-out spots nearby. So if you want to join the fun this summer—but don’t want to sweat the parking or figure out a shuttle situation on your own—consider a float trip through The Marina at Sunriver Resort.
Getting started is easy. First, choose your preferred craft; canoes, single and double kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, tubes, and rafts (fitting 2-10 people) are all available. From there, strap on a life jacket (included with each rental), float or paddle past lava flows and through a forest of ponderosa pine, and exit the water at Benham Butte. From there, a shuttle will bring you back to Sunriver Resort—and you can do it all over again. Best of all: The boats and shuttle are all dog-friendly.
What’s next after drying off? Learn more about enjoying a casual family weekend in Sunriver.
Get a Glimpse of Nature at the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory
You’ll find attractions day and night, inside and out, at the popular Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory—easily reached via protected foot and bike paths that are found around Sunriver Resort.
The kid-friendly attraction showcases the natural wonder of Central Oregon through an outdoor trail, a botanical garden featuring native species, live animals (such as hawks, owls, an eagle, snakes, and lizards), and a variety of interactive exhibits. And whenever you visit, chances are good the nature center’s calendar will be full of fun and engaging events—such as family bird walks, private star parties and planetarium experiences, presentations on native plans, and more.
And while the Sunriver Nature Center hosts an observatory that’s popular at nighttime—we’ll cover that soon—a few telescopes offer daytime viewing of sunspots and even hydrogen storms on the surface of the sun.
See Stars, Planets, and More at the Oregon Observatory
In 2020, the community of Sunriver was named a Dark Sky Friendly Development of Distinction by the International Dark Sky Association—becoming the first such outpost in Oregon to earn that distinction. Sunriver was recognized with that honor, in part, for having few streetlights and imposing lighting restrictions on nearby buildings.
Those dark skies make Sunriver an especially alluring place to stargaze—which you can do, with the help of the largest collection of telescopes for public use in the United States, at the Oregon Observatory at the Sunriver Nature Center.
On any given night, 12 to 20 telescopes of various sizes help budding astronomers peer into the cosmos to view the moon, distant planets, constellations, and other celestial wonders. It’s an experience that inspires reverence in visitors of all ages, according to Observatory Manager Bob Grossfeld. “The awe and wonder of the night sky just completely drives my attention for the public to see things they wouldn’t normally see in a telescope,” he says.
Note that reservations are required—and that slots may fill up weeks in advance—so try to make observatory reservations as soon as you know when you’ll visit Sunriver. Grossfeld says that visitors can sign up for one of two one-hour sessions each night—or a two-hour session that includes a presentation on the cosmos. And, since the telescopes are largely outside, you’ll want to dress warm.
Go Horseback Riding Through the Tranquil Forests of Sunriver
Between late April and the end of September, anyone 7 and older can go on a guided trail ride through Sunriver’s Great Meadow (teeming with colorful wildflowers in spring) and into a peaceful ponderosa pine forest. Each beginner-friendly ride includes 15 minutes of instruction before the outing, which doesn’t include any galloping—just walking. All riders must weigh less than 220 pounds, and toddlers 2 and older (who weigh up to 60 pounds) can go on a pony ride. There may be no finer way to slow down and discover the natural beauty around Sunriver.
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Adventures Abound Starting at Sunriver Resort
Sunriver is the type of place that takes your breath away no matter what season it is. During the summer you can hop on a horse for your very own wild wild west experience. The team at Sunriver Stables will make you feel comfortable on your ride, even if you’ve never saddled up before. Whether you’re in a tube or a kayak, floating down the Deschutes River is a relaxing activity that’s fun for the whole family.
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Imagine this: you’re riding your bike through a rolling meadow, the Cascade mountain range in the background, and the only sound is from the whir of a prop plane taking off against a crisp blue sky. Up ahead, your children pull carrots from their pockets and present them to a gathering of friendly horses in an adjacent pasture.
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