Sunriver, Oregon is known for two things that might not come as a surprise: ample sunshine, and plenty of rivers and waterways. Nestled in the Deschutes National Forest at the base of the Cascade Range, Sunriver is a perfect destination for people who want to explore and see the best of the local landscape. The surrounding area is filled with tall pines and forested lands with meadows dotted throughout. The forest often gives way to a dry and volcanic landscape, contrasted by the refreshing rivers, lakes and ponds that can be enjoyed on a hot summer day. Want to get going? Here are five jaw-dropping hikes for you to try in and near Sunriver.
1) Green Lakes Trail
The Green Lakes Trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon, and with good reason. This 9-mile out-and-back trail is moderate in difficulty and typically takes hikers more than four hours to complete, making this a great day hike from Sunriver, which is only 30 minutes away by car. A Central Cascades Wilderness Permit is required for this hike between Friday of Memorial Day weekend and the last Friday of September. Outside of these dates, a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking.
From Sunriver, take Spring River Road west, turning right on Forest Road 45. Once this road intersects with the Cascade Lakes Highway, take a left and watch out for the trailhead, which will be on your right, across the road from Sparks Lake. The trail takes hikers along Fall Creek for a couple of miles before granting views of Fall Creek Falls. Eventually, hikers will reach the Green Lakes, three connected bodies of water between Broken Top and South Sister. From here, the trail loops around all the lakes to provide views from every angle before sending hikers back down the path they came. Families of active, avid hikers will enjoy this one, but small children or inexperienced families might find this one to be difficult. The trail surface is a well-beaten pathway with a slow grade and a few steep spots. Dogs are allowed on this trail year-round, but must be leashed between July 15 and September 15.
2) Benham Falls Trail on the Deschutes River
The beauty of Benham Falls and the entire section of the Deschutes River leading up to the falls cannot be understated. Access the falls from the Benham Falls East Day Use area, offering access to hop on the Deschutes River Trail. The seemingly calm waters turn into cascading waterfalls and huge rapids that spray mist into the dry air and cool off hikers. The trail is surrounded by old growth ponderosa pines that provide shade from the summer sun.
From Sunriver, leave town on Highway 97 going north, towards the city of Bend. Look for “Lava Lands Visitor Center” signs and take the turn going right to follow these signs. Follow Benham Falls Road until you reach the Deschutes River. The entire drive should only take around 15 minutes. From here, park and get ready for a short, 1.5 mile out-and-back hike that is perfect for people of all ages and abilities. The day use area offers fully-paved accessible trails and the hike itself if a flat, wide, packed gravel surface. The hike does not have significant elevation gains, and offers great river views, making it a family-friendly choice. Dogs are allowed on the trail year-round but must be leashed between May 15 and September 15.
3) Lava Butte Hiking Trail
For expansive views of nearby and distant mountain peaks, try out the Lava Butte Hiking Trail. This trail leads hikers up and around Lava Butte, a cinder cone that is part of the greater Newberry Volcanic Monument, which includes a massive shield volcano with a peak that rises to the southeast. The full trail is a little less than 4 miles, out and back, following a road to the Lava Butte summit parking area, before turning into a paved pathway for the last mile, gaining a total of about 500 feet in elevation. The first third-mile of the pathway at the summit is completely accessible for hikers of all abilities, including those in wheelchairs, while the final two-third mile push to the top is paved, but more steep and bumpy. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
From Sunriver, leave town on Highway 97 going north, towards the city of Bend. Look for “Lava Lands Visitor Center” signs and take the turn going right to follow these signs. Once you have arrived at the visitor center, take the trail heading northwest towards the butte, or just follow signs for “Lava Butte Trailhead.” If choosing to drive up to the summit, the parking lot is limited to 10 vehicles, so 30 minute time passes are issued at Lava Lands Station on a first come, first served basis.
4) Paulina Falls and Paulina Creek Trail
For a jaw-dropping destination, it’s tough to beat Paulina Falls and the Paulina Creek Trail. The trail itself follows a forest service road that is used by snowmobilers and cross country skiers in the winter. Regular hiking season begins around June, with a trail taking hikers through an old growth forest of ponderosa pines before offering access to Paulina Falls at the end of the hike. The trail is an out-and-back of about 5.5 miles with minimal elevation gain; perfect for families. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
From Sunriver, take Highway 97 south towards La Pine. Take a left on Paulina East Lake Road and continue until you reach the trailhead. The drive to the trailhead from Sunriver Resort is about 30 minutes.
5) Fall River Trail
The Fall River Trail is a 6-mile out-and-back trail of moderate difficulty, with an elevation gain of only around 100 feet, making it a suitable choice for adults and children alike. Depending on the season, hikers are likely to see fishermen on the banks of the river casting their flies. The well-worn riverside trail is shared with mountain bikers, so be sure to listen for any indication that bikers are coming down the path. Aside from those activities, the area is popular for bird watching and is a great place to spot wildflowers. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
From Sunriver, head south on South Century Drive, continuing for about 15 minutes to reach the trailhead. Hop on the trail, following Fall River for its entire length. Along the way, lookout for cascading sections of the river and take a moment to really soak in the views.
As of February 2022, the Fall River Trail area is closed. Check the U.S. Forest Service website for trail updates.
When you get back to Sunriver after a day on these trails, you’ll need to refuel for any future adventures. Be sure to check out the top restaurants in Sunriver while you’re visiting. And within the resort, enjoy some of the best food, drinks, golf and spa amenities around.
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
Hot Springs in Central Oregon Near Bend and Beyond
Oregon is known for being an outdoor paradise; where else can travelers discover misty forests, snowy mountain peaks and vast desert expanses in one day? From the Cascade Mountains to the Painted Hills, volcanic activity has helped shape the many different landscapes of Oregon. Along with mountains and valleys, Oregon’s volcanic past helped create a host of hot springs scattered across the state. These hot springs are natural, hot pools of water—natural hot tubs. Some are more developed and have lodging nearby, while others feel completely remote and undiscovered. So whether it’s a soak under the stars in the high desert or a steamy pool in the forest, there’s a hot spring calling.
Make the Most of Your Bend and Central Oregon Ski Vacation
Dreaming of skiing in Bend, Oregon? The Central Oregon region is an incredible destination for a ski getaway. While the average snowfall in Bend is a little more than thirty inches, Central Oregon ski resorts boast annual numbers of more than 450 inches. From Bend, visitors can drive to Mt. Bachelor resort in just 30 minutes or the Hoodoo Ski Area in less than an hour. Outside of the resorts, there are boundless backcountry trails for cross-country skiing to glide into pristine and untouched wilderness. With tons of snow, a plethora of winter activities in Central Oregon, and seemingly endless miles of terrain to explore, Bend and Central Oregon make the perfect ski getaway. Read on to discover how to make the most of your ski-cation in this winter wonderland.
Top 5 Tours to Take in Bend, Oregon
Bend is a nature-lover’s paradise blended with a hop-head’s dream; nowhere else will you find this much craft beer and this many outdoor activities. The city’s been growing quickly, reaching 100,000 residents in 2020, and with the growth comes plentiful opportunities for adventure. From walking the very halls that brew your favorite beer to any number of adrenaline-inducing sports, we have you covered for the five best types of guided tours in Bend, Oregon.
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.
Casual Family Weekend in Sunriver
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.
Lava Lands Visitor Center a Central Oregon Geologic Gem
In the late 1960s NASA looked for a place to send astronauts who were training for a mission that would change the world. But before the mission could happen, NASA needed a place to mimic what they believed those astronauts would find on the surface of the moon. Because, after all, nobody had been there before so nobody really knew what the surface of the moon was like.
Sammies and Sandos: Central Oregon’s Best Sandwiches
Sometimes after a day full of adventure, all that you crave is a simple, yet delicious, stick-to-your-ribs sandwich. (And a beer, obviously.)
Central Oregon Hiking Trails
Head east on Highway 20 (Greenwood Avenue) to the Pilot Butte State Park. The parking area and trailhead are just east of the butte. Walk on either the nature trail or the paved road. The road is also for vehicle traffic, weather permitting. It is a wonderful viewpoint for the entire Bend area. This hiking trail is one of the most popular in Central Oregon.
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: Pull Off For a Central Oregon Adventure
The Cascade Lakes Scenic byway is one of the prettiest drives in the U.S. But it might be the most recreationally rich road you’ll ever drive too. From Bend southwest to the Highway 58 junction, the Oregon Route 372 cuts through 66 miles unique volcanic formations and geological beauty that offers everything that makes Central Oregon an outdoor lover’s paradise.
The Central Oregon Adventure 6-Pack
6 ADVENTURES…1 DAY….A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES. “You should do it,” they said. “Think about how cool it’d be,” they told me. “You get to do it during the work day, ya know,” they reminded me. So I said yes.