Top State Parks to Visit in Central Oregon

A trip to Central Oregon is usually one with ample time spent in the great outdoors. From the expansive high desert landscape to the Deschutes National Forest and all the rivers, lakes and sometimes volcanos in between, Central Oregon is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. What better way to explore the region than to take a tour of the local state parks? To get started, check out these six state parks to get an idea of what Central Oregon is all about.

1) Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Oregon. Located just outside of Terrebonne, a little over 30 minutes from Bend, Smith Rock is a world class destination for rock climbing of all kinds. The park is also great for hiking and soaking in the views. For those visiting the park to climb, consider working with an experienced guide to get to know the park and use precautions to stay safe.

Smith Rock itself is a volcanic formation that is about 30 million years in the making, formed from layers of basalt flow. The Crooked River cuts through the rock, with towering canyon walls on either side, some of which are over 600 feet tall. The visually stunning rock formations today feature upwards of 1,500 climbing routes and many trails, with opportunities to spot wildlife including mule deer, river otters and beaver. The park is open for day use only (day use parking pass required), except to tent campers who can stay the night in designated camp spots. Because of the park’s popularity, consider visiting during the week or outside of the peak summer season to avoid crowds.

Smith Rock State Park
Deschutes at Tumalo State Park in autumn

2) Tumalo State Park

Just 4 miles north of Bend outside the small town of Tumalo, Tumalo State Park makes the perfect basecamp for any Central Oregon adventure. From the park, visitors can easily access miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, clear waters perfect for trout fishing and kayaking and even some high-class nearby golf courses. Head north or south from the park to hike along the Deschutes River, and connect with the greater Deschutes River Trail. 

The park is open for day use and camping year round. From RV hookups and tent camping locations to yurts that are available for rent, this state park can accommodate any kind of camper and even comes equipped with hot showers for all overnight guests. A day-use parking pass is required to park your vehicle at Tumalo State Park.

3) LaPine State Park

LaPine State Park occupies a scenic spot along the trout-filled Upper Deschutes River in a high desert subalpine forest. It’s just north of the town of LaPine and 35 minutes south of Bend.

The quiet and shady day use areas and campground are open year round. The campground can connect guests with 14 miles of multi-use trails for hiking and biking. The park is also perfect to use as a base camp to explore other nearby landmarks, like the Deschutes National Forest, Newberry Crater and Lava River Cave. Try a night in a tent camping spot, or rent out one of the 10 cozy cabins. From floating and fishing the Deschutes River in the summer to snowshoeing in the winter, LaPine State Park is a great year round option. Don’t forget to check out Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine while you’re there.

Cove Palisades State Park

4) The Cove Palisades State Park

A water sports destination for Central Oregon, The Cove Palisades State Park includes both the Deschutes and Crooked River Canyons to create an environment that is stunningly beautiful. Millions of years of geology and volcanism are on display on the massive canyon walls that tell stories, layer by layer.

Located just outside the town of Culver, about an hour north of Bend, the state park is a prime boating, kayaking and all-around water sport destination during the summer months. From the marina, guests can launch their vessel into three different river sections—the Lower Deschutes, Upper Deschutes and Crooked River. From April to October, the park offers rental boats and other water toys to guests. Aside from water sports, the park connects visitors to miles of scenic hiking trails. The campground is open from March to October, and overnight passes must be purchased. The day-use areas are open year round.

5) Pilot Butte State Park

A tried and true classic for any Bend local, Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is conveniently located in the middle of Bend, making the city one of only a few in the United States with a volcano within city limits. The butte itself is a cinder cone that rises about 500 feet above the surrounding town, providing unmatched panoramic views. The hike to the top circles the butte a few times as hikers gain elevation, and the viewpoint from the top includes a large compass that points out distant mountain peaks, as far as Mount Rainier to the north and Mount Shasta to the south.

There is no camping offered here, and no day use passes are required, but parking can sometimes fill up early. This park is popular for hikers looking to get a great view of Bend, locals looking for a quick and scenic sunset (you can drive to the summit from April to November) and athletes looking for a purely uphill run.

The top of Pilot Butte State Park
Prineville Reservoir

6) Prineville Reservoir State Park

Last but certainly not least is a local favorite for cooling off on a hot summer day: Prineville Reservoir State Park. Located just outside of Prineville, the park was recently named an official International Dark Sky Park. Prineville Reservoir is an amazing place to go stargazing, and that won’t likely change soon. As a Dark Sky Park, efforts have been put into place to minimize light pollution in the park.

The reservoir itself is a dammed section of the Crooked River as it flows from the Ochoco Mountains. Bowman Dam forms the 15-mile long, 3,000-acre Prineville Reservoir. While camping and day use areas are open year round, this park really shines in the summer when people flock to its notoriously cold waters for boating, kayaking, waterskiing, inner tubing and more. Fishing is also popular here, and can be done year round. For stargazers, be sure to print out a stargazing permit so the park rangers don’t accidentally flag your vehicle for being parked past day-use hours.

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