National and State Parks in Central Oregon
You could spend years exploring the wide range of landscapes around Central Oregon and still not see it all. (Believe us: We’ve tried.) But if you’re looking for some of the region’s best natural attractions, you’ll find them at national and state parks in Central Oregon.
True, Oregon’s only national park sits to the south of us—but dedicated travelers can leave Bend after breakfast and reach the rim of Crater Lake long before lunch. And the state parks that dot our region show off the best of our high-desert scenery, from the jam-packed pine forest fun at LaPine State Park to rugged river canyon views at The Cove Palisades State Park.
So if you’re looking to enjoy the best of our outdoor wonder, here’s a guide to the state and national parks in Central Oregon.
Crater Lake National Park
The state of Oregon is home to exactly one national park—Crater lake National Park—and it sits just south of Central Oregon, an easy one-hour drive from La Pine or 90-minute trip out of Bend.
Crater Lake formed 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted in the southern Cascades, blanketing the Pacific Northwest in two feet of rock and ash. (Some of that eroded volcanic material can be seen today in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, a 20-minute drive east of Bend.) The mountain essentially collapsed in on itself after the eruption, leaving behind a bowl-shaped caldera that would fill with snow and rainwater over the centuries—leading to the formation of Crater Lake as we know it today. Reaching 1,943 feet at its bottommost point, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and among the deepest in North America.
Today, the heart of Crater Lake National Park is Rim Drive, which circles the lake and can be driven (without stops) in as little as an hour. That said, several scenic viewpoints along Rim Drive offer wide-open views of the impossibly blue lake (made possible by a lack of sediment and other impurities) and encourage visitors to linger—whether to take photos, enjoy a picnic, or just gawk at the lake’s vibrant blue hue. Several hiking trails ascend the rim of the caldera and afford views of park landmarks, such as Wizard Island (which sits near the lake’s western shore), and nearby Cascade mountains.
Your only opportunity for descending to the lakeshore is via the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which loses roughly 700 feet in less than a mile. (Keep in mind that you’ll have to make the return trip up to the trailhead afterward.) At the base of the trail, visitors can fish for kokanee or jump into the frigid waters. This is also where visitors meet for daily ranger-led boat tours, which offer the only chance to get on the lake; along the tour, rangers explain Crater Lake’s fascinating history and (in some cases) drop visitors off at Wizard Island for hiking, fishing, and relaxing.
Overnight guests can stay at one of two campgrounds within the park, spend the night in a cabin roughly 15 minutes south of the rim, or stay in the ornate Crater Lake Lodge, perched on the rim of the lake.
Note that Crater Lake National Park is open year-round—but is blanketed by snow for most of the year. The park’s north entrance closes between October and June, and Rim Drive is only fully accessible between June and October (depending on snowfall). In winter, almost no services are offered within the park, and most roads are closed—making it a quiet getaway for sightseers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers.
Central Oregon State Parks
When the Oregon State Parks department launched in 1922, the organization’s first superintendent—Samuel Boardman—was tasked with seeking out landscapes worth protecting. So he did what anyone would do in the late 1920s and early 1930s: He got in his car, cruised the state’s earliest highways, and looked for some of the state’s most awe-inspiring natural attractions.
To say he found a bit of natural beauty in Central Oregon is an understatement. Today, some of the Beaver State’s most popular state parks reside in Central Oregon—including the dramatic rock formations at Smith Rock State Park, the high-desert charm of Tumalo State Park, and the majestic landscapes of The Cove Palisades State Park. Here’s a look at some of the most dazzling Central Oregon state parks—along with what makes each worth a stop on your next visit to the region.
Smith Rock State Park
Smith Rock State Park isn’t just one of the most popular state parks in Central Oregon—it’s among the busiest outdoor destinations in the entire state.
But spend even a few minutes ambling along the Crooked River, scaling Misery Ridge, climbing one of the park’s many routes, looking out over the farms and mountains of Central Oregon, or even just admiring the rock formations from the parking lot—and you’ll see why it’s such a popular stop.
Smith Rock State Park is perhaps best known as the birthplace of sport climbing in the United States and, today, offers more than 2,000 routes on its crimson- and khaki-colored rock formations for climbers of all skill levels. Elsewhere around the park, visitors can follow several miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails that showcase views of rugged rock formations, the quiet Crooked River, and the wider Central Oregon landscape.
If you’re planning a visit to Smith Rock State Park, keep a few tips in mind: In spring and summer, try to arrive by 9 a.m. to ensure a parking spot and avoid the biggest crowds; if possible, plan a midweek visit. Winter and fall usually mean lighter crowds, even with our region’s sun-kissed skies. And if you look for hikes beyond the Misery Ridge trail (perhaps the most popular footpath in the park), chances are good you’ll enjoy no shortage of solitude. We’ve even put together a series of three videos on trail preservation, fire prevention, and accident prevention to help you stay safe and enjoy the park’s natural splendor—now and for generations to come.
Tumalo State Park
If you were to distill the Central Oregon high desert experience into a single park, you could hardly do better than Tumalo State Park. Just 15 minutes north of Bend (and five minutes south of Tumalo), the park showcases towering stands of pine and juniper, beige bluffs and rock walls, the placid Deschutes River (which runs through the park), and epic mountain views to the west.
Given its central location in the region, you’ll find plenty of outdoor recreation nearby. But even within Tumalo State Park, visitors can float the Deschutes River, hike the Deschutes River Trail, fish for rainbow trout in the river’s crystal-clear waters, or spend the night in one of 77 RV and tent sites (or one of the park’s seven yurts).
One bit of outdoor recreation you won’t find around the park is Tumalo Falls; the popular waterfall, viewpoint, and hiking area is about 35 minutes southwest of the park, so plan accordingly.
LaPine State Park
If there’s such a thing as a “hidden gem” among Oregon State Parks, LaPine State Park just might qualify.
Sure, the park’s 129 tent and RV sites, along with 10 log cabins, offer overnight camping and brim with activity all summer long. But the spacious park, set amid a forest of ponderosa pine and bisected by the Deschutes River, offers a wide range of outdoor recreation that goes far beyond a place to sleep each night. And it delivers that fun all year long.
Nearly 15 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails crisscross the park—and offer quiet snowshoe or cross-country outings when the snow falls each winter. The trails hit many of the park’s highlights, including Big Tree (Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine—and at least 500 years old) and Deschutes River viewpoints. In summer, visitors also enjoy floating or paddling the Deschutes (one of the most iconic rivers in Central Oregon) and fishing for trout. And in spring and fall, deer and elk sightings may occur in the park’s quieter reaches.
If the ponderosa pine at LaPine State Park has you jonesing for other outdoor adventures, learn more about forests in Central Oregon.
The Cove Palisades State Park
Heading about 20 minutes southwest of Madras, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether The Cove Palisades State Park is actually a mirage in Central Oregon’s high desert.
After all, most of the park sits at the bottom of a rocky river canyon, so views of surrounding farmland, sagebrush, and Cascade peaks are about all you’ll see on the drive in—right up until you’re descending into the canyon and find yourself surrounded by the ancient landscapes and waterways that define the park.
But once you’re in The Cove Palisades, you’ll feel as if you’ve entered a whole new world. This is, after all, where three rivers—the Deschutes, Metolius, and Crooked rivers—come together to form the seven-mile-long Lake Billy Chinook (one of the most popular lakes in Central Oregon). The reservoir’s 72 miles of shoreline make it a bucket-list destination for paddlers and boaters alike; seasonal rentals (from kayaks and stand-up paddleboards to houseboats and party barges) are available April-October from The Cove Palisades Resort and Marina.
Elsewhere in the park, the seven-mile round-trip Tam-a-láu Trail ascends to the top of a plateau that affords top-down views of the Deschutes and Crooked river canyons, Lake Billy Chinook, and (on a clear day) numerous Cascade peaks to the west. Other hiking trails show off the Crooked River rim and wetlands within the park. Fishing—for two kinds of bass, three kinds of trout, kokanee salmon, and whitefish—is also a popular pastime. (Learn more about fishing in Oregon—including information on licenses and seasonal opportunities—from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.) The Cove Palisades also hosts 271 tent and RV sites (some open year-round), as well as three cabins (one pet-friendly) near the park’s marina.
Prineville Reservoir State Park
Where the Central Oregon high desert butts up against the forested Ochoco Mountains—and where streams of snowmelt trickle into the Crooked River—sits Prineville Reservoir State Park, one of the most popular destinations in the Prineville area.
Prineville Reservoir itself is a 15-mile-long lake that twists and turns through an arid canyon, offering more than 40 miles of shoreline for a wide range of outdoor recreation. Anglers fish for rainbow trout, smallmouth and largemouth bass, catfish, and other species in the reservoir all year long; even in winter, the reservoir is one of the few places anglers can go ice fishing in Central Oregon.
The park also hosts two campgrounds with 95 tent and RV sites, along with five log cabins, for visitors who’d like to stay the night. And in summer, kids of all ages enjoy frolicking in a roped-off swimming area at the main day-use area.
And in spring 2021, Prineville Reservoir was named Oregon’s first International Dark Sky Park, thanks to minimal light pollution and dark night skies. Today, the park is renowned for its immense stargazing opportunities—all just 20 minutes southeast of Prineville. Ranger-led night sky programs may be offered in spring and summer, as well.
Cline Falls State Park
A quick, 10-minute drive west of Redmond sits Cline Falls State Scenic Viewpoint, which—despite what the name promises—doesn’t actually boast views of the waterfall. Rather, the viewpoint offers the chance to get out of your vehicle, picnic along the Deschutes River, and even cast a fly for rainbow trout, brown trout, and bull trout.
If you’d like to see the falls, head north on a mostly flat, 1.5-mile round-trip trail along the banks of the Deschutes River. The falls tumble about 20 feet over a basalt outcropping in the river and make a fine photo op—especially in winter and early spring, when snowmelt is at its peak.
Pilot Butte State Park
Oregon State Parks, as we know it today, launched in 1922—and just five years later, Pilot Butte was gifted to the nascent organization for public use. At the time, Pilot Butte sat at the outskirts of Bend, offering a real chance to get out of town and into nature.
Nearly a century later, Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint sits surrounded by the city of Bend. But a trip to the summit of the 480-foot cinder cone remains no less enchanting.
A two-mile round-trip trail leads to the summit of Pilot Butte, as does a paved road (closed in winter). Juniper trees, ponderosa pine trees, sagebrush, and springtime wildflowers line the trail, which remains accessible year-round (though snow and ice may linger in winter). From the summit, visitors enjoy 360º views that include more than a dozen Cascade peaks to the west (with views extending as far north as Mount Hood), Newberry Volcano to the south, the Central Oregon high desert to the east, and—naturally—the city of Bend in every direction below.
The peaks steal the show at Pilot Butte—so if you’d like to learn more, check out our page about the mountains in Central Oregon.
Fort Rock State Natural Area
You’d be forgiven for doing a double-take when approaching Fort Rock State Natural Area.
The massive rock formation rises, seemingly straight up, from the sagebrush steppe that extends from its base in every direction. As you get closer, the interior of the old tuff ring reveals itself—and shows off Fort Rock’s surreal natural beauty. Hikers can follow a footpath (lined by wildflowers each spring) into the heart of Fort Rock, climbers can scramble its slopes, and history buffs can marvel at the fact that Native Americans have lived in this area for 10,000 or more years—as evidenced by the discovery of sandals (the oldest ever discovered) in a nearby cave. And it’s all just over a half-hour southeast of La Pine.
Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint
If you need to stop and stretch your legs on your next visit through Central Oregon, you could do far worse than a few minutes at the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint.
A large parking area sits surrounded by restrooms, picnic tables, and a viewpoint that peers down into the jagged Crooked River Canyon—one of the best river views in the region—all without demanding much effort. Visitors can also walk along the Crooked River High Bridge, which was completed in 1926 and decommissioned in 2000 when it could no longer handle the demands of modern traffic on Highway 97. Especially daring visitors can try bungee jumping off the bridge with Central Oregon Bungee Adventures between May and October (weather permitting).
Curious to learn more about the scenic beauty around our beloved region? Check out our page offering the best nature attractions in Central Oregon.
Explore Nature’s Beauty
From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.