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Winter Weekend – Getaway to Sunriver

When my wife suggested a winter weekend getaway to Sunriver, Oregon my immediate thought was, “Why? The world-class golf courses will be covered with snow.”

By the time the long weekend was over, I thought, “Wow. Thank goodness the world-class golf courses were covered with snow.”

I knew of Sunriver as a golf Mecca after seeing its courses, Crosswater, Meadows and Woodlands constantly mentioned in the national golf magazines I read. But I’m not an avid reader of any cross country skiing publications. Who is, right?

Sunriver Resort Lodge with snow on the ground in Central Oregon

So when we first came up with the idea for our mid-December retreat with kids in tow, I was a bit skeptical of the fun that could be had at what I only knew as the perfect place to hit the links. None of us are expert skiers and it takes roughly five minutes outside in the winter for my kids to complain about the cold. But we were gung ho about the idea of a true winter vacation and spending some time together in the snow.  And I’ll admit: Once I got on board with the idea, I got a little Clark W. Griswold about it – and my family would benefit from my over-the-top planning. They always did. (Or so I always thought.)

We scheduled our direct flight from San Francisco so we’d arrive early in the day, which would give us an extra half day of fun. After arriving at Roberts Field in Redmond and securing our rental SUV, we headed south on Highway 97 for about a half hour, passing Bend, commenting that it seemed much bigger than we thought it was and vowing we’d swing back up for some “big city” life at some point in the weekend. But for now – it was onward ho to Sunriver!

It’s been a dry winter throughout much of the west, and as some of the trip planning was taking place, I got a little nervous the promised “winter wonderland” would be nothing but a cold, gray, snowless trip to a fancy lodge in Oregon.

Luckily, Mother Nature was just as excited about the weekend as I was and granted our wish with some fresh snow — a LOT of fresh snow — on the nearby ski area, Mt. Bachelor, and, more importantly for us, several inches fell in Sunriver.

For our short trip we opted to stay at Sunriver Resort in a large Lodge Village guest room adjacent to the Main Lodge, Great Hall and overlooking Meadows Golf Course. (But for our longer return trip next summer with some friends and their kids, we’ll likely rent one of the plush homes at the resort offered by one of the many Vacation Rental Management companies.)

Sunriver Resort River Lodge Near Bend Oregon

With two kids who had survived the morning sharing a Ziploc bag of goldfish crackers and airline-sized glass of apple juice we headed straight for sustenance at The Village at Sunriver on the suggestion of our concierge at the lodge.

Steering the kids away from local sweet shop Goody’s (but promising a return trip) we found Hot Lava Baking and Coffee, a cute little shop with a locally interesting name – bonus points for us parents who got to explain to the tykes some of the region’s unique “geologically tumultuous”  history.  My wife and I got some parents gas: delicious locally roasted coffee while the kids shared a hot Panini and cocoa.

After a relaxing half hour getting our Oregon bearings beneath us, we were ready to really start our adventure – and we didn’t have to go very far to do so with the Village Ice Rink just a short walk away.

It doesn’t take much prodding to get two pre-teen kids who have never ice skated into rental skates when they know there’s a more than 50/50 chance they’ll get to see mom and dad fall on their keister more than once.

Sunriver Resort Near Bend Oregon

As far as true winter family experiences go, it didn’t get much more Norman Rockwell than this: A light snow, giggling children and a smiling wife making their way around a crowded community ice rink decorated with colorful holiday lights. Even after the planning, I could have called it good, gone back to the lodge, grabbed a beer, turned on some football and called the weekend a success. But we were just a couple hours into our extended holiday break.

We were just getting started.

With the bruises to a minimum and our egos intact, we headed back to the lodge to unpack, change clothes and relax a little bit in front of the fireplace.

While we could have stayed hunkered in our room and remained perfectly happy, we rallied and headed out for another walk to the Village for some dinner. Snow had been falling all day, but the roads crews were on it and our path to the Village was plowed enough for an easy trip.

We really hadn’t paid much attention to the restaurants in the Village when we stopped for lunch, so we were actually a little overwhelmed with the diversity of choices in front us now, even hungrier than before after a jam-packed day.

Never shy, I talked up a couple of people walking to the skating rink to get a bead on the best place for a quick, hearty bite. The answer from more than a few:  the Sunriver Brewing Company.

A relatively new player in Central Oregon’s burgeoning craft beer scene, Sunriver Brewing Company offers absolutely everything a parent could want in a restaurant: Delicious beer, wide-ranging menu filled with local favorites AND a dedicated children’s play area.  Let that sink in. A BREWERY WITH A PLAY AREA.

Sunriver Resort Near Bend Oregon
Child play area at Sunriver Brewing Company, courtesy SBC.

(Oh, the grilled steelhead and pulled pork sandwich were really good too.)

After our early dinner, the wife and kids strolled around the shops, bought a couple of Sunriver souvenirs, and, of course, hit up the aforementioned Goody’s ice cream and candy shop where the kids shared, of all things in December, a hot fudge sundae before heading back to the lodge for the night.

Back at the lodge, my wife and I sunk into an overstuffed chair and sighed. And this was only day one!

We got an early start on our Saturday, and there was a buzz in the main lodge dining area filled with families just like mine ready for their own Sunriver adventure to start. Kids saying “c’mon Dad!” and dads saying “let me get some coffee first.”

I talked with a couple of brave souls organizing large groups taking the shuttle up to ski or snowboard at Mt. Bachelor. I wished them luck in their effort of herding ski-booted cats, telling them we were staying a little closer to home base and keeping our skiing experience a little less…vertical.

Mt Bachelor in Central Oregon

So where are the Nordic trails in Sunriver? The answer when there’s this much snow? EVERYWHERE!

After procuring our gear and getting a short, but sweet lesson in cross country skiing from the fine folks at Sunriver Sports, we simply skied (or, shuffled..whatever) back to our lodge along what, in the spring and summer, is a paved biking/walking trail, grabbed our backpacks and headed out on to the fairways of the Meadows Golf Course.

While I was definitely living in the moment – another wonderful family moment – I couldn’t help but think about warmer times and piping a drive right down the middle, leaving me a short little wedge into the green.  (A true fantasy since I rarely ever saw the middle of the fairway and I’d probably need more like a 4-iron to get home.)

We explored the area for a couple of hours, stopping somewhere along the way take in the snow-covered scenery of Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters in the distance and eat the simple bagel sandwiches my wife had made for us with some stuff she grabbed last night from the Sunriver Country Store.

Sunriver Country Store Near Bend Oregon

It felt like we were a world away – we certainly were from our busy lives filled with work and school back home – but we weren’t ever too far from the lodge, civilization, warmth. There are certainly more options to get farther into the backcountry and the gang at Sunriver Sports, 4 Seasons Recreational Outfitters and others can point you in the right, albeit backcountry direction.

The kids were troopers – trying yet another sport they’d never thought of trying and seemingly having a blast. The only thing breaking the silence of the Central Oregon outdoors was the sound of our skis and our kids laughing behind us. (We left them in the dust…but made sure they remained within sight, lest they be attacked by Bigfoot…which we may or may not have told them lived the area.)

Cold, a little wet and a lot tuckered out, we finished  up our ski jaunt shortly after lunch – plenty of time to return our stuff, walk back to the lodge, shower, change and take a break before our next adventure: Hitting the town in Bend.

We didn’t plan to include Bend in our trip – and we actually didn’t need to considering  Sunriver had much more of everything we wanted than we had anticipated.  Still, we had heard so many good things about Bend that we had to check it out – and figured we’d put our SUV to use in the snow and take advantage of one of the numerous restaurants just 15 miles north of where we were staying.

We went to the more “upscale” part of Bend, the Old Mill District, home to shops like Gap, Zumiez, American Eagle and more. The kids and my wife did some window shopping while I ran into REI to get a new watch strap after breaking mine ice skating the day before.

Oh, I didn’t mention falling?

While the wife and I hoped to try out another locally recommended restaurant, we conceded to the kids and agreed to some burgers and bottomless fries at Red Robin and dessert at Ben and Jerry’s. (What is with these kids and ice cream in winter!? )

While the snowfall certainly made for the perfect weekend we had planned, I was comforted knowing had it been more spring-like, we would have had just as much fun.

The kids noticed a brochure for The High Desert Museum in the lobby of the lodge.  Checking out some of the area’s natural habitat and history would have been a great way to spend a couple of hours.

The Sunriver Nature Center and Oregon Observatory is even closer and features live raptors and a nature trail. With tennis courts, and fitness clubs, spas, playgrounds and more – it’s as though the resort was designed strictly for families. Like a Disney park without the ridiculous admission prices, long lines and giant cartoon animals.

Telescope at Oregon Observatory in Sunriver

With our weekend sadly coming to a close, we went on a family walk close to the lodge taking in the holiday scene as even more snow fell. We lived in Salt Lake City in our younger years, so we’re quite familiar with snow, but my wife and I both commented on how it just seemed different here.

The snow had a purpose– at least for us. The falling snow was like a curtain coming down on an epic family adventure.

We left Sunriver around mid-morning on Sunday to get back to the airport in time for our flight back home.

On the drive to the airport the kids were as quiet as they’d ever been in the car. Too quiet.  So I yelled back to them, “yo, what’s happening back there.”

“Nothing” my 10-year-old responded. “Just thinking about the weekend.”

I completely understood why.

Central Oregon Visitors Association
Central Oregon Visitors Association
The Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA) is the "Official" Tourism Information Resource for Central Oregon, including the communities of Bend, Sunriver, Redmond, Sisters, La Pine, Madras, Prineville, Crooked River Ranch, Terrebonne, Culver and Black Butte Ranch. Most of the stories posted online can be found in the Official Central Oregon Visitors Guide.