Under blue skies scattered with beauty clouds, we hopped into a 21-foot fishing boat on the banks of Lava Lake.
Cruising slowly to avoid a wake, we passed a few other Tuesday morning anglers who waved at us as if to say “have fun, but don’t take our fish.”
We found our spot on the far edge of the lake, let loose the anchors and got to work.
Fred, our guide from The Hook Fly Shop, handed me a fly rod, gave me a couple of quick pointers and I cast my first line – my first line ever – into the glass-like water.
Less than a minute later, I reeled in a pretty little rainbow trout.
They kept biting, we kept reeling them in. All told, some 33 fish found their way onto our hooks over the course of a couple of hours. Everything from “pizza toppings” to a few 17-inchers. (A few of the “big ones” taunted us, jumping from the water near the boat as a reminder they were still out there…happy to remain the ones who got away.)
“It can’t be this easy,” I thought. But in Central Oregon, it is.
You see, here, fishing is actually fishing. A sport. An activity. Don’t take your eyes off the indicator for a second or you might just miss the next bite. The BIG one.
They’ll get you to the lake. They’ll get you on the boat. They’ll put the rod in your hands and show you exactly how to throw a cast. And they’ll even pull in the fish and take it off the hook. In between catches, they’ll entertain with fishing stories and Central Oregon history.
All you have to do is pose for the photo with your fish and act like you knew what you were doing. Because by the end, you totally will. And just like all the fish, you’ll be hooked.
As we headed back to the shore, we waved again to the anglers we passed before.
The Deschutes River was once the economic lifeblood for Central Oregon, serving as a vital tool for saw mills powering a thriving logging industry here. The industry’s role in Central Oregon faded away, but the river, of course, remained. Today, it serves as a different lifeblood – for the thousands and thousands of people who use it as a playground.
How? Let us count thy ways.
1. Float it
Floating the Deschutes River in Bend is atop the “Unofficial Rites of Summer” list. Thanks to Farewell Bend and Riverbend Parks (on opposite sides of the river) putting in to the river has become easier than ever. All you need is an innertube, an air-mattress – just about anything that floats will work for this gentle float to downtown Bend’s Drake Park. Need to rent an innertube? No problem – Sun Country Tours has a small trailer at Riverbend Park and offers 2-hour rentals for $15/adults and $10/kids 6-12. And Parks and Rec runs a river shuttle service for floaters to get from Mirror Pond back to Riverbend Park.
2. Surf It
Yep, you read that right. The Deschutes River is home to the only whitewater play area in the state of Oregon and it’s centrally located in Bend’s popular Old Mill District. The waves in the whitewater park are adjustable – controlled from an iPad at the Bend Parks & Rec office up the street – so the challenge can change from day to day. Surfers and whitewater kayakers have been flocking to the area since it opened in 2015, and there’s usually a crowd of folks watching from the new footbridge above. Couldn’t fit your surfboard in the overhead bin? River Surf Co. is located just a quarter mile from the whitewater park and has all kinds of rental gear available, including surf boards.
3. Raft It
For the most part, the Deschutes River is a gentle, serene body of water that matches perfectly the laid back lifestyle we love here in Central Oregon. But man, there are some rip-roarin rapids on the river too that cater perfectly to the adventurous side we like to bust out every now and then. And there’s no better way to experience it than Sun Country Tours’ Big Eddy Thrill Ride.
4. Fish It
The Deschutes river provides world-class fishing opportunities for rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout and steelhead from the amateur to the experienced angler. The best fishing changes throughout the year depending on hatches, restrictions, and river flows in each section (upper, middle, lower). For the best experience contact a fishing guide service and go with an expert.
You don’t have to actually be in the water or on the water to fully enjoy the beauty of the Deschutes River. Gentle nature trails like the Deschutes River Trail can take you into the backcountry for beautiful views like this one from Benham Falls. You can pretty much drive right up to the falls viewing area or you can walk or ride your bike along the trail. There’s even a bathroom.
Central Oregon is home to a bounty of lakes and rivers prime for fly fishing. And rumor has it you don’t need to be an expert angler to pull in a steelhead – they’re that plentiful.
Join NextStop TV’s Jon Olson as he wades into the water with a guide from Stillwater Fly Shop, one of Central Oregon’s premier fishing guides.
StillwaterFlyShop.com was first launched in 2008 with the premise that top quality gear should be available to anyone around the world. The vision was clear: Offer the best gear to sportsmen around the globe. Stillwater Fly Shop shares the passion for being out on the water with our clients- over 500 miles of rivers, dozens of lakes/reservoirs and over 1.6 million acres of national forest. Whether it’s enjoying the renowned Salmon fly hatch in the Spring on the Deschutes River or tackling the enormous Rainbow trout on Crane Prairie Reservoir, Central Oregon offers abundant opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
With its great winter and spring skiing, summer biking and paddleboarding and fall, well, everything, Bend and Central Oregon are true four-season destinations. And perhaps no single destination embodies Central Oregon’s year round appeal than Paulina Lake. The high alpine lake is one of two water bodies inside the Newberry Caldera, southeast of Bend. It’s a dramatic setting on its own, but when combined with backcountry skiing options, trophy fishing (The lake yielded Oregon’s state record brown trout in 2002) world class mountain biking and boating and rustic, yet refined, accommodations at Paulina Creek Lodge, as well as, dozens of shore side camping options this is Central Oregon destination recreation at its finest, spring, summer, winter or fall.
No surprise, one of Paulina Lake’s biggest draws is pleasure boating. And with good reason. Not many other lakes are situated in the belly of a shield volcano and anointed with National Monument status. If you’re looking to water ski or buzz around on a jet-powered water scooter, you’ll need to seek other environs. Boaters here are subject to 10-mph-hour speed limit. The emphasis here is on cruising at a speed that maintains the serenity of the lake experience, allowing boaters to soak in the views of the caldera rim and looming and snow encrusted Paulina Peak. If you don’t have room to pack a boat, no worries. The Paulina Lodge has both fishing and cruising boats available by the hour or day.
Both Paulina and neighboring East Lake offer great fishing opportunities. Whether you’re throwing a fly line to rising trout in the evening or trolling deep for the landlocked kokanee salmon, the angling memory of a lifetime is just a cast away. Fly anglers who are traveling light, will find that a float tube is adequate to cover enough of the water for a productive session. If you’re staying in Sunriver consider dropping by the Stillwater Fly Shop and guide service for tips on flies and tactics. Rental fishing boats also open the possibility of jigging for the prolific kokanee. Make sure to keep at least a sample of your catch for roasting or frying over an open flame later in the evening.
Thanks to its volcanic origins, Newberry Crater is a geothermal hotbed. The area’s still untapped energy potential is presently being explored, but you can get a taste of it at the several of the backcountry hot springs that have been unearthed in the area. The most popular and easily accessible are the springs on the shore of Paulina Lake. The steaming water wells up on a natural beach on north side of the lake, roughly a mile hike from the resort or a short boat ride anywhere on the lake if you can find a skipper. Look for the makeshift rock pools on the beach and pack a shovel; you may need to excavate your soaking pool from the soft beach sand which tends to erode quickly.
The Newberry Crater ride is on every Oregon must-ride list and with good reason. The 21-mile epic circumnavigates the entire caldera rim offering multiple birds’ eye viewpoints. With big, lung busting climbs, technical sections and loose rock in places, this is not the place to break into the sport. However there are other options for less experienced riders including the short out and back to Paulina Falls along the Paulina Creek trail near the lodge. If you’re not into the whole singletrack scene, the Paulina Creek trail makes for an excellent day hike. There are also plenty of trails along the lakeshore that afford families a leisurely stroll.
If you’re visiting during the peak summer season, make to check with the visitor center for information on some of the free interpretive hikes offered. It’s also a great place to learn about the area’s unique and violent volcanic history, including cataclysmic events that have literally shaped the landscape around the Bend region.
For those seeking a truly one-of-a-kind experience, check out the Paulina Plunge. A natural backcountry waterslide, the plunge is accessed from the bottom of the Paulina Creek trail at the 10 mile snow park. The guided tours take visitors on a gentle mountain bike ride with frequent stops to enjoy some splash and giggle fun on the numerous falls along the way.
Sure, there’s still some white to be had atop Mt. Bachelor and some of the higher Cascade peaks. And some of the upper elevation mountain bike trails are still dotted with pockets of snow. But the transition to summer is full speed ahead in Central Oregon.
The ski area is closed for the moment – having ended the season with the North American Pond Skimming Championships . But it’s quickly transforming into a downhill mountain biker’s dream that’ll open in early July. Pull the water skis out of storage and head over to Cove Palisades State Park and Lake Billy Chinook, or head up higher to Elk Lake Resort, which has shaken off its winter coat and is ready for camping, canoeing, kayaking and sailboating under the sun.
Want to start a debate at a Central Oregon brewpub? Ask a local which season is best: Summer or Winter?
Mt. Bachelor might get all the press – it is the Pacific Northwest’s largest ski area after all. But you’d be hard pressed to find a better summer destination than Central Oregon.
The Deschutes River has always been the lifeblood of Central Oregon and vital to any “must do” list. Taking a refreshing and relaxing inner tube float down the Deschutes from Bend’s Farewell Bend Park is required river therapy. The best part of the float—apart from its highly social nature—is the availability of a shuttle bus ride from Drake Park back to Farewell Bend Park to do it all over again.
If recreational kayaking, canoeing or stand-up paddling is more to your liking, there are acres of open water with great views out over the mountain and forest landscape in the High Cascades Lakes of the Deschutes National Forest or on Paulina and East lakes in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
For those who fancy lakes with houseboating, water skiing and swimming, there’s Lake Billy Chinook near Madras.
There’s also fishing in all the region’s lakes such as Cultus and Davis lakes and reservoirs such as Crane Prairie and Wickiup, and, of course, the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers. The Deschutes is famous for its native “redside” rainbow trout and its annual steelhead runs. The smaller Metolius River is known for being home to monster bull trout. Crane Prairie Reservoir, Davis Lake and East Lake are all noted for their trophy trout.
The singletrack trail network is also well used by trail runners and hikers. Some of the best Central Oregon hiking is in the Three Sisters Wilderness, at Newberry National Volcanic Monument and at Smith Rock State Park—a world-famous rock climbing venue. Climbers now also flock to the basalt columns at Trout Creek Recreation Area close to Madras.
Back on pavement, Central Oregon has become a hub for road cycling with scenic bikeways fanning out in every direction. The region also hosts the Cascade Cycling Classic, the longest running road cycling stage-race in the country, now in its 36th year.
Each June, athletes, joined by their families and friends, converge on Central Oregon to take part in the Pacific Crest Weekend Sports Festival. The Pacific Crest is known as the jewel of multisport events in the Northwest and a destination race for athletes from around the world. The Pacific Crest Weekend features a Health & Fitness Expo, great food, a beer garden, live entertainment and some of the best competitive racing in the country.
In the heart of Central Oregon’s inspirational running country, Sunriver Resort is proud to host the Sunriver Marathon for a Cause in August. Runners, skiers, bikers and paddlers compete in Bend’s festive Pole Pedal Paddle in May, starting at Mt. Bachelor and finishing in the Old Mill District.
With 30 – that’s right 30! golf courses in Central Oregon, the region has become a nationally recognized golf destination. In September, the Pacific Amateur Golf Classic (the largest amateur event in the West) moves from among a handful of the courses before the Championship Round at the award-winning Crosswater Club Course.
No matter what time of year and what recreation precedes it, the region’s brewpubs are always alive with activity. Brewing craft beer and the publican lifestyle have become a Central Oregon hallmark. Many of the region’s pubs have integrated their indoor space with expansive outdoor dining while offering excellent food, live music and, of course, tasty ales, lagers and stouts. Cheers!
To take it all in—brewpubs to golf, hiking, fishing or floating—can be daunting. Leave the logistics (and driving) to GETIT Shuttle and The Bend Trolley. Both of these transportation boutiques offer tours built around recreation and libations.