History on Display: 4 Can’t Miss Museums in Central Oregon

Central Oregon has a rich and interesting history dating back, oh, a few thousand years (see: Lava Lands). But beyond the geological beauty abound (see also: Smith Rock) there’s a great bit of human history that pre-dates settlers along the Oregon Trail. We’re lucky to have a handful of exceptional museums with carefully curated artifacts to help tell the story of Central Oregon.

Here are 4 museums you can’t miss during your Central Oregon visit.

Erickson Aircraft Collection

Erickson Aircraft Collection

The Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras proudly displays a vintage aircraft collection started by Jack Erickson in 1983. The collection features over twenty rare aircraft, most of which are still in flying condition. The newly named Collection will feature rare aircraft that are still in flying condition such as the P-38 Lightning, P-51 Mustang, Ki43 Hayabusa, F4U Corsair, SBD Dauntless, Grumman Duck and B-17 Flying Fortress.

Des Chutes Historical Museum

The Deschutes Historical Museum features exhibits that allow you to explore Deschutes County prehistory; area Native American tribal history; early exploration and fur trapping; homesteading the High Desert; logging and Forest Service history; and life throughout Deschutes County over the years. The museum also hosts an annual Haunted History Tour in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Hawk in flight during show at High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon

High Desert Museum

Whether you’re three or 93, there’s something for everyone at the High Desert Museum.

See birds of prey, the porcupine exhibit, a bobcat and more. Check out our collection of desert dwellers in the Desertarium. Visit with living history characters at the 1904 Miller Family Ranch. Explore High Desert history and culture in our permanent exhibits. Enjoy watching the river otters in their newly renovated Autzen Otter Exhibit. The Museum is set on 135 beautiful wooded acres just south of Bend. It’s no wonder the Museum is ranked the #1 thing to do in Bend by TripAdvisor.

Museum at Warm Springs

Visitors to The Museum at Warm Springs will experience firsthand the sounds of ancient songs and languages, the mastery of traditional craftsmen and the sights of rich and colorful cultures that make up the Confederated Tribes of The Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon.

The three Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation – Warm Springs, Wasco and Northern Paiute, created this museum to sustain their cultures and preserve their traditions for their children and visitors.  The museum is a vital part of the Warm Springs tribal community.  Once you are done indoors you can stroll the 1/4 mile Twanat Interpretive Trail to learn about the plants, animals, fish and geology.

6 Rainy Day Options for Families and Kids in Central Oregon

Ok, we’ll admit it. Sometimes it rains here. But you shouldn’t let a few raindrops ruin a perfectly good vacation. Instead, head indoors for an hour or two while the short-lived shower passes through.

Here are our 6 favorite things to do with when the weather turns south (or you just want to wear out the kids.)

Mountain Air Trampoline Park

Mountain Air Trampoline Park‘s main court has 26 trampolines and is surrounded on 2 sides by angled trampoline walls. It includes a super-long jumping and tumbling runway.  The main court also contains multiple raised and padded features to add to the excitement. In addition to the main court, there are two basketball lanes to pull off high-flying dunks, an extreme dodgeball court and toddler zone for the little ones.

Bouncing off the Wall

Set the kids free in Bend’s original indoor playpen. Bouncing off the Wall features 11,000-square feet of space, several gigantic bouncy houses, a snack bar and free wi-fi. Check the calendar for special events.

Bend Escape Room

Bend Escape Room is a fun, challenging, immersive, and interactive game experience taking place every day. While it looks like an ordinary room, it’s actually a puzzle. During your adventure, you will find yourself flexing your brain and looking in its nooks and crannies that you’ve never noticed.  Find the hidden object, figure out the clues and solve the puzzles to earn your freedom. You have a limited amount of time, so be quick!

SunriverVR Virtual Reality Arcade

Go indoors and get high-tech with virtual holodeck reality games by the hour at SunriverVR.

SunriverVR is located between the Circle K and Subway in the Sunriver Business Park. With a big open play area, you will have both space and the time to get into some serious fun – solo or with your family and friends. The experience cannot be properly described – it must be experienced first hand. Young and old alike have a great time.

The High Desert Museum

High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon
The High Desert Museum

Here, there’s history, up close encounters with wildlife, and learning is fun and seriously hands-on! Every day the education staff shows kids, parents and grandparents alike things they’ve never seen before. When’s the last time you got to hang out with a porcupine while it had a snack? Would you dare touch a slithery snake?!

At the High Desert Museum, it’s all possible. And you won’t believe how much fun you’ll have watching the little ones explore and take it all in! Some of the exhibits like the “By Hand Through Memory” and the “Spirit of the West” are here year round.

It’s a hands-on museum, zoo and time machine all rolled into one.

Sun Mountain Fun Center

Sun Mountain is the locals’ go-to spot for kids birthday parties thanks to its dizzying environment and multitude of activities. Bowling, bumper cars, billiards and an arcade to beat all arcades. Sun Mountain is the perfect place to let a kid be a kid (and where the adults can be kids too.)

Sunriver Resort is Your Central Oregon Hot Spot for Winter Family Fun

Sunriver Resort Lodge with snow on the ground in Central Oregon

If you are like most people, when you think about Sunriver Resort you think of all the wonderful summer activities that take place here; rafting, biking, golfing, hiking, swimming, horseback riding, tennis… you get the picture. What most people don’t usually think of is everything that the area has to offer when that cold white stuff is all over the ground. Whether you are the outdoorsy, adventurous type or the sentimental, family type (or perhaps a little bit of both) you are in for a treat. While the possibilities and combinations are endless, we have taken the liberty of putting together our recommendations for a five day stay.

Day 1

AFTERNOON Welcome to Sunriver! With so many amazing experiences waiting for you, it’s hard to know where to begin. Start by winding down and warming up with the family in your room beside your private stone fireplace and prepare for an unforgettable five days in Central Oregon!

EVENING For an unforgettable dining experience, visit The Village at Sunriver. With its exceptional central location, the Village features a wide array of unique dining options. After dinner take advantage of quaint boutique shopping at its finest. You will find everything you need to complement your trip, from Sunriver branded souvenirs and apparel to high performance sporting gear and equipment.

View of courtyard and log structure in Sunriver, Oregon

Day 2

MORNING You’ll want to wake up early for a day of outdoor adventure! Start off with breakfast at the new Carson’s American Kitchen at the resort. You will be ready to take on whatever the great outdoors throws your way.

AFTERNOON It’s time to hit the slopes! Gear up and head to the main lodge to catch the ski shuttle up to beautiful Mt. Bachelor. Named one of 2015’s Top Ranked Western Ski Resorts and just 18 miles away, Mt. Bachelor not only offers a beautiful backdrop for Sunriver Resort, but also endless recreation opportunities. With 88 runs, 3,683 skiable acres, and 462” of snowfall a year, Mt. Bachelor is perfect for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels, there is something for everyone!

Tumalo State Park in Central Oregon

EVENING After dinner, take a family outing that is out of this world! Plan a private star party for the entire family at the Oregon Observatory in Sunriver. Staff and volunteers provide a relaxed, fun, and educational atmosphere for viewing the starry night skies. Sunriver’s elevation, pitch-dark surroundings, and crystal clear air make it perfect for star gazing. With the largest public access viewing facility in the country, there is plenty of space for everyone to enjoy the amazing spectacle.


Day 3

MORNING After breakfast, treat your family to a time-honored holiday tradition: a one horse open sleigh ride! You’ll be laughing all the way as bells on bobtails ring through Sunriver and along the scenic Deschutes River. These beautiful Victorian-style sleighs are sure to create lasting memories for the whole family.

Start your day off right with a morning of harmonious relaxation at Sage Springs Spa. From massages and facials to body scrubs and nail treatments there is something for everyone.

Arrive early for your appointment to relax in the eucalyptus steam room, hydrotherapy spa or relaxation lounge.

AFTERNOON Experience winter in Central Oregon the way the locals do, with a snowshoe tour from Wanderlust Tours. These naturalist-led trips will create terrific memories for guests of all ages. Daily tours are held as well as Moonlight & Starlight tours to make your trip absolutely unforgettable.

EVENING Drive just 20 minutes down the road to Bend for a wonderful culinary immersion. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the diverse selection of restaurants and dining options in Bend. Enjoy the epitome of fine dining with meals prepared by some of the world’s finest chefs, or visit one of Bend’s many microbreweries.

Day 4

DAY TRIP! Get ready to experience one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world: Oregon’s only National Park, Crater Lake. Located about two and a half hours from Sunriver, even seasoned travelers gasp at the 20-mile radius of cliffs, tinted in subtle shades and fringed with hemlock, fir, and pine surrounding the lake of indescribable blue. At 1,943 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the ten deepest in the world. Crater Lake National Park is host to a diverse array of activities. While enjoying the natural scenic wonders, you can hike in old growth forests, participate in a variety of interpretive activities, or even cross- country ski during the snow season. (During the summer, when Crater Lake’s north entrance is open, it’s only 90 minutes from Sunriver to the park’s gate.)

EVENING Upon returning to Sunriver, take a trip to the Lodge and stop by the Merchant Trader Gift Shop to pick up a s’mores kit and head out to one of the many fire pits around the resort. Bundle up and enjoy these tasty treats. Graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate; now that’s a recipe for great memories!

Day 5

MORNING After a relaxing breakfast at one of our fantastic area restaurants, take some time to visit the High Desert Museum on your way north. Indoor, outdoor and rotating exhibits bring history, science, nature and art to life. Their staff will keep your kids curiously engaged and provide an exciting new perspective on the High Desert of Central Oregon.

Offering outdoor activities and adventure year round, Sunriver Resort truly provides something for everyone; families, group events, a perfect retreat for couples, sports enthusiasts and more. Whether you stay for a day, a week, or a lifetime, you are destined to find adventure, discovery, relaxation and inspiration.

Kids are Center of Attention at Sunriver’s Traditions

Grand Illumination from above

Plenty for the Family to do in Central Oregon this Winter

When it comes to most family holiday vacations, parents are lucky if they can find a sledding hill near their hotel so they can at least tell their kids, “there’s something there for you to do.”

But winter in Central Oregon was meant for kids and at Sunriver Resort, the Traditions holiday celebration is kid-focused family fun from day one. It all starts on Friday November 19th with the resort’s “Grand Illumination” which features Central Oregon’s largest outdoor light display. Next to the main lodge is one of Santa’s North Pole annex buildings where kids can work on holiday craft projects, get their faces painted, and enjoy a petting zoo.

With Victorian carolers filling the early evening air with the sweet sounds of the holidays, it doesn’t get any more family-friendly than that. But at Sunriver Resort, that’s just the beginning of a long holiday month.

The resort’s annual “Elf Tuck-Ins” start the following Friday, November 26th. One of Santa’s helpers will visit your lodge room to read your little ones a holiday tale. The elves will leave behind a goodie bag to whet your child’s whistle before Santa’s big day. The tuck-ins happen between 6 and 9 p.m. through Christmas Eve, cost $25 to $45 (depending on the day) and reservations must be made in advance so be sure to order yours before the elves are booked! (They’re pulling double duty, remember.)

Girl with Cookie

Kids wanting to surpirse mom and dad with their own special holiday creation under the tree will have plenty of time to make something magical at Santa’s Workshop. From hand-painted mugs to fused-glass ornaments, the children will have a blast turning their creativity into a family keepsake.

For the stuffed animal aficionados, Traditions also offers the chance to create your own Teddy Bear at the Bear Factory. You can hand stuff the bear and dress him up any way you’d like and maybe attach a note for mom and dad to put the little guy under the tree to keep an eye out for Santa’s visit.

Beyond that there’s gingerbread cookie decorating stations, the 19th annual Gingerbread Junction fundraising event featuring hundreds of edible masterpieces, magic show and tons more events at Fort Funnigan. With ice skating at The Village at Sunriver, one-horse open sleigh rides all month long and a sledding hill just a short drive from the resort, Sunriver is an amusement park of play for your kids (and yourself) this holiday season.

Carolers 1

Beyond the resort, when the wind-chill dips, you don’t have to stay locked in the lodge. The U.S. Forest Service offers guided snowshoe or Nordic tours near Mt. Bachelor that will enlighten you to the winter wildlife and majestic peaks of the Central Oregon backcountry. Oh, and of course there is actually some great sledding as well – either on the tubing hill at the Mt. Bachelor or Hoodoo ski areas or the hill at Wanoga Sno-Park.

But if it’s just too cold for your liking, the High Desert Museum is a great place to warm up with an interactive family experience.

The High Desert Museum: Where West Meets Wild (Video)

Here in Central Oregon, we’re all about getting out in the great outdoors. But at the High Desert Museum, you can experience everything that makes Oregon wild, all in one place.

Here, there’s history, up close encounters with wildlife, and learning is fun and seriously hands-on! Everyday the education staff shows kids, parents and grandparents alike things they’ve never seen before. When’s the last time you got to hangout with a porcupine while it had a snack? Would you dare touch a slithery snake?!

At the High Desert Museum, it’s all possible. And you won’t believe how much fun you’ll have watching the little ones explore and take it all in! Some of the exhibits like the “By Hand Through Memory” and the “Spirit of the West” are here year round.

But the museum also has a couple of exhibits that change throughout the year. In the outdoor “Birds of Prey” space you can walk right up to eagles — then stretch out your arms and see how your wingspan measures up!

And when you walk through the Schnitzer Entrance Hall, see if you can spot Snowshoe, the Canadian Lynx! Because Lynxes are known to be stealth-like and nocturnal in the wild, this could be one of your only chances to see one up close!

Just down from Snowshoe you’ll find Vivi the Bobcat! Just like Lynxes, bobcats are known to be elusive, so seeing them is a real treat.  Vivi is way bigger than a house cat, but she still loves to take cat naps!

At the High Desert Museum everyone is encouraged to get back to nature, but nobody will blame you if you can’t resist snapping a few pics. After all it’s is an experience worth sharing!

Destination Smith Rock State Park

Philip Kuntz
Philip Kuntz

I was a visitor to Central Oregon many times before I ever gave serious thought to becoming a resident. Sure, I had casually tossed around the, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could actually live here?” idea during my early visits, but it wasn’t until I realized the full breadth of what Central Oregon has to offer—thanks to some tips and insights from a few locals who were willing to share their secrets—that I began to give serious thought to moving. Even then it took several more years of fence straddling before I finally made the move, which almost immediately left me asking the question, “Why didn’t I move here sooner?”

Now, as a 15-year Bend resident, I often find myself playing the role of de facto tour guide for family, friends, and even complete strangers who ask the question, “What should we do while we’re visiting Central Oregon?”

The answer, it turns out, isn’t quite as simple as it seems. It might sound cliché, but there truly is something for everyone to do—in every season—here in Central Oregon.

Monkey Face at Smith Rock State Park near Bend, Oregon
Monkey Face climbing rock sits in the foreground at Smith Rock State Park

The majesty of Smith Rock State Park draws thousands of visitors each year, whether to attempt some of the more than 1,000 named rock climbing routes, to hike along the Crooked River as it winds its way through the park, or to simply photograph the geologic beauty of this ancient monolith of rock.

My wife—who is a Central Oregon native and who spent eight years away from home pursuing degrees from Oregon State University and the University of Houston—still finds Smith Rock as enchanting today as the first time she visited the park as a child. One of our favorite hikes not just in the park but in all of Central Oregon is the trek up and over “Misery Ridge,” which although challenging is certainly not misery-inducing, and the views from the top of the ridge reward hikers for their efforts. A panoramic vista that includes nearly a dozen volcanic peaks, and the chance to spot climbers scaling the internationally renowned Monkey Face rock formation, make the two-hour loop a must-do for visitors during any month of the year. And no visit to Smith Rock is complete without a pre- or post-hike stop at Terrebonne Depot, which serves great food in a charming, renovated 100-year-old train station only a mile from the park.

Viewpoint at Smith Rock on the Sisters to Smith Rock Scenic Bikeway near Bend, Oregon

If Smith Rock is your primary destination in Central Oregon, there’s probably no better base camp from which to explore than one of Central Oregon’s many destination resorts. But beyond Smith Rock State Park, there is enough to see and do in Central Oregon to literally fill a lifetime of visits. Which is exactly why my wife and I often enjoy being tourists in our own backyard, taking in the sights, sounds, activities, and events that others travel great distances to experience.

mountain biking at Phil's Trail

If you’re like me, you like your vacations to be a mixture of activity and relaxation. On one hand, I could spend hours—if not days—mountain biking the singletrack of the Phil’s Trail network, skiing at Mt. Bachelor, snowshoeing in the Deschutes National Forest, or plying the waters of the area’s many blue-ribbon trout streams.

On the other hand, I like to kick back and recount the day’s adventures with a cold beer poured from one of the region’s 20-plus craft breweries, listen to music at one of countless outdoor festivals or concerts, or do some casual window shopping in Bend’s Old Mill District or down the western-themed boardwalks of Sisters.

With that in mind, here is a highlight reel of sorts featuring some of my favorite Central Oregon pastimes, and the things I’m quick to recommend when prompted for information.

Metolius River & Camp Sherman:

Camp Sherman was named after the residents of Sherman County in north-central Oregon, who would travel en masse to the headwaters of the Metolius River and surrounding area for a few weeks of recovery after their laborious annual wheat harvest. Today, Camp Sherman remains a haven for visitors and consists of a small general store, clusters of private cabins, and rental properties along the banks of the Metolius River. If I’m not headed there to fly fish for Rainbow or Bull Trout, you can usually find me hiking along the Metolius River Trail as it winds its way along both banks of the river for miles, hiking to the top of Black Butte for lunch beneath an active US Forest Service fire lookout, or exploring the expansive grounds and rearing ponds of the Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery.

Meadows Golf Course, Sunriver Resort

Golf, golf, golf:

Even though I’m a pretty high handicapper when it comes to golf, the sport has long been a passion of mine and Central Oregon’s 30 golf courses provide plenty of challenge and variety for me and my golfing buddies. From mountain golf to classic desert courses to traditional links-style routings, the Central Oregon golf product is challenging enough to provide a stiff test to the single digit handicap player, yet forgiving enough to show mercy to a triple-digit scorer like me. Popular resort courses such as Tetherow, Crosswater, Pronghorn, Black Butte Ranch, and Eagle Crest Resort are complemented by lesser-known but also impressive courses such as Lost Tracks, Aspen Lakes, Juniper Golf Course, and Meadow Lakes. Golf is also one-third of the “Central Oregon Trifecta,” which is something I have yet to complete in my time living here but am eager to cross off of my list. After all, there aren’t many places in the country—or the world, for that matter—where you can go skiing in the morning, play a round of golf in the afternoon, and fly fish for trout in the evening. Sign me up!


Less than 15 minutes south of Bend lies the community of Sunriver, a master-planned resort and residential community that debuted in 1968 and is a destination in and of itself. Anchored by Sunriver Resort, the community of Sunriver features 63 holes of golf, full-service marina and stables, the Sage Springs Spa, the SHARC aquatic and recreation center, 35 miles of paved bike paths, more than 30 tennis courts, a pedestrian-friendly retail village, a private airport, and more within the family-friendly confines of its 3,300 forested acres. The list of activities goes on and on, and is a big reason why Sunriver is just as popular with locals on “staycation” as it is with visitors on vacation.

High Desert Museum:

Whether my sister and her kids are visiting and want to get up close and personal with some indigenous critters, or I’m just looking to learn more about the region’s history on a rare sunless Central Oregon day, the High Desert Museum’s  combination of indoor and outdoor exhibits, wildlife, and living history is unmatched. Set on 135 acres just south of Bend and open 363 days a year, the Museum has been educating visitors about their connection to the past, their role in the present, and their responsibility to the future since 1982. In addition to its rotating schedule of historical and cultural exhibits, two of my favorite permanent exhibits at the Museum are the Birds of Prey Center with its twice daily outdoor Birds of Prey Encounters, and the Lazinka Sawmill—a fully functioning turn-of-the-century operation that mills lumber today much as it would have in 1904.

There is so much to see and do here in Central Oregon and this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There’s more than can fit in a single blog post, and certainly more than one can experience in a single visit.

Taken individually, almost every Central Oregon experience—including some of my favorites listed above—could easily be the highlight of any visit to the region. But like trying to decide which of your children you love most, it’s not as easy as it seems. Collectively, the overall Central Oregon experience is greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s the main reason I moved here. It’s also why I plan to continue calling Bend home for as long as I can imagine, and why I am eager to share my favorite experiences, activities, and adventures with visitors. Central Oregon is everyone’s to enjoy.

Autumn RV Envy

Crown Villa RV in Bend, Oregon

Ask a Central Oregonian which season is his or her favorite and chances are they’ll say fall. It’s colorful, the temps are near perfect and it’s usually dry. (Which is something that can’t be said for the rest of the state.) And that’s exactly the reason motorhome.com writer Bobbie Hasselbring  drove her rig to the area last October. She managed to get a lot in during a short amount of time! Read more of her adventure here: http://www.motorhome.com/motorhome-travel/an-autumn-escape-to-central-oregon/