The summer recreation season is officially upon us and Mt. Bachelor has kicked off yet another year of mountain biking, hiking, sunset dinners and more. The ski area’s summer activity menu includes chairlift rides, weekend sunset dinners and Gravity Sports summer camps for kids and teens. The scenic lift rides are $20 for those age 13-64, $17 for seniors (65 & up) and $14 for youth 12 and under.
Once you reach the top, you can have lunch, grab a snack or a beer on the deck at Pine Marten Lodge. You can hit the trails and hike around the mountain – even experience some SNOW on the year-round snowfields. Or, bring your discs for a round of disc golf.
The much anticipated downhill mountain bike park runs daily from June 16, 2018 through the close of the 2018 biking season (typically late September or early October). Bike park lift tickets will cost $42 for a full day pass for adults and $34 for those 12 and under.
The lift-served bike park had been in the works for years as Mt. Bachelor looked to make the ski area a true four-season destination for adventure seekers. The lifts give mountain bikers access to 13 miles of downhill trails starting at the top of the Pine Marten lift.
The Sunshine Bike Park provides access to a great progression of trails and is the perfect place for new bike park riders to build confidence and get quick laps. If you have your own mountain bike it is probably perfect for the Sunshine trails. The young ones in the family will especially love the Sunshine Park, doing lap after lap on Friday evening while the adults in the family kick back and relax on the West Village Deck.
Access to the Sunshine Park is $19.
Before you go:
The following items are required in order to ride a bike in Mt. Bachelor’s Downhill Bike Park:
A bike with functioning front and rear brakes
The following items are strongly recommended when riding in Mt. Bachelor’s Downhill Bike Park:
A bike with full suspension (at least 5″ of travel)
A bike with disc brakes
Armor/padding and gloves
Central Oregon mountain biking offers a very wide range of terrain for riders of all skill levels, but the current downhill park is designed for advanced or expert riders right now. That will all change in the coming years when more terrain is added. In fact, new cross country trails are being built ahead of the 2015 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships.
Dillon Falls – 11 Miles
Wanoga Sno-Park- 15 Miles
Mt. Bachelor – 22 Miles
Sparks Lake – 25 Miles
Elk Lake Resort – 32 Miles
Lava Lake – 39 Miles
Crane Prairie Reservoir – 42 Miles
The Cascade Lakes Scenic byway is one of the prettiest drives in the U.S. (hence the “scenic” designation.) But it might be the most recreationally rich road you’ll ever drive too. From Bend southwest to the Highway 58 junction, the Oregon Route 372 cuts through 66 miles unique volcanic formations and geological beauty that offers everything that makes Central Oregon an outdoor lover’s paradise. Bring a camera along with a canoe, kayak, road bike, mountain bike, fishing gear, hiking shoes, skis, snowshoes, snowboards and camping equipment. This is a road you’ll want to pull off for adventure along the way. The byway starts out as Century Drive in Bend, and even before you leave the city limits, you’ll find trailheads just off the road. From small, dirt parking areas, you can explore hundreds of miles of Central Oregon mountain bike trails that are gaining traction as some of the best in the country.
A little further up the road you can hang a left and drive about five miles to the trailhead for Benham Falls, Dillon Falls and Lava Island along the Deschutes River trail. Continue up the byway and you’ll find winter sno-parks turned summer playgrounds. The Wanoga Sno-park is becoming a popular parking area for mountain bikers thanks to a growing trail system on that side of the byway that includes such routes as “Tiddlywinks” and “Funner.” There’s a kids BMX pump track there as well.
Get your camera ready as you head farther up the road and round a corner where you’re greeted with a majestic view of Mt. Bachelor. The largest ski area in the Pacific Northwest is now a true four-season resort with the addition of a downhill mountain bike park to a summer slate already filled with lift-served hiking, disc golf and sunset dinners at the mid-mountain lodge that takes sightseers up to 7,700 feet. The views of the Cascades from there are brilliant.
Across the street from the Bachelor parking lot, Dutchman Flat Sno-Park. Several great Central Oregon hikes originate here, including a short, but somewhat steep climb up Tumalo Mountain. You’ll gain about 1,200 feet of elevation in just 1.8 miles up, and the views at the top are well worth it. The 3.6 mile round trip hike is a good one for kids as well. (Be wary of lingering snow well into the early summer months and come winter, this is a popular snowshoe trail.) One of the more popular mountain bike rides – a 25 miler dubbed “Bachelor to Bend” that features a lot of ridiculously fun downhill sections suitable for even novice riders also starts at this trailhead. (You can also do a fun loop and arrive back in the parking lot to continue on your merry (by)way.)
Up next, about 28 miles from Bend is the turnoff for Sparks Lake, the first of the high alpine lakes along the byway and a hugely popular spot for non-motorized water sports, especially stand up paddling. (Even Outside Magazine says so.) It’s a Central Oregon postcard in itself, sitting in the shadows of Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top and the 10,358-foot South Sister. The Green Lakes Trail parking area is across the byway from Sparks Lake. This popular trail can be done by itself or you can use it to access the lengthy trail that summits South Sister. Hiking, fishing and secluded, walk-in camping awaits at nearby Todd and Devil’s Lake as well.
As the road snakes behind the ski area another resort appears. Elk Lake Resort is the perfect spot to bask in the summer sun on a rented sailboat, canoe or kayak. Grab a meal at the restaurant inside or snag one of the campsites and do some cooking of your own. Cultus Lake and Wickiup Reservoir are a bit further down the road and both are great places to fish and watch for wildlife, including Bald Eagles and owls.
Three-hundred and sixty degree views of snow-covered peaks don’t come easy. Unless you’re in Central Oregon, in that case, they do! Mt. Bachelor is just a 30-minute drive from Bend or Sunriver.
Sunshine and short lift lines are what we live for here. If you do get stuck waiting for a chair – I doubt you’ll mind the view! From just about every inch of Mt. Bachelor you can see the rest of the mountains that make up the Cascade range.
If you’re looking for family friendly or the best beginner chairs head to the Sunrise Lodge. Here you can get rentals or put your kiddos in lessons. The Mt. Bachelor staff will help your little ones explore the mountain while keeping them safe.
If you’re up for an adventure, take the Summit lift. At just over 9,000 feet you’re guaranteed to find a picture-perfect moment above the clouds.
There’s a couple of ways to look at the annual winter closure of Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: You can see it as cutting off your recreational access beyond the gate until the snow melts in the spring.
Or – and this viewpoint is recommended – you can see it as as a chance for a new experience in nature and explore some of the most breathtaking backcountry the state of Oregon has to offer.
And there’s no better way to do that than to make plans to visit Elk Lake Resort for your family’s next winter adventure.
Remember – there’s no “road” to Elk Lake in the winter because the department of transportation doesn’t maintain the highway when it snows. Still, there’s several ways to get there and never has the old saying “getting there is half the fun” been more true.
The easiest way is to have one of the resort’s fleet of Suburbans-turned-snowcats pick you up from Dutchman Flat Sno-Park directly across from Mt. Bachelor or Mt. Bachelor’s parking lot on Friday afternoon and bring you back on Sunday. The most peaceful (albeit sweatiest) way is to Nordic ski to the lodge from Dutchman. The most thrilling way is to ride your own snowmobile in on the 11-mile groomed trail from Dutchman Flat. It’s not often in life you’re able to spend the weekend in a spot inaccessible by cars.
Central Oregon Adventures also rents snowmobiles and sets up shop at the Wanoga Sno-Park, located on Cascade Lakes Highway about 15 miles from Bend. You can rent for a couple hours, four hours or all day. The four-hour rental window gives you plenty of time to do some exploring and stop by the Elk Lake Resort lodge for some food.
The historic lodge is a perfect spot to warm up during a day in the backcountry. The menu has locally sourced, Pacific Northwest inspired meals including elk chili, burgers, mac and cheese and more. And, of course, you can cozy up to the fire with a hot cocoa or catch some football with one of the numerous Central Oregon craft brews on tap.
But for most folks, a few hours isn’t long enough at Elk Lake. For the hearty souls looking to spend the weekend in the winter wilderness, the resort offers deluxe homes, rustic cabins or camping cabins to extend your stay. Some of the cabins include full kitchens and are the perfect spot for large groups to hang together for the weekend.
What you do during your time at Elk Lake is up to you. Rent a snowmobile from the resort and head out into the powder. Take a hike with some snowshoes. Or venture out on the nordic skis you rented for the weekend from Mt. Bachelor. (The resort does not have ski rentals, so be prepared.)
Or, if you want to stay snuggled up inside your cabin all weekend, that’s perfectly fine too.
So find a way to get to Elk Lake this winter and get away from it all.
But with our high desert climate, there’s also plenty of opportunities for more “summer-like” activities like hiking, cycling and yes, even swimming and golf.
On many days you can wake up to two or three inches of the white stuff out your window, but come lunchtime the snow’s gone, the temps have warmed up and it’s the perfect weather to get outside.
There’s something invigorating about hitting the pool when there’s a blanket of fresh snow on the ground. For starters, kids will take any chance they can to go swimming regardless of the temperature outside and nothing says “vacation” like a day at the pool.
Yep, you read that right. Surfing in Central Oregon. In fact, you can do that in a couple different ways here.
For the truly adventurous, Bend’s Whitewater Park near the Old Mill District turns the tranquil waters of the Deschutes River into a whitewater adventure. The center channel of the park has four-wave features for emerging to expert whitewater enthusiasts. The features are created by twenty-six, underwater pneumatic bladders, natural and man-made riverbed conditions and dynamic river flows.
The sport – Flowriding is not just a ride, it is a sport… a 21st Century alchemy that has the look of surfing, the ride of snowboarding, the tricks of skateboarding, and boards derived from wakeboarding. Since the early ‘90s, the world’s best board riders have cross pollinated
into flowboarding. This new alternative board sport is taken seriously from the mountains to the sea.
Looking to take it up a notch? How about an afternoon surfing Oregon’s only indoor FlowRider wave machine! The Sunriver Fitness and Aquatic Center on Sunriver’s northern edge offers two-hour sessions for $20.
One of the most popular go-to hikes for folks during the winter is the Deschutes River trail near the Bill Healy bridge west of the Old Mill District. This gentle hike (it’s more like a walk on dirt than a “hike”) is a 3.5-mile loop up one side of the river, across a footbridge and back down the other. You can add some distance by parking in the Old Mill (a perfect place to grab a bite to eat or hot chocolate after your hike.)
A lot of locals also like to hike Pilot Butte’s trail in the winter. This is actually a pretty good hike – not long, just strenuous in that it’s quite a trek up to the top of this 480-foot butte located in the middle of town. The road is closed during the winter so you won’t have to worry about cars, but you should be careful of icy spots on the north-facing side if there’s been a recent snow.
And, of course, there’s the granddaddy of winter hiking spots – Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne. Winter might just be the best time to explore all of the hiking – and biking – options available because the park can get scorching hot during the summer months.
Cycling wise, most mountain bikers head east of Bend for the best trail conditions during the winter. Complexes like Horse Ridge and Horse Butte stay snow free most of the winter except in rare cases and offer some great trails and amazing views of the area. Hikers and horses can also often be found at Horse Butte. You can combine several loops in the area for longer rides, but the Coyote Loop Trail-Arnold Ice Cave Trail loop is about 12 miles. Be sure to check out the Arnold Ice Cave as well – a super cool lava tube in the middle of the loop.
“If folks were coming to Prineville to ride a mountain bike I would push them to the Lower 66 trails at the Grade as you enter town coming into Prineville from Bend/Redmond,” said James Good, owner of Good Bike Co. in Prineville. “It is located in the south part of the Ochoco Wayside State Park. It is 66 acres that have roughly 3.5 miles of single track trails encompassing two loops and a connecting loop at the West end of the trails. Trails are for beginner to intermediate riders.”
Good Bike Co. is a great place to stop before you hit the trails – James is a wealth of information.
Several Central Oregon courses are open year-round, weather permitting and often the weather most certainly permits. I worked one winter at Lost Tracks Golf Club in Bend and we were open every single day. Sure, there were some really cold days and the greens froze over a few times, but the course stayed snow-free the entire season and we had players nearly every day.
The 2017-18 winter was one for the record books in Central Oregon, especially Mt. Bachelor.
The ski area had one of its top 3 seasons on record – a season that included three straight months of more than 100 inches of snow. For a long stretch, it seemed like every day was a powder day. (Both on the mountain AND in town.)
It was perfect timing too, as Mt. Bachelor opened the Cloudchaser chairlift – the first new lift in nearly 20 years. Cloudchaser opened up 13 new runs and 635 new acres of skiing, pushing skiable acres to more than 4,300, making Mt. Bachelor the 6th largest ski area in the U.S.
Bachelor has been the hub of Central Oregon skiing for nearly 60 years and is already known for having one of the longest seasons in the industry (November to Memorial Day,) but all that snow last year led to a bonus: JulySki! Independence Day revelers were able to start the day with some runs from the Summit! You’ve seen so many swimsuits on a ski hill.
Will the 2018-19 season live up to last year? That’s up to Mother Nature. But some early October snowfall has whet our whistles for sure and got many folks up doing an early snow dance.
There’s nothing quite like seeing your child’s face light up during a fun family activity – even if they’re laughing at you down on the ice after a spectacular, unintential and rather painful triple axel.
Ah, the family memories right?
Central Oregon has plenty of opportunities for you to reconnect with your kids while keeping them disconnected from their phones for at least a little while. Here’s some of your best bets for Kid-Friendly Fun in Central Oregon:
Everyone looks a little silly the first time they strap on a pair of ice skates. But it takes just a few timid shuffles along the ice to pick it up enough to have some fun. Enjoy the outdoor covered rinks at The Village at Sunriver and The Pavilion in Bend or the open air rinks at Seventh Mountain Resort and Centennial Park near downtown Redmond. All of the locations have rental skates and charge very nominal fees for use. If there’s snow falling, it might just be the most Normal Rockwell thing you do all winter long.
Nothing elicits shrieks of pure joy like barreling down a snow-covered hill on a thin plastic sled. Throw in your older brother’s poorly designed ramp right where you reach maximum speed and let the fun begin! Wanoga Sno-Park is the go-to spot for sledding in the area. It’s on the road to Mt. Bachelor and features a large hill, warming hut and restroom. There’s even a food truck there serving hot beverages and offering rental sleds.
For a more “drag-racing-on-snow” experience, keep driving up to Mt. Bachelor and experience the Snowblast Tubing Park. You can pay for a two-hour window or all-day pass and let a motorized rope pull you and your innertube to the top of the 800-foot hill. The ride down is faster than you think, and an absolute blast. The Hoodoo Ski Area near Sisters has a tubing hill of its own. How fast is it? Well, it’s called “The Autobahn,” so make of that what you will.
Sometimes the kids just can’t even with the snow and cold. And to be honest, you’d probably like some time to let the gear dry out. Luckily there’s a few places in Central Oregon for kids to have a blast inside. Maybe the best place for family fun indoors also happens to be a spot where you can mix in some hands-on education: The High Desert Museum. The museum features wild animals, interpretive history exhibits and much more. At Sunriver Resort, the kids will have a blast at Fort Funnigan, home to full or half-day camps with plenty of activities for the kids.
Looking to have the kids blow of a little steam? There’s no better place than Bend’s Bouncing off the Wall. The 11,000-square-foot facility is home to several GIGANTIC inflatable interactives and includes a large area for crafts, activities and other indoor play. They can literally bounce themselves to sleep with all the activity. (Seriously, I’ve actually seen a kid sleeping in one of the bouncy houses.)
Sled Dog Rides
Ice skating, sledding…sure, you can do those things a lot of places. Sled dog riding? Now that’s another story – a super fun, unique story. Few places give you the chance to be pulled by a team of excited dogs, mushed by a past participant in the Iditarod. Oregon’s Trail of Dreams Sled Dog Rides at Mt. Bachelor is probably the most fun you can have on snow as you are whisked away into the woods.
Catch a Movie, Have a Soak
Sometimes you just want to catch a flick – even on a family vacation. You can find relatively new releases in a unique theater experience at McMenamins Old St. Francis School in downtown Bend. The McMenamins historic campus (dating back to 1936) includes a restaurant, four pubs, ornate Turkish soaking pool, music venue, hotel and theater. It’s one of those “must-sees” when you visit Central Oregon. Drop the kids off at one of the matinees and go have a soak just down the hall. Sounds like a perfect afternoon to me.
But why not do something that really gets the heart pumping? Something that will have you equally scared and excited. Something that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Central Oregon has a bunch of high-octane adventures ready to help you take your vacation to the next level. Here’s our list of 9 Central Oregon adventures that will send your ticker into overdrive!
1. Helicopter Tours
Your heart starts beating more rapidly as soon as you step on the tarmac and make your way to the chopper. From there, your BPM likely will hover in the 110s as the helicopter gains altitude and starts flying over some of Central Oregon’s most iconic mountain peaks. See Smith Rock, the Deschutes River, Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top and South Sister like you’ve never seen before as the wind whips through the open doors of your aerial chariot. Big Mountain Heli Tours offers a variety of customizable tours.
2. Backcountry ATV Tours
Buckle up for the ultimate all-terrain adventure as you set out for a half-day tour of Central Oregon’s lava fields, forests, and high desert. Outriders NW offers you the opportunity to pilot the car or just ride along. With over 3,000 square miles of sparkling lakes, spectacular mountains, and wide-open deserts, safely access the rugged forest and high desert to explore and experience the unseen natural beauty, that most people never see in a lifetime.
3. Aerobatic Adventure Flights
For the person who wants to experience the thrills and joys of aerobatic flight without taking the controls. At Advanced Flight Dynamics, you come to their squadron, get your briefing, strap into the airplane, and set off for up to 20 minutes of extreme fun in their Xtreme Decathlon airplane while our pilot does all the flying. The pilots will fly as gentle or extreme as you like. When you return you can watch the video of your flight so all can watch and take it home with you.
4. Downhill Mountain Biking
As an extension to the 300+ miles of mountain bike singletrack offered here in Central Oregon, The Mt. Bachelor Bike Park offers lift-served access to an additional 13 miles of downhill oriented trails. The ski area’s beginner lift, Sunshine Accelerator serves as a great introduction to the bike park for all ability levels. From there, riders can progress to Pine Marten Express where a combination of machine built and single track trails provide a thrill for any adventurous spirit – from intermediate runs to advance double black diamond trails.
5. Rock Climbing at Smith Rock
Smith Rock is the birthplace of American sport climbing and on any given day you’ll see expert climbers scaling the sandstone spires that rise to the sky from the banks of the Crooked River. But here’s the thing: Even expert climbers had to start somewhere. Chockstone Climbing Guides has a variety of guided adventures and courses to let you experience the white-knuckle thrills of rock climbing. No experience necessary – and they provide all the gear.
I’m not sure there’s anything that will get your heart beating more rapidly than literally jumping off of a bridge. Just typing that sentence sent my heart racing. Central Oregon Bungee Adventures gives you the ability to experience the closest thing to actually flying by letting you throw yourself off a bridge at Peter Skene Ogden State Park, into the Crooked River Canyon.
8. Hot Air Balloon Rides
Experience “The Art of Flight” with Big Sky Balloon Company. Hour long scenic hot air balloon flights provide a one of a kind experience in Central Oregon. Big Sky flies once a day, early in the morning and the flights are very weather dependent. Typically they’re airborne within an hour of sunrise.
Not interested in flying in a balloon? You can just enjoy the scenery at the annual Balloons Over Bend event in late June.
9. Zip Lining
Crater Lake is just 90 minutes south of Bend, making it a perfect day trip for one of the true “must see” natural wonders of the world. Drive about a half hour further and you can experience Oregon’s largest zipline. You’ll experience Oregon at its finest on your 3-hour tour with Crater Lake ZipLine. With magnificent views of Upper Klamath Lake, Cascade Mountain peaks and surrounding National Forest, you’ll be thrilled by the beauty and the adventure.
Looking for some more exciting adventures?
Take your group into the woods for an hour of paintball action with Paintball Paradise. Test your investigative skills with the Bend Escape Room – a physical adventure game where participants are placed into a room and have to use teamwork along with elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and escape the room within a set time limit. Each room is themed and has a unique storyline that engages the players through their environment.