Scenic Bikeways Showcase Central Oregon’s Backroad Beauty

Oregon’s official scenic bikeways are the first of their kind in the U.S – and Central Oregon is home to 6 of the state’s 11 most beautiful bike routes.

An absolute summer must for road cyclists are riding the best of the best – our scenic bikeways. Every rider can find a ride to suit their style and mood, from family friendly to adventurous.

CROOKED RIVER CANYON SCENIC BIKEWAY

Riders begin the 37 mile out-and-back journey in the historic community of Prineville. The bikeway follows the Crooked River south out of town, giving riders picturesque views of the surrounding llama farms and cattle ranches.

The route leaves the pastures behind as it enters the Crooked River Canyon. The road slips through the canyon’s towering basalt cliffs, gently curving and climbing to a scenic view near Palisades Campground before descending back toward the river. Riders will pedal by Chimney Rock Recreation Site, a popular picnicking spot and fun place to watch local anglers fly fish in the Crooked River.

The final stretch of the Crooked River Scenic Bikeway continues through the canyon and passes by several other day-use sites and campgrounds. Observant riders might spot resident wildlife like deer, great blue herons and golden eagles. The bikeway ends at Big Bend Campground, which has parking, restrooms, water and power.

TWIN BRIDGES SCENIC BIKEWAY

This 36-mile ride begins in Bends downtown Drake Park and follows an engaging, moderately hilly course past the city limits into farm and ranch country, rolling through rimrock canyons with views of snowcapped peaks. Cross the Deschutes River at Twin Bridges Road, and stop in the quaint town of Tumalo. Dip your feet in the cool, clear water, get lunch or sip a latte before powering home. With no extended climbs, it’s a great way to fill your lungs with mountain-fresh air and take in the sublime scenery.

 

SISTERS TO SMITH ROCK SCENIC BIKEWAY

This moderate 37-mile route weaves through Sisters Country to Smith Rock State Park’s impressive rock walls. The Crooked River winds at the base of the volcanic, multicolored formations towering above the valley floor. Watch rock climbers from all over the world tackle thousands of ascent routes. The varied, rolling terrain is generally downhill from Sisters. It is a perfect point-to-point ride if you leave a support vehicle in the public parking areas at each end.

 

MCKENZIE PASS SCENIC BIKEWAY

This challenging 37-mile route winds through deep forests, climbing to a volcanic lava-rock moonscape summit. This is likely the most interesting and beautiful scenery you’ll ever get on a bike ride. Stop at the Dee Wright Observatory, built from lava rock, and take in spectacular views of the Three Sisters mountains. A huge bonus: most of this ride is on Route 242 (on the U.S. Register of Historic Places), and it’s open to bicycles in spring.

 

METOLIUS RIVER LOOPS

These loops vary from short, family-friendly rides of about three miles, to a moderate, 24-mile ride if you connect several of the shorter loops. The loops begin and end at the 90-year-old Camp Sherman Store and Fly Shop. Travel along the wild and scenic waters of the Metolius River to the Wizard Falls fish hatchery where kids can feed the trout, kokanee and Atlantic salmon. Educational signs describe how the headwaters of the Metolius mark the marvelous beginning of the 28-mile river that flows through meadow and forest and careens through canyon walls before it empties into Lake Billy Chinook. Take in all hues of green in the spring and summer, or stunning reds, yellows, and oranges throughout the fall.

MADRAS MOUNTAIN VIEW SCENIC BIKEWAY

This 30-mile loop through high desert and basalt palisades provides sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains and almost no traffic. Begin and end in small, friendly downtown Madras. Pedal to the stunning overlook above Cove Palisades State Park and Lake Billy Chinook to glimpse eagles and other raptors soaring. Wind through the little towns of Culver and Metolius, stopping for refreshments along lightly trafficked roads. This area’s mild winters offer great year-round riding, with sun-drenched days extending throughout winter, spring, and fall.

 

Mt. Bachelor is a True Family Ski Experience in Central Oregon

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.

Mt Bachelor has over 3,600 acres open to skiing and snowboarding. 1600 acres are groomed daily and there’s plenty of easy-going runs for families trying to capture each and every moment on the mountain.

Whether you’re just learning or cheering for someone else on their first time hitting the slopes. Mt Bachelor is will exceed your expectations in every way.

Elk Lake Resort a Great Winter Getaway – And Getting There is Half the Fun

elk lake winter

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.

ELR 085

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.

ELR 099 (1)

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.

elk lake cabin winter

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.

elk-lake-resort

So find a way to get to Elk Lake this winter and get away from it all.

That road will be back open in no time.

Winter Weekend – 48 Hours of Winter Fun

It’s a triple play when it comes to the perfect two-day winter stay in Central Oregon – starting and ending with three distinct experiences.

Sisters

Based out of Sisters, after a pleasant night’s stay at FivePine Lodge, head to one of the town’s renowned bakeries to start the day. If you’re staying at Black Butte Ranch, brew up a cup and lay out some pastries in your vacation rental. After that, head to Hoodoo Ski Area to ski, ride or do a little innertubing down these Cascade slopes.

After a morning full of downhill runs, head back to Sisters for a late lunch or refreshments at the Three Creeks Brewing Company. If you haven’t been able to find time to see the latest movie, head next door to the Sisters Movie House, built inside a big red barn. If the slopes have gotten the best of you, there’s always the Shibui Spa at FivePine Lodge, just a two-minute walk from the theater and brew pub.

Day two is exploration day. It begins in Sisters with a relaxed cross-country ski tour on the Peterson Ridge trail system, a hike around nearby Suttle Lake or an amble along the Metolius River and into Camp Sherman. Try lunch at The Lodge at Suttle Lake.

Back in town, it’s time to troll the art galleries or hit the winter series of the Sisters Folk Festival, where you can find big acts in an intimate setting.

A family ice skating at Seventh Mountain Resort

Bend

If you’re launching from Bend, and staying at DoubleTree, Riverhouse on the Deschutes or the Hilton Garden Inn, try McKay Cottage or Sparrow Bakery before heading up for a day of alpine skiing.

Those wanting to be a bit closer to Mt. Bachelor will find a haven at Seventh Mountain Resort, five miles from downtown on the way to the ski area.

Legs a bit weary and ready to head back from the slopes, stop by The Row at Tetherow for apres ski or head right to town for a brew and a burger at either 10 Barrel Brewing Company or Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. Lodge.

Come evening, Bend has dozens of wonderful dining options such as the venerable Pine Tavern near Mirror Pond in the heart of the city.

After dinner, downtown has several music clubs, regular big-time music acts at the Tower Theatre, wine bars and places to simply sit back and relax after a long day on the mountain.

Or, an alternative itinerary for Bend would be to start off the day heading up Century Drive for cross-country skiing at one of the designated Sno-Parks, sledding at Wanoga Sno-Park or dog sledding with Trail of Dreams at Mt. Bachelor.

Back in town, explore the shopping downtown or in the Old Mill District. The dinner fare in town runs from Middle Eastern, to Far Eastern to Pacific Northwest and Western. In any case there are top-notch restaurants for every whim.

The Village at Sunriver Shopping

Sunriver

A third two-day excursion starts in Sunriver, with its wide variety of accommodations from lodge rooms and condos to rental homes. In winter, Sunriver is like being in a classic European alpine mountain community – small enough to walk everywhere yet replete with a central shopping and restaurant village.

The drive to Mt. Bachelor from Sunriver is short. When your legs can’t take any more on the mountain, head back to Sunriver Resort, where there’s Sage Springs Spa to minister aches and pains, Sunriver Brewing Company for conviviality and several excellent dining choices at the Lodge and in The Village at Sunriver.

Day two in Sunriver starts with a leisurely breakfast at Sintra before heading up to Edison Butte for a cross-country ski tour. By the way, dogs are welcome at Edison Butte.
Ending the tour with a picnic lunch on the snow is a fitting finale to two wonderful Central Oregon days.

Mt. Bachelor Looks to Mother Nature for Repeat Performance of Epic Ski Season

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.

Now’s the time to start planning your own epic ski vacation. Luckily, Central Oregon’s destination resorts have created some amazing stay and ski packages to make your trip more affordable than ever.

10 Things Not to Miss in Central Oregon

Time and time again guests come into our Central Oregon Visitor Information Center in Sunriver and say, “We’re here for a few days. What should we do?”

And it’s always the toughest question we get.

With so much to do and see and experience in Central Oregon, it’s difficult to layout the perfect weekend itinerary for folks. But after we ask a few questions of them to get a better idea of what kind of things they like to do, we’re able to send them out the door with a smile and sense of adventure.

Here’s our list of the Top 10 things not to miss in Central Oregon.

Courtesy Elena Pressprich

1. Smith Rock State Park, Terrebonne

One of the 7 Wonders of Oregon, Smith Rock is the birthplace of American sport climbing and a feast for the eyes. Take a hike along the Crooked River and marvel at the spires that rise from the canyon floor or trek up Misery Ridge for expansive views of the High Desert and Monkey Face.

Courtesy Elena Pressprich

2. Tumalo Falls

Just 10 miles from downtown Bend, Tumalo Falls is a majestic, nearly 100-foot waterfall that cascades into the tranquil Tumalo Creek below. Take a hike along the creek and up to the top of the falls for a cool view from above. The trail continues for four miles up Happy Valley; perfect for hikers of any age.

Crux Fermentation Project
Crux Fermentation Project, Bend

3. Grab a Beer

Bend is known for exceptionally clean water – and it’s perfect for making exceptionally good beer. Enjoy a pint at any of our nearly 30 brewpubs across the region or take a tour of Deschutes Brewery, the one that started the movement here. Want to learn to brew your own? Check out Immersion Brewing where you can create your own beer in about two hours.

Broken Top Club Golf Course Sunset

4. Play a Round

Central Oregon is home to nearly 30 golf courses including three in Golf Digest’s Top 100 Courses in America and half of Oregon’s Top 10 according to Golfweek. From the forest-lined fairways of Widgi Creek to the Scottish-links berms and knolls of Tetherow, you’ll find a hugely diverse selection of challenges courses to choose from.

Big Eddy Thriller

5. Get Wet

You can’t visit Central Oregon without playing in our wild and scenic Deschutes River. The options are plentiful including a leisurely float through Bend’s Old Mill District, a surf sesh at the Bend whitewater park, a kayak adventure at Sparks Lake or an adrenaline-pumping whitewater thrill ride with Sun County Tours on the Bid Eddy. Bring a swimsuit and have some fun.

No Name Lake at the base of Broken Top/Adam McKibben

6. High Mountain Hikes

Hundreds of miles of tranquil and scenic hiking trails are waiting for you to explore. Go up into the mountains along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and walk among the giant snow-capped peaks. Take a short hike with the kids around Todd Lake or venture higher up to the peak of majestic Broken Top. Or, closer to Bend and Sunriver, trek along the gently-rolling and beautiful Deschutes River Trail. For whatever adventure you’re looking for, there’s a trail for you.

7. Take a Ride

More than 400-miles of epic mountain bike singletrack can be found in Central Oregon, perfect for cyclists of all abilities and so close to town that you can ride to them straight from the shop you rented your bike from. Road cyclists can enjoy a handful of beautiful, well-marked scenic bikeways that showcase sights like McKenzie Pass and Smith Rock State Park.

8. Mt. Bachelor – Year Round Fun at 8,000 Feet

The 5th largest ski area in the U.S. is a year-round destination for fun and amazing views. Snow lovers can enjoy stellar skiing conditions from November through May – among the longest ski seasons in the country. Once the snow melts a little, Mt. Bachelor transforms into a downhill mountain bike Mecca with miles of adrenaline-pumping trails. Summer also means sunset dinners at nearly 9,000 feet – where the meals and views are equally as spectacular.

 

9. Explore a Lava Flow

Located on the north flank of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, what is now Lava Lands was created about 7,000 years ago after a volcanic explosion of Lava Butte. A miles-wide sea of jagged lava rock was left behind creating a unique geological landscape that served as that training ground for moon-bound astronauts.

Porcupine at a museum near Bend, Oregon

10. High Desert Museum

The High Desert Museum has been inspiring families since 1982 and is consistently rated as a top Central Oregon attraction by Trip Advisor. With 135 acres and more than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, it’s a “must see” for anyone traveling through the area.

Get a close-up of native wildlife, such as an otter, bobcat, porcupine, and badger. Talk with historic characters who share the tales of early Oregon explorers and settlers. Visit an authentic homestead and sawmill from 1904. Experience a close flying encounter with owls, falcons, hawks and even a vulture. Learn about Native American culture and history and delight your children with one of many fun, hands-on programs that bring history and science to life.

Central Oregon Winter Adventures

When the snow flies, Central Oregon shines. All you have to do is choose your adventure.

Mt. Bachelor

The model of a complete snowsports resort,  Mt. Bachelor offers 360-degree lift-served groomed skiing and riding from its volcanic summit. It’s been named the “Most Underrated Ski Resort” in the Pacific Northwest, and that’s OK by us. That means instead of packed slopes, all you get is packed powder.

With tons of groomers, several terrain parks, steeps, bowls and enough backcountry to fill your day, Mt. Bachelor has something for snowriders of every skill level.

Mt Bachelor in Central Oregon

Cross-Country Skiing

Like your trails groomed for skating and classic cross-country skiing? Head to the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center, Hoodoo Ski Area or the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park. If, however, you prefer un-groomed skiing on marked trails, then try one of the region’s 14 Sno-Parks. If making your own path through the forest is the order of the day, almost any place that has snow in the Deschutes National Forest is there waiting to be tracked.

Backcountry Skiing

Superb and among the most accessible in the country, backcountry skiing is just minutes north and northwest of the Mt. Bachelor Ski Area. A slightly longer haul is required to get into some virginal backcountry runs in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, the Three Sisters volcanic peaks from nearby Sisters and Pine Mountain east of Bend.

 

Skier in deep powder at Mt. Bachelor ski resort near Bend, Oregon

Snowmobiling

Thanks to the efforts of regional snowmobiling clubs, there are literally hundreds of miles of groomed and well-marked trails to “sled” throughout Central Oregon. Popular take-off spots include the snowmobile parking and shelter area at Wanoga Sno-Park on Century Drive near Bend, Edison Butte on the road between Mt. Bachelor and Sunriver, the Newberry National Volcanic Monument at La Pine and nearby Hoodoo Ski Area outside of Sisters. Another local favorite is to head from Dutchman Flat along Century Drive and out to Elk Lake Resort. Don’t have your own sled? You can rent one for a couple of hours or the whole day from Central Oregon Adventures – they set up shop at Wanoga all winter long.

Snowshoeing

Wherever there’s snow cover in Central Oregon, there’s an opportunity to snowshoe. Try marked snowshoe routes at Virginia Meissner and Swampy Lakes Sno-Parks off of Century Drive just outside of Bend. These are two main areas where snowshoers can find trails, warming huts and solace in the Deschutes National Forest.

Sledding

The place to be for family sledding fun is Wanoga Sno-Park off Century Drive on the way to Mt. Bachelor. There’s ample parking and plenty of room to sled, toboggan or inner tube. Bring your own hot chocolate or buy it from the snack trailer in the parking lot. Head a little farther up to Mt. Bachelor’s Snowblast tubing park and snag a day-pass for an afternoon of zooming down the mountain on innertubes. In Sunriver, SHARC has its own snow-tubing hill, and Hoodoo’s AutoBahn Tubing park is one of the largest snow-tubing parks in entire West!

dog sled_from J. Scdoris

Dog Sledding

Regularly scheduled dog sled tours led by qualified guides depart and return to Mt. Bachelor ski area every day when the resort is open for business. Trail of Dreams, owned by an Iditarod-competing family with their athletic dogs, take guests into parts of the forest many people never get to see. What an amazing way to experience the Central Oregon winter wonderland!

Fat Bikes, Hutch's Bicycles, near Bend, Oregon
courtesy Scott Wilcox

Fat Biking

Just like paddleboarding has taken over Central Oregon during the summer, Fat Biking is the new winter craze that has avid mountain bikers extending their riding seasons throughout the snowfall. Picture a rigid mountain bike on steroids – with blown-up tires that make it easy to pedal through and over the snow. Several Fat Bike-specific trails are available in the Wanoga Sno-Park area but other popular spots are near the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, Todd Lake and along the snow-covered Cascade Lakes Highway. Since you’re probably not traveling with your own Fat Bike, local shops like Hutch’s, Pine Mountain Sports, Sunriver Sports and The Hub Cyclery have fleets for you to rent.

Ice Skating

Don’t miss The Village in Sunriver or Seventh Mountain Resort near Bend on the way to Mt. Bachelor. Both offer an outdoor winter skating experience that’s fun for your whole family. Drinks are rink-side for your apres ski. Or visit the new 4,000-square-foot ice skating rink in downtown Redmond.

Seventh Mountain Resort Ice Rink
Seventh Mountain Resort Ice Rink

Rockhounding

Central Oregon is home to Prineville, the unofficial “Rock Hound Capital of the United States,” where precious gemstones lie just beneath the land’s surface, waiting to be uncovered. Discover a piece of Oregon’s geologic past at one of many public recreational collection areas. Get the Rockhound Map from the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce (see directory, page 120) for a full-color guide to your adventure, with pictures of what you can find at each site, historic and geologic information, and lots of tips, such as GPS coordinates.

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 Tubing Hills Offer Plenty of Thrills

wanoga sno-park
Wanoga sledding hill/Courtesy Anna Jacobs

Skiing can be hard. Snowboarding can be painful to learn. And the thought of a chairlift to 9,000 feet might bring some folks to tears.

We get it. Skiing and snowboarding are not for everyone. Sledding? That’s for everyone who’s ever been a kid.

Luckily, Central Oregon is not exactly a flat place and when the snow falls, there’s plenty of places to grab an innertube or sled and experience some thrills (while staying a little closer to the lodge.)

hoodoo-tubing

Hoodoo Ski Area’s Autobahn Tubing Hill is a thrill with tubers having the choice among six, 800-foot-long groomed runs. A tube tow will pull you to the top so you don’t even have to worry about trekking up to the top. (You’re allowed to walk to the top if you’re into exercise or something.) Better yet? Hoodoo, just west of Sisters and Black Butte Ranch, is one of the only night skiing options in the PNW and a true, no-frills, neighborhood ski hill. It’s “steep, deep and cheap.” (But the tubing hill closes at 4 p.m.)

Autobahn Tubing Park rates are $17 for 10 runs, or $25 (ages 12 and under) and $30 (ages 13+) for all-day access.

Hoodoo officials say “For those of you who don’t need this much excitement, check out the Snow Bunny Sled Hill located near the Easy Rider Lift. It’s $5 for the whole day. You can use your own sled as long as it’s not too fast or for $5 more rent a kiddie tube from us. Car or truck tubes or other snow vehicles that are hard to steer are not permitted.”

At Mt. Bachelor, the Snowblast Tubing Park, you can buy an all-day pass or a ticket for a two-hour window (10 a.m. – 12 p.m., 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. ) A two-hour session will cost $25 for adults and $20 for kids 12 and under. All day passes are $45 and $35.

Sessions can sell out so we recommend purchasing your tickets early in the day regardless of what time window you want to ride. Or, if you’re staying in Sunriver, plan ahead by buying your passes at the new Mt. Bachelor sales office at the Village at Sunriver. It’s located in Building 26 next to the South Bend Bistro.

Some reminders:

  • Children must be at least 42″ tall.

  • Adults and children must have a separate snow tube for safety reasons.

  • Ski boots and hard boots are not allowed.

Elsewhere, the Wanoga Sno-Park on the road to Mt. Bachelor is the locals’ go-to spot for some old school sledding. The hill is huge (wide) so folks can spread out and it’s just steep enough to make it fun. What’s more is the sno-park has a large warming hut, restrooms and, in the past, there’s been a vendor in the parking lot to rent tubes, sleds and hot cocoa. (But the days, times have been hit and miss so I wouldn’t go up without a tube or sled.)

central oregon sledding
Sledding at Wanoga Sno-Park

In Sunriver, the SHARC is home to a fun little tubing hill and snow play area. The SHARC hill has three different runs of varying steepness so you can choose just how thrilling a ride you want. They’ll provide you a tube and an all-day pass costs just $10. There’s also some even smaller hills in an open area next to the facility.

sharc-tubing

Curl Up and Get Warm – Central Oregon’s Cozy Romantic Getaways

With the weather making a quick turn toward winter, it’s the perfect time to start thinking about creative ways to get cozy with your significant other.

And there might not be any better way to stop, take a breath and get away from it all than with an easy, romantic getaway where you two can cuddle up next to the fire, have a glass of wine and recharge the batteries for the long winter ahead. Here’s our picks for the best places to get cozy together in Central Oregon.

Pine Ridge Inn – Bend

Located on top of the canyon overlooking the Deschutes River, Pine Ridge Inn offers an escape to tranquil settings right in the heart of Bend. With highly-appointed rooms that include cozy gas fireplaces, it’s a perfect spot for a quick retreat. The lodge offers a few different room options and a special “romance package.” There’s also some great stay and ski packages if you want to add a little adrenaline to your quiet weekend away.

pine ridge wine photo

FivePine Lodge – Sisters

Once you check in at the FivePine Lodge and enjoy a complimentary craft beer or glass of wine, the Romance Cabin (that’s actually what it’s called) is waiting for you. These cabins are super private – out on the back of the property nestled against the Deschutes National Forest. Enjoy some time in the soaking tub next to a stone fireplace before venturing out across campus for dinner at Three Creeks Brewing Co. or into town for classic comfort fare at Cottonwood Cafe.

FivePine1

 Elk Lake Resort

There’s getting away from it all, then there’s getting away from all the people trying to get away from it all. At Elk Lake Resort, you’re bypassing the luxuries of, oh, being able to drive to the front door of the hotel to check in, take a dip in the heated pool and walking to the nearest restaurant for some food.

elk lake cabin winter

BUT, in return you get an extremely up close and personal look at Central Oregon’s beautiful backcountry in a crazy romantic cabin with access to a rustic lodge accessible only by snowmobile, Nordic skis or the very convenient Elk Lake Resort snowcats, which will pick you up at Mt. Bachelor or the Dutchman Flat sno-park parking lot. Once you’re there you can rent a snowmobile for some winter adventure, or just hang out at the lodge or in your cabin. Surprise your wife with a romantic cabin in the woods? You’re set for a while, man.

McMenamins Old St. Francis School – Bend

At McMenamins, you can relax together in a historic old Catholic school turned hotel and movie theater that also houses three separate pubs. Fire pits can be found on a couple of different spots around the campus, including outide the O’Kane’s pub in the back of the building. The rooms are some of the quaintest in Bend, with king suites featuring two separate clawfoot tubs for a unique romantic experience.

okane's fire pit

After a couple of drinks by the fire, hit up a movie on site or take a stroll around downtown and grab a bite at one of the great restaurants on Wall, Bond, Minnesota or Oregon avenues. (While we’re on the fire theme, we’d suggest 900 Wall – not because’s a fireplace, but because it’s one of the warmest, most welcoming spots down there.)

Backcountry Warming Huts

For another backcountry adventure sure to light a fire in your relationship this winter, check out one of the primitive warming huts in the backcountry. The huts include fireplaces that make for a perfect spot to thaw out in after a cold snowshoe excursion from the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park, just a short drive from Bend on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. The huts might be yours alone, or it might be a chance to meet some locals and find out their favorite spots to eat and drink.

Sitting on bench by firepit at Crux Fermentation Project in Bend, Oregon
Crux Fermentation Project

There’s just something about a fire that warms the heart, and luckily finding one to cozy up to in Central Oregon is not hard to do. Many of the lodging opportunities here include rooms with fireplaces including Sunriver Resort, the new Tetherow Lodges and The Riverhouse.

You can see how some breweries are keeping folks toasty in this video of local breweries taking their parties outside. And fireplaces at spots like Deschutes Brewery, Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. help give off a warm, comforting vibe.