Top Summer Activities in Central Oregon

There’s never a bad time to visit Central Oregon—but summer just might be the best time to visit our fair region. Clear, blue skies fill the seven-day forecast and make it easy to plan your next outdoor adventure, while comfortable temperatures—usually in the low to mid-80s—offer ideal conditions for enjoying a day in nature.

And however you define “nature”, you’ll find a feast for the senses wherever you look. Our high desert hosts less-traveled hiking trails and immense reservoirs alike, while the Cascades are home to myriad mountain lakes and some of the region’s most popular footpaths. And if you’d rather take it easy outdoors, we’ve got plenty of water for floating and disc golf courses for relaxing on one of our warm summer days.

Before you make your overnight reservations and buy the proper permits, though, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind: Plan a weekday trip (if possible) for less-crowded lakes and hiking trails, try to start your outdoor activities by 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to miss the biggest crowds, and have patience in case you encounter heavy traffic at popular sites around the region. And wherever you go, make sure to apply plenty of sunscreen and drink lots of water.

Water Sports in Central Oregon

Central Oregon is inextricably linked to our bodies of water. The Deschutes River, after all, is an iconic playground for outdoor enthusiasts all over the region—while the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway passes more than a dozen glistening lakes, the Crooked River ambles through the Ochoco Mountains and the Central Oregon high desert, and reservoirs all over offer recreation opportunities all year long.

No matter where you’re headed next, here’s a guide to making the most of those lakes, rivers, and reservoirs with water sports in Central Oregon.

Boating

With so many lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and more spanning Central Oregon, it’s no wonder boating is such a popular pastime around the region.

Cove Palisades Resort and Marina sits next to The Cove Palisades State Park outside Madras and is among the most popular boating destinations anywhere in the area. Here boaters can put their own craft into the water—or rent ski boats, runabouts, and even houseboats—and explore the miles-long Lake Billy Chinook. Highlights along the lake include boat-in campsites, fruitful fishing opportunities, and scenic views of the rocky river canyon. Closer to Bend, Cultus Lake Resort sits along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and offers jet ski, pontoon boat, and ski boat rentals for enjoying the scenic lake in late spring and summer; you’ll also find 23 cabins, a general store, a restaurant, a marina for moorage, and more for making a weekend of it. With lakes and rivers spanning the region, Central Oregon is a boater’s paradise.

A boat cruises on a river in a gorge.
A woman wades through the river while fly fishing.

Fishing

It’s almost like Mother Nature designed our waterways specifically for fishing: Our cool, deep river channels offer suitable fish habitats; our chilly reservoirs generally maintain high water levels, even at the height of summer; and our protected waters create ideal conditions for bass, kokanee, and several species of trout to thrive. So it’s only natural Central Oregon has become an angling destination unlike any other in the state.

Anglers enjoy fly-fishing the clear, cool waters of the Metolius River—just outside Camp Sherman; the river is noted for its fruitful runs of wild rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. (Just be sure to check with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for gear and catch restrictions before casting your fly.) And just outside Sunriver, Crane Prairie Reservoir is renowned for its trout and bass populations (not to mention epic Cascade peak views); boat rentals, gas, tackle, and other services are available between April and October at the reservoir’s Crane Prairie Resort. Want to know where else to cast a fly or catch your dinner? For more on fly fishing on the Deschutes.

Kayaking and Canoeing

Wherever you are in Central Oregon, you’re never far from access points to the region’s many waterways—almost all of which offer opportunities for epic kayaking and canoeing adventures.

Need proof? Look no further than the 15-mile-long Prineville Reservoir State Park, which offers plenty of room to paddle alongside rugged rock formations, sprawling hillsides, and elegant pine forests. (Keep an eye out for deer or elk lapping up the reservoir’s water on its more remote stretches of shoreline.) Hosmer Lake, rimmed by lava rock and forests of fir, is another popular paddling outpost in the Deschutes National Forest; waterfowl and wildlife can frequently be seen in and around the quiet lake, especially around sunrise and sunset. (Not just that, but the views of South Sister and Mount Bachelor are worthy of a postcard.)

Two people kayak on a lake.
A family enjoys tubing down the Deschutes River.

Tubing and Rafting

The upper Deschutes River around Bend, Sunriver, and Tumalo is known for its wide channel, slow currents, shallow waters, and scenic natural surroundings—all of which make it the perfect place to float the river each summer.

The stretch of Deschutes River in Bend is a particular favorite; here, floaters pass by shops and restaurants in the Old Mill District, enjoy a quick series of class-II rapids at Bend Whitewater Park, and end at a shady park just outside downtown. Further upstream, floaters can put in around Sunriver and enjoy a quieter experience, with fewer obstacles, occasional wildlife sightings, and a more remote setting. Up for a relaxing float—but don’t know where (or how) to begin? Get started with our page on tubing in Central Oregon. And if you’re up for something a bit more intense, learn more about rafting in Central Oregon.

Stand-up Paddle Boarding

In recent years, stand-up paddle boarding has become one of the dominant outdoor activities in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and streams around Central Oregon. Countless visitors and locals alike have toted their paddle board to waterways throughout the region, drawn by a variety of scenic views.

Devils Lake sits just outside of Bend, for instance, and is beloved for its vibrant turquoise waters, chilly temperatures (no small thing in the middle of summer), and frequent wildlife sightings (from rainbow and brook trout under the lake’s glassy surface to several species of raptor soaring high overhead). And outside La Pine, paddlers can enjoy the flatwater offerings at Paulina Lake or East Lake, both inside the Newberry National Volcanic Monument; Paulina Lake is the larger of the two, while East Lake offers a typically quieter experience—but both promise expansive views of the Newberry Caldera, close proximity to numerous campgrounds, and shimmering blue waters.

You’ll find no shortage of lakes, rivers, creeks, and reservoirs to paddle in around the region—so plan your next stand-up paddle boarding tour out of Sunriver.

Two people stand-up paddle board on a lake.

Other Outdoor Activities in Central Oregon

Water sports aren’t the only way to get outside in Central Oregon. Explore our forests and high desert on foot or by bike, spend the night under the stars, or check out our many disc golf courses. Here’s a rundown of other outdoor activities in Central Oregon.

A family crosses a wooden bridge while hiking on the Green Lakes Trail.

Hiking

You could spend years hiking around Central Oregon and still only scratch the surface of what the region has to offer. (Believe us, we’ve tried.)

Want to hike through ancient juniper trees and past rocky lava flows? You can do all that—and more—along the many trails splayed throughout the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, just east of Bend. (The Oregon Badlands are especially popular when higher-elevation hikes are snowed in each winter.) Would you rather walk past springtime wildflowers as the magical Metolius River snakes through a forest of fir and pine? The 5.7-mile round-trip West Metolius River Trail gains about 270 feet and can include an educational (and captivating) stop at Wizard Falls Hatchery. And if you want to challenge yourself with an ascent into the heart of the Cascades, the nine-mile round-trip Green Lakes Trail gains about 1,100 feet and shows off some of the best views of South Sister anywhere in Central Oregon.

Finally, a friendly reminder: If you’re hiking or backpacking certain trails within the Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington and Three Sisters Wilderness areas between late May and September, you may need a permit through the Central Cascades Wilderness Permit System before heading out. And with so many trails ascending hillsides, following rivers, and traversing alpine meadows all over our rugged region, it can be tough to know where to begin. Check our page on hiking across Central Oregon to get started.

Biking

Sweeping backroads and forested mountain bike trails span the Central Oregon landscape, making it a world-class destination for cyclists of all stripes—whether enjoying road rides or shredding backcountry trails.

Road cyclists, for instance, have five state-designated Oregon Scenic Byways to choose from in Central Oregon—each showing off dramatic scenery. The 29-mile Madras Mountain Views Scenic Bikeway, for instance, passes lush farmland and the rocky rim of Lake Billy Chinook while affording views of nearly 10 snow-capped Cascade peaks. And the 33-mile Sherar’s Falls Scenic Bikeway, the state’s newest such bikeway, begins in the community of Maupin before heading along the Deschutes River and through the high desert on the way to White River Falls State Park and Sherars Falls (where Native Americans have fished for salmon for thousands of years).

Two people road cycle on an Oregon Scenic Byway.

Mountain bike riders, meanwhile, love shredding the trails at Mt. Bachelor Bike Park, which offers downhill paths for riders of all experience and skill levels. And the Peterson Ridge Trails system, just five minutes south of downtown Sisters, is renowned for mostly level trails that provide an easy introduction for beginners—as well as a few technical features for more advanced riders.

Ready to hop in the saddle and see our area from your road ride or mountain bike? Learn more about biking in Central Oregon for the lowdown.

A tent under a tree by a river.

Camping

Camping is among the most beloved summertime activities around Central Oregon, thanks in part to the sheer volume of campgrounds dotting the region’s wide variety of landscapes. (It doesn’t hurt that those landscapes happen to be some of the most beautiful in Oregon, either.)

Tumalo State Park is among the region’s most popular campgrounds, offering a forested taste of our high-desert expanse—along with 23 full-hookup sites, 54 tent sites, and seven yurts—just 15 quick minutes north of Bend (and an even quicker five minutes from the community of Tumalo). For a quiet change of pace, the laid-back Fall River Campground hosts a dozen sites for tents and RVs up to 30 feet long at a bend in Fall River, roughly 15 minutes southwest of Sunriver. And about 20 minutes south of Prineville sits the Chimney Rock Campground, which hosts 16 sites in a forest of juniper, offers up-close views of towering basalt flows, and boasts easy access to fly-fishing and picnicking along the Crooked River.

If you’re jonesing to spend a night under the stars soon, plan your trip with help from our page on campgrounds in Central Oregon.

Climbing

Rock formations big and small dot the Central Oregon landscape, drawing climbers to our countless routes. Smith Rock State Park is the birthplace of sport climbing in the United States and is the region’s most popular climbing destination today, thanks to several thousand climbs (many of which are bolted routes) on dust-colored rock formations. Further east, the 350-foot Steins Pillar is a popular climbing outpost in spring and summer—and can be accessed via 4-mile round-trip hike.

A guy rock climbs at Smith Rock State Park.
A person playing disc golf throws the disc into the basket.

Disk Golf

More than a dozen disc golf courses cover the Central Oregon landscape, making it a fun place to play for casual players and avid aficionados alike.

The Hyzer Pines Disc Golf Course is one of the region’s best-loved courses and offers an approachable introduction to the sport; sitting just west of downtown Sisters, the mostly flat, 18-hole course attracts new and casual players with a forest of ponderosa pine, one water hazard, and views of the nearby Three Sisters. Further east, the Pine Nursery Disc Golf Course hosts 18 holes at the northeastern edge of Bend; the course delivers wide-open views of several Cascade peaks while taking players through a forest of juniper and sagebrush (with the occasional lava rock formation for an added challenge). Explore more on our region’s courses with our page on disc golf in Central Oregon.

Explore Nature’s Beauty

From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.