As spring turns to summer, blue skies provide the perfect backdrop for your next outdoor adventure, while comfortable temperatures—usually in the low to mid-80s—offer ideal conditions for enjoying a day in nature.
And what that day in nature looks like is up to you. Our high desert hosts scenic mountain biking trails, while the Cascades are home to myriad mountain lakes and some of the region’s most popular hiking trails. And if you’d rather relax, you can recharge with river floats, disc golf courses, and stand-up paddleboarding.
As you start making plans and booking reservations, a few friendly reminders: 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.
Ready to learn more? Keep reading.
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 plentiful recreation opportunities.
Here’s a guide to making the most of those lakes, rivers, and reservoirs with water sports in Central Oregon.
Numerous lakes, rivers, reservoirs, streams, and more span Central Oregon, from the region’s high-desert expanse to the heart of the Cascade Range—providing plenty of fodder for active boaters. Here are a few ideas to inspire your next day on the water.
South of Bend, in the heart of an active caldera, boaters can rent all kinds of craft through Paulina Lake Lodge—enjoying the rare opportunity to go boating inside an active volcano; views include rocky lava flows and the craggy caldera rim. Further north, Cove Palisades Resort and Marina 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. 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. With lakes and rivers spanning the region, Central Oregon is a boater’s paradise.
Anglers of all stripes love fishing in Central Oregon waterways—where they enjoy the region’s cool, deep river channels; chilly reservoirs; and protected waters that allow bass, kokanee, and several species of trout to thrive.
The Metolius River—just outside Camp Sherman—is noted for its productive 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; 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
From mountain lakes to high-desert reservoirs, you’re never far from your next epic canoeing or kayaking adventure.
The 15-mile-long Prineville Reservoir State Park, for instance, offers plenty of room to paddle alongside rugged rock formations, sprawling hillsides, and elegant pine forests; watch for deer or elk lapping up the reservoir’s water on its quieter stretches of shoreline. Sparks Lake, surrounded by lava rock and forests of fir, is another popular paddling spot in the Deschutes National Forest; highlights include waterfowl and wildlife sightings, gorgeous sunset views, and Cascade peaks rising above the horizon. Ready to hit the water? Get more ideas for kayaking and canoeing in Central Oregon.
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 go floating 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 (optional) 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 and occasional wildlife sightings. 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 the activity of choice for Central Oregonians and visitors alike—and it’s easy to see why: It’s easy to get started and provides an excellent workout, yet the activity still leaves paddlers feeling relaxed and refreshed.
Devils Lake sits just outside of Bend, for instance, and is beloved for its crystal-clear waters, myriad mountain views, and stunning scenery—from porous lava rock to stately pine forests. And outside La Pine, paddlers can enjoy the flatwater offerings at Paulina Lake or East Lake, both inside the Newberry National Volcanic Monument; both promise expansive views of the Newberry Caldera, close proximity to numerous campgrounds, and shimmering blue waters.
More 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.
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.
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 Bikeways to choose from in Central Oregon—each showing off a unique element of the region’s dramatic scenery. The 38-mile-long McKenzie Pass Scenic Bikeway, for instance, starts in the Old West town of Sisters before riding through ponderosa pine forests and rugged lava flows in the heart of the Cascade Range. And the Twin Bridges Scenic Bikeway shows off mountain peaks, khaki-colored canyons, endless seas of sagebrush, area farms, and more over the course of 36 breathtaking miles. The Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway provides secluded cycling along the river just outside of Prineville.
Mountain bikers, 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.
Central Oregon is home to dozens of scenic campgrounds, from basic parks with beautiful vistas to more robust overnight stays that offer plenty of amenities and creature comforts, so it’s no surprise camping is one of the region’s most popular outdoor activities.
Each has its own charms, but a few favorites include LaPine State Park, which sits along the Upper Deschutes River near La Pine and hosts nearly 130 tent and RV sites, as well as 10 cozy cabins; Creekside Campground, home to 68 sites along Whychus Creek—and a short walk from downtown Sisters; and The Cove Palisades State Park, where you’ll find more than 175 tent and RV sites, as well as three cabins, near the shore of Lake Billy Chinook.
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.
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. For more, check out our page on climbing in Central Oregon to get started.
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, just west of downtown Sisters, offers an approachable introduction to the sport; 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.
Starry night skies are a hallmark of Central Oregon evenings all year long, so it’s no wonder stargazing has become a popular pastime across the region. (We even wrote about why stargazing is so easy and popular in Central Oregon.) High-tech observatories and powerful telescopes invite visitors to peer into the cosmos, but even getting away from city lights on a clear night can reveal planets, shooting stars, and even the Milky Way. Find out how to get started with our guide to observatories and stargazing 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.