Beyond snow sports and golf, outdoor recreation opportunities in Central Oregon range from the relaxing to the seriously strenuous. Here’s a sampling of things to do.
The Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests contain over 1,000 miles of non-motorized trails suitable for all experience levels. Many trails extend into alpine regions of the Cascade Mountain wilderness areas.
Trails are not confined to the remote outback of Central Oregon, however, as urban trail systems put walking and cycling within everyone’s reach. The award-winning Bend Metro Park & Recreation District maintains 48 mi of trails, including a Deschutes River trail that eventually will extend to Tumalo State Park. The 3.5-mi Dry Canyon Trail runs north and south through Redmond. Central Oregon’s destination resorts are lined with walking and cycling trails. Sunriver Resort contains over 30 miles of paved bike trails; Eagle Crest Resort has over 11 miles.
For the committed mountain biker, the Phil’s Trail complex just west of Bend is a network of 10 major trails extending into the Cascade foothills. Central Oregon’s popularity as a mountain biking, hiking and running venue has caught media attention: Outside magazine named it the best trail-running town in 2006. Mountain Bike magazine carried an 11-page feature in June 2007 describing Bend as a year-around playground for adventure sports athletes. And Bike Magazine has praised Bend for its variety of riding and healthy bike culture.
For cyclists who prefer a smooth surface to mountain trails, there is plenty to encourage participation. Several prominent races are held each year, including the Cascade Chainbreaker and the Cascade Cycling Classic, the longest consecutively run elite stage race in the country.
Smith Rock State Park is world famous as a climbing venue. The 651-acre park near Terrebonne, 9 mi NE of of Redmond, contains several thousand climbs, with over 1,000 bolted routes. Smith Rock is mentioned on several climbing web sites, one of which declares it home to some of the hardest routes on earth.
The major rock faces are composed of compressed volcanic ash reaching up to 550 feet in height. Picnic and campground areas sit on columnar basalt rimrock. Hiking and mountain bike trails offer spectacular views of the area and extend into the Crooked River canyon and outside the park. A day use permit is required.
Volcanic peaks in the Cascade Mountains are home to many routes suitable for mountaineers of all experience levels. These include Belknap Crater in the Mt. Washington Wilderness Area, and peaks in the Three Sisters Wilderness Area. Climbing is also found near Tumalo Falls west of Bend, in the Crooked River Gorge, and the cliffs around Prineville. The popularity of climbing in Central Oregon has spun off a variety of gear manufacturers, outfitters, schools and guides.
Rafting and floating
The Deschutes River provides a wide range of rafting experiences. Whitewater is found on the upper Deschutes, in the Cascade mountains southwest of Bend, and in the lower Deschutes, where the river rushes through scenic canyons on its last 100 miles before emptying into the Columbia River. Maupin, about 90 mi north of Bend, is the center of rafting activity on the lower Deschutes. An estimated 80,000 people participate in whitewater rafting on the Deschutes every year.
Many outfitters and raft rental companies do a thriving business in Bend and Maupin. Novices are encouraged to use the services of an experienced river tour operator. Several of these package rafting trips into a broader vacation experience that includes camping, fishing and/or lodge accommodations.
Even areas of the Deschutes not associated with the more popular whitewater rafting reaches can produce unexpected river hazards. Casual floaters should be watchful for unexpected rapids and keep an eye out for warning signs. Flotation gear should be worn.
A river experience of a more leisurely type can be found in Bend, where an irrigation diversion dam and a no-longer-used sawmill log pond dam slow the Deschutes to inner tube speed as it flows toward placid Mirror Pond in the heart of town. This is a popular summertime venue for slow-speed drifting.
Sections of the Metolius and Deschutes rivers are world-class fly-fishing streams, and the many mountain lakes are rich with opportunities for fishing enthusiasts. Check with the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife for regulations.
Coldwater native fish include bull trout, Chinook salmon, mountain whitefish, rainbow trout, redband trout and sockeye/kokanee. Rainbow trout and sockeye/kokanee are stocked in several lakes by ODFW. Paulina Lake holds the Oregon record for sockeye/kokanee.
Coldwater introduced fish include Atlantic salmon, brook trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout and lake trout. Atlantic salmon are stocked by ODFW in Hosmer and East lakes. State records claimed in Central Oregon include brook trout, 9 lb, 6 oz in Deschutes River below Little Lava Lake, and brown trout, 27 lb, 12 oz in Paulina Lake. East and Paulina lakes have produced brown trout of 20 lb; brown trout up to 15 lb have been taken from the Deschutes River.
Warmwater species found in Central Oregon include black crappie, brown bullhead catfish, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.
Central Oregon’s many lakes are the result of its volcanic topography and glacial action. In addition, reservoirs behind stream management, hydroelectric power and irrigation dams support boating and fishing activities. There are 22 lakes in Deschutes County, 12 in Jefferson County and three in Crook County. Many are off limits to motorized watercraft and speed limits apply to others. The larger reservoirs are popular boating and water skiing areas. They include:
Haystack Reservoir, in Jefferson County.
Lake Billy Chinook, in Jefferson County.
Lake Simtustus, in Jefferson County.
Ochoco Reservoir, in Crook County.
Prineville Reservoir, in Crook County.
Suttle Lake, in Jefferson County.
Wickiup Reservoir, in Deschutes County.
Speed limits apply to designated areas within these lakes, and in some cases at specified times.
There are over 125 developed campsites on the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests. These include campsites managed by the Forest Service as well as by counties, utility companies and other federal agencies. There are 12 state parks in Central Oregon, of which five contain campgrounds. “Dispersed camping” where no improved facilities are provided is permitted on much of the National Forest land; users are encouraged to leave no imprint.
Hunting is a popular sport throughout Oregon and is carefully managed by the Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. Mountain and high desert regions provide habitat for popular game species such as mule deer, Rocky Mountain elk and pronghorn. General seasons also apply for black bear and cougar.
Big game rifle hunting seasons extend from late September through late November. Bowhunting seasons run from late August through late September. Tags and licenses are required for all game hunting. A general hunting license costs $22.50 for residents and $76.50 for non-residents. Deer tags are $19.50 for residents and $264.50 for non-residents.
Upland game bird species subject to hunting include pheasant, California quail, mountain quail, ruffled and blue grouse, turkey, chukar and Hungarian partridge. Migratory game birds and waterfowl include ducks, coots, mergansers, dove, band-tailed pigeon, snipe and geese. Check with ODFW for seasons, limits and license regulations.
Bring your own or rent one here. Recreational riding opportunities abound, with boarding stables, riding academies, trail rides, pack trips and at least one dude ranch on the equestrian menu in Central Oregon. Horse camps are available on the Deschutes National Forest, patronized by local riders and groups led by outfitters based in the area.
Many resorts have stables open seasonally to guests and drop-in visitors for trail rides. These include Sunriver Resort, Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Casino, and Seventh Mountain Resort (see Destination Resort page for links). Riding is the centerpiece of the dude ranch experience at Rock Springs Guest Ranch near Tumalo.
Several designated ATV areas exist on public land near Bend. Spark arrestors and permit stickers are among requirements. Resident and out-of-state permits may be obtained at most ATV dealers Much of the ATV activity is centered in desert topography near Milliken, about 25 mi E of Bend on Highway 20. Play areas and trail sytems are found there. Other play areas are situated east of La Pine. Additional trail systems are located near the Cascade Lakes Highway south of Bend; Prineville; and an area on the Crooked River Grassland between Redmond and Madras.
Rocks and fossils
Central Oregon’s volcanic geology makes it rich in mineral resources of interest to rockhounds. Ten sites on the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests are open to private rock collectors. Principal minerals are agate, jasper, limbcast, petrified wood, moss, dendrite and angel wing. Richardson's Rock Ranch, a fee-based private site off Highway 97 some 11 miles north of Madras, provides acres of thunderegg, agate and opal beds.
The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a place to look and learn, but not to disturb the artifacts. Three separate units are located near the towns of Mitchell, Dayville and Fossil; a visitor's center is located on the Sheep Rock Unit about 120 mi east of Bend. The region is rich in paleontology. The Oregon Paleo Lands Institute dedicated a new 1,400-sq ft Field Center in Fossil, Ore., in September 2009.
More than 170 developed day-use sites on the Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests include picnic areas, trailheads and roadside viewpoints. Fourteen resorts operate under special use permits on the Deschutes National Forest. Other than Mt. Bachelor, they are associated with popular fishing lakes and provide rustic accommodations, stores and limited food service during the summer tourist season.