Outdoorist Guide to Bend, Oregon

Before I visited Bend, I daydreamed about it. A magical little mountain town, with beckoning views of snow-capped peaks jutting out of the high desert. I thought it might be something like Boulder, CO–before it became the crowded bubble. I imagined camping out in the National Forest, puttering into town for breakfast, and spending my days exploring in the woods.

My visions were spot on. Bend is a hub for outdoorists seeking recreation, good eats (and beer, if you’re into that), and good people. My trip to Mt. Bachelor with Harman Kardon was my first winter visit to Bend, and it only made me fall deeper in love. If you, too, are looking to fall for Bend, here’s a guide to what to do, where to eat, and *some* of the best secrets:

Getting to Bend

While I’m always a fan of a road trip, you’ve got options when it comes to getting to Bend. The nearest airport is the tiny Redmond Municipal Airport. It’s about a 30 minute drive to town, and there is Uber available! You can also fly into PDX in Portland, and take a short 3 hour road trip to Bend. If you’re sticking to the city, you could get away without a rental car, but I’d highly recommend a vehicle if you’re looking to get after it on public lands.

If you’re making a road trip out of your journey to Bend, I collaborated with Harman Kardon to make a Spotify playlist for you. It’s embedded below, too! 

Where to Play Outside

Pick a direction, drive for a bit, and you’ll find yourself on public land. To the west, you’ll find Deschutes and Willamette National Forests. To the east is Ochoco National Forest. A bit to the north, you’ll hit Mt. Hood National Forest and its namesake peak. If you’re here to ski, you’ll beeline towards Mt. Bachelor–which has both great resort + backcountry skiing nearby. (You can read about my experiences learning how to backcountry ski in Bend here.) In the summertime, peak bagging is a must. I hiked the South Sister solo a few summers ago, and at the time it was my biggest day in the mountains. Climbers must visit Smith Rock, oh wow. The views were incredible, the trail was beautiful, and my legs were very tired the next day. I’m dying to get back in the summer to visit the Lava Lands, the interpretive visitor center of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. The volcanic landscape around Bend is truly special.

In town, Pilot Butte is a great park with a spiral trail (check it out on Google Maps) and beautiful views of the city. You can drive to the top in the summertime, but I’d recommend parking at the bottom and earning your view with a brisk uphill jaunt.

Other nearby outdoor hotspots:

Where to Eat

The only thing more important than the outdoors in my life is food. I’ll be honest, Bend isn’t the most impressive foodie spot (yet), but it does have a number of can’t miss gems. For breakfast, you must try an ocean roll from The Sparrow Bakery. It’s like a non-iced cinnamon bun but instead of cinnamon it’s cardamom and it’s my favorite thing to eat in Bend, period. My favorite restaurant in town is Wild Rose–it’s delicious Northern Thai food, and one of the best tom kha soups I’ve ever had. Spork is a close second, and has one of those ‘worldly’ menus that offers a dish for every craving. If they’ve got the elote special that day, order it. For a quick on-the-go lunch, I love Cafe Yumm.

Coffeeshops are in abundance in Bend. I’m a big fan of Looney Bean, Crow’s Feet Commons, Backporch, and Thump. Crow’s Feet Commons gets bonus points for being on the river and having little snacks in mason jars, while Looney Bean gets my vote for delicious pastries.

If you’re into beer, Bend is the place for you. With over twenty breweries, it has the highest micro-brewery per capita in the US–and the nickname “Beer City USA.” I don’t drink anymore, so my recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt, but a few stand-outs include: 10 Barrel, Crux, and Atlas Cider Co. Bonus for us non-drinkers: many breweries have kombucha on tap too!

Where to Stay

There are tons of lodging and camping options in and around Bend. I’m going to keep my camp spots under wraps, but if you do a little poking around on public lands, you’ll find excellent dispersed camping. If you’re on a budget but want a bed to sleep in, check out Sonoma Lodge. I stayed there for a few nights during my solo trip two summers ago, and the family who runs it were so hospitable and kind.

If you want to stay closer to the mountains, and are traveling with a group or want to splurge on some stunning cabins, check out Sunriver. It’s where we stayed during our trip to Subaru WinterFest with Harman Kardon, and our ‘cabin’ was fantastic. It had all the trimmings of a cozy log cabin, but with 5 bedrooms, a hot tub, toasty fireplace flanked by cozy couches, and a paved trail that runs throughout the entire area.

What to Jam Out to

Whether I’m summiting the South Sister, learning how to ski at Cinder Cone, cruising downtown, or road tripping around Oregon, I need good jams. The folks at Harman Kardon asked me to put together a playlist for my winter trip to Bend since we spent the week in a Subaru equipped with their premium audio system, so I gathered some of my go-to hype songs to get me pumped for outdoor adventures–and you can listen to it here:

Don’t have a good sound system? No worries. During my first trip to Bend, I was living in a janky van with blown out speakers, so I had to rely on portable solutions like the Harman Kardon Traveler speaker. Whatever system you’ve got to keep the beats flowin’, roll with it.

It’s hard to capture the magic of Bend in just 1000 words, so I’m inevitably missing a few must-dos. What voids do you see on this list? Got a Bend trail you thing should be on this list? Have you discovered a coffeeshop I absolutely must visit during my next trip? Let me know in the comments! 

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Harman Kardon, but as always, all thoughts, opinions, and words are my own. Especially my food recommendations, because you know I don’t mess around when it comes to good eats. 

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3 thoughts on “Outdoorist Guide to Bend, Oregon

  1. Brittany says:

    Omg, this is spot on. The list is truly endless, so it’s SO HARD to list only the top few.

    Companion is the Instagram worthy coffee shop thanks to an amazing photographer and it’s clean cut lines and simple wood furniture. The metolius chai is the perfect blend of cardimon and cinnamon!

    Wild Roots is another one. It’s on the Northeast side of town. They brew Stumptown coffee and serve bakery sweets from Fearless Bakery. Their customer service is on point!

    The Bend Ale Trail is the perfect way for tourists to discover all the brews Bend has to offer!

    Don’t even get me started on all the places to hike! Public Land is Bend’s best friend, from hiking, climbing, caves, rivers, lava, desert! The only way someone can genuinely enjoy all of it is to find some endless discovery of their own solitude!

  2. Patrick, Easy Travel Gear says:

    Very informative, sure looks like you had yourself a ball of an adventure. From the pictures, Bend looks more than awesome, a destination to put down in the bucket list.

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