Written by | Derek Carlson

21 Adventurous Things to Do in Bend (Bucketlist Ideas)

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Bend is a well-known destination for adventure! If you’re planning a visit then you have to check out our list of bucket list adventures you must do while in Bend, Oregon.

No matter the season there is always a way to stay busy outside. Whether it’s climbing the local butte right in the middle of town, cruising the slopes at Mount Bachelor, or hitting the trails on your mountain bike we have all the adventures you’ll need.

Adventurous Things to do in Bend, Oregon

1. Climb South Sister

Smoky view of the cascade mountains from the top of South Sister near Bend
Try to choose a less smoky day than we did during our last South Sister summit.

South Sister is the third-highest peak in Oregon at 10,358′ (just behind Mt. Jefferson at 10,502′ while Mt. Hood takes the crown at 11,249′) and also the easiest of the top three to climb. All you need is a quick-clicking finger to snag a highly competitive wilderness permit and a decent level of fitness for the long hike to the top.

During the late summer months, the entire climb is on solid ground so no climbing equipment is required. This makes South Sister a great summit for those new to visiting Oregon’s highest peaks.

I climbed South Sister for the first time 3 years ago and while it was a long slog both up and down it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had initially envisioned. Once at the top, the views of the rest of the cascades were incredible (although they would have been even better had it not been for the smoky conditions that day).

2. Hike Misery Ridge Trail at Smith Rock

Hiking at Smith Rock in the morning

Smith Rock is known as the birthplace of American rock climbing. The hike up and over Misery Ridge will give you an up-close look at the rock climbers and their routes ascending to the top of this towering piece of basalt.

When we first visited Smith Rock we felt like we had stepped into a national park with how beautiful the area is. The towering cliffs rise 600 feet above the Crooked River which snakes (speaking of which…) its way through the park.

From the parking lot, if you look closely, you can see the steps that make their way through the cliffs up and over Smith Rock. This is Misery Ridge and it is a must-do for any adventurer visiting the park.

There are two popular loops you can take over Misery Ridge.

  • The first is to head down to the river and up the Misery Ridge trail. Once you cross down to the other side take a right on the river trail. This route is a little over 6 miles and will take you on the Summit Loop Trail. You’ll get some incredible views of Smith Rock from the top of this loop.
  • The 2nd is a 3.5-mile option where you head left instead of taking a right on the River Trail. This trail winds around the cliffs of Smith Rock along the river, making for a leisurely stroll back to the start of your hike.

3. Paddleboard the Deschutes River

Paddleboarding the Deschutes River is one of our favorite things to do in Bend!

Most any summer day in Bend is a good day to head down to the Deschutes for a quick (or long) paddleboard session. This is one of our favorite after-work activities as you can easily make an outing as long or short as time allows.

Evenings on the Deschutes are also a magical time as the daytime river floating crowds have died down. There’s a chance you might paddle by a concert at the Hayden Homes Amphitheater (this is seriously one of the coolest ways to take in a concert!) or one of the summer markets that are set up in Drake Park on Thursday evenings.

Two of our favorite places to put in for paddling the Deschutes in Bend are:

Check out our post on where to paddleboard in Bend for more great paddling ideas around town.

4. Surf the Deschutes River Wave

If you’re a surfer and have ever wanted to try surfing a man-made river wave then Bend is the spot for you!

In 2014-2015 the Bend Parks and Rec Department totally revamped a section of the Deschutes River to include light rapids for river floaters, river habitat restorations, and a fully controllable surfing wave.

Before 2014 this section of the Deschutes River was fully blocked by the Colorado Ave dam. This meant that river floaters and paddlers had to exit the river and walk around the dam.

This wave has attracted crowds ever since and you would be hard-pressed to find a single day out of the year where at least one brave soul isn’t out there carving some turns.

5. Try Fly Fishing at Fall Creek

Flying fishing at the fall river outside of Bend

Central Oregon is a fly fishing mecca and one of the best (both in terms of fishing and beauty) is the Fall River.

This spring-fed river is crystal clear so you can easily spot the massive trout that call this river home.

We like going to the hatchery to check out the resident trout and then hiking upriver to find a fishing hole.

Check the fishing regulations before heading to the Fall (as the locals like to call it) as this river has a few unique rules. The biggest is that it is open to fly fishing only.

6. Take a Sunrise Hike to No Name Lake

Bend is surrounded by an incredible selection of trails but it’s hard to find a more beautiful hike or better payoff than hiking to No Name Lake to catch the sunrise.

No Name Lake sits at the base of Broken Top in a natural amphitheater and during sunrise, the morning glow from the rising sun lights up the red cliffs surrounding the lake. This creates one of the most stunning scenes you’ll see anywhere in Oregon.

Sunrise lights up the cliffs of Broken Top at No Name Lake
This photo was taken in September 2023. The hike in was ~7 miles and I ended up arriving within 30 seconds of the sun hitting these cliffs. Talk about good timing!

Making the trek up to No Name Lake requires a little planning as the trailheads to access this hike all require a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit.

There are also a few trailheads you can start from although each has its pros and cons.

The Todd Lake trailhead makes for the longest hike (~14 miles) but parking and trailhead access is easy.

The other two trailheads (Broken Top and Crater Ditch) make for a much shorter hike but driving up the road to these trailheads is not for the faint of heart! Many say that this road is one of the worst in the entire state so if you don’t have a high clearance, 4×4 vehicle then I wouldn’t recommend trying it.

7. Ski at Mount Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor is regarded as one of the premier ski resorts in the Pacific Northwest both for its massive size and the fact that you can ski 360 degrees off of the summit of the mountain!

I’m by no means an expert skier so I love that there is a ton of terrain that ranges from beginner to intermediate all over the mountain. This allows me to go out and explore for an entire day whereas on some steeper resorts, I may find myself riding the same couple of runs all day.

I love parking on the Sunrise side of the resort and cycling between runs off of the Sunrise and Cloudchaser lifts. This side of the resort has less hustle and bustle than West Village so it’s a bit more enjoyable to get in and out.

8. Go on a Backcountry ATV Tour

The backcountry of Central Oregon is filled with 100’s if not 1000’s, of miles of roads that are so rough that they are inaccessible by most passenger vehicles.

This is where an ATV tour in Bend comes in!

ATVs, or All-terrain vehicles, are an extremely fun way to get out to remote areas on roads that see virtually no traffic.

Bend has a few companies that offer ATV (and snowmobile!) tours of areas both east and west of Bend.

Octane Adventures and Outriders NW are two of the most popular options in town. Their off-road vehicles have seating for 4 so these are great options if you’re looking for a family activity in Bend.

9. Snowshoe to a Backcountry Hut

Bend’s impressive network of snowshoe trails and winter warming huts is one of my absolute favorite parts of living here.

If you’ve never been to a warming shelter then here’s the deets.

They are usually located along cross-country ski or snowshoe trails and serve as a spot to rest and warm up during the winter. The shelters range from rustic, 3-sided shelters to more modern options that have sliding doors to warm things up.

The shelters are often stocked with firewood by volunteers in the fall before the snow starts falling. Depending on the popularity of the hut there may be times late in the season when the firewood has run out so plan accordingly!

One of our favorite snowshoe-to-hut treks close to Bend is from Swampy Sno-Park where the Porcupine Snowshoe loop takes you to the Swampy Lakes shelter.

This is one of the newest and nicest shelters in all of Central Oregon.

Another favorite is a bit outside of town still so worth it. This one starts at the Three Creeks Sno-Park and heads up to the Jefferson View Shelter. The view from this shelter is one of the best you’ll find in Oregon (weather permitting)

10. Mountain Bike at Phils Trail

One of my favorite things to do in Bend is mountain biking at Phil's Trail.

Phils Trailhead is the most well-known mountain biking trailhead in Bend if not all of Oregon. This trailhead that sits right on the edge of town has a large parking lot that serves as the staging point for 5 different trails along with a pump track and jump park.

Most summer days at Phil’s you’ll find a mix of locals getting in a ride after work, tourists heading out for their first mountain bike ride, and local legends honing their skills on the recently rebuilt jump and pump track.

One of my favorite quick loops is to head up Ben’s Trail for some mildly technical uphill climbing followed by a fun descent down Phil’s. If you want to tack on some extra miles and a ton of jumps then keep heading uphill and take a lap or three down the Whoops trails.

If you need to rent a bike I highly recommend Pine Mountain Sports. They’ll get you on a bike that perfectly matches your riding style and from there it’s just a short ride from their west side shop to Phil’s.

For up-to-date info on everything Bend mountain bike trail related check out BendTrails website.

11. Go Rock Climbing

Just north of Bend lies Smith Rock State Park. This area is considered the birthplace of modern sport climbing in North America and is one of the best rock climbing areas in the world.

Because this rock has been so heavily climbed for so long there is extensive documentation on routes so even a noobie should have no problem finding a climb that matches their skills.

For those who are looking for a slightly lower-risk climbing challenge then you can hit up one of the numerous climbing gyms in town (Bend Rock Gym is the largest and most well-known).

Rock climbing in Bend at Alpenglow park

You can also head to Alpenglow Park on the Southeast side of town. This brand-new park offers two bouldering features that are perfect for kids and newer climbers as well as two larger boulders with rated routes that will challenge even the best climbers.

12. Explore a Cave

Exploring Boyd Cave outside of Bend, Oregon

Did you know that Central Oregon is home to the highest density of caves anywhere in Oregon?

There are over 350 known caves in the area although only a few are open to the public. Damage to the caves and ecosystem within them has resulted in many being permanently closed.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t still some amazing options to enjoy!

In fact, we have an entire post on some of the coolest caves to explore near Bend!

A quick rundown of some of our favorites:

  • Lava River Cave
  • Boyd Cave
  • Hidden Forest Cave
  • Skylight Cave (a super cool spot but it is out past Sisters so a bit further of a drive)

13. Hike Through a Trail of Obsidian

Bend has some uniquely cool trails but maybe none more so than the Big Obsidian Flow Trail in the Newberry Crater National Monument.

The trail follows the youngest lava flow in Oregon (this was all molten rock only 1,300 years ago) and along the entire path, you’ll be surrounded by volcanic glass (obsidian) and pumice.

Watch your step on the path as falling on obsidian, or any jagged volcanic rock for that matter, is not kind on the hands or knees. A fact that is eventually realized by almost anyone who runs, bikes, or hikes through Central Oregon trails.

Note that a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead.

14. Float the Deschutes River (Including the Rapids)

Floating the Deschutes is a favorite summertime activity for locals and visitors alike. Recent upgrades to the river (no more walking around the Colorado Ave dam!) and the rental/shuttle services make floating the river a breeze.

Most people floating the Deschutes start from Riverbend Park and float down to Drake Park.

At the halfway point you’ll have to brave the Whitewater Park rapids. There are a few Instagram accounts that document some of the more memorable wipeouts at this point so don’t treat the rapids too lightly!

If you’re renting a tube then you can park at the Mt. Bachelor Shuttle parking lot and pick up your tube. From there, you’re shuttled to the starting point and can hop on a shuttle back to your car once you reach Drake Park.

This activity is probably the most popular thing to do on Bend on a hot summer weekend so expect crowds during the entire float.

15. Catch a Concert Along the River

Bend’s largest music venue is the (currently named) Hayden Homes Amphitheater. This venue attracts national acts of all styles.

It sometimes feels like the acts skew heavily toward the mid-30 to mid-40-year-old audience so expect a lot of 90s and 2000s bands (hello Dave Matthews Band.)

While we love catching a show inside the amphitheater this IS a post about adventurous things to do in Bend.

So ditch those tickets and grab your paddleboard or kayak instead and catch the show from the Deschutes.

Depending on the popularity of the artist you may find yourself amongst a couple dozen or a couple hundred fellow paddlers.

One thing I can guarantee is you’ll see quite a variety of setups from folks who have done this a time or two.

16. Hike to a Waterfall at Tumalo Falls

Making the trek to Tumalo Falls is a year-round tradition for Bend locals. Whether it is to see the impressive spring runoffs, biking to the high country trails in the summer, viewing the fall colors, or seeing the waterfall encased in ice there is never a bad time to visit this beautiful waterfall.

Tumalo Falls lies 20 minutes west of Bend and is a short hike from the parking lot in the summer and a longer ski or snowshoe during the winter months.

The trail from the parking lot takes you to the top of the falls for a top-down view of this 97-foot-tall waterfall.

The trail continues for miles and past numerous other waterfalls if you feel like getting out and stretching your legs.

17. Climb to the Top of Pilot Butte

View from the top of Pilot Butte Trail in Bend

Pilot Butte is the local volcanic hill in town and is the training ground for 1000s of runners and hikers who regularly march up and down the trail that winds its way to the top.

During the summer months, you can drive your car straight to the top to take in the views.

Pro-tip: head up for sunset to get one of the best views around.

During the winter the road is shut down so you’ll have to earn your way to the top. The hike is quick though which makes this a great way to build up those summer hiking muscles.

18. Go Cliff Jumping at Steelhead Falls

Steelhead Falls near Bend, Oregon

If you felt that our last suggestion may have been a stretch in calling it adventurous then perhaps some cliff jumping will make up for it.

Steelhead Falls is just north of Bend and is well known as the best cliff jumping and swimming hole in town.

Getting to the falls requires a short hike down into the Deschutes River Canyon. The temperatures absolutely soar down here in the summer so it’s no surprise that so many people come here looking to cool off in the always chilly Deschutes River.

Show up on almost any warm summer day and you’ll be bound to see folks jumping off the relatively tame rock ledges into the river below.

Note that there are submerged rocks right under the water and folks have died here in the past so always look before you leap and know your limits.

19. Go Bungee Jumping

Now we’re really kicking things up a notch on the adventurous scale!

Just north of Bend is the Crooked River Canyon and Peter Ogden Viewpoint. You may have even noticed it if you drove into Bend from the North along Highway 97.

Well from the main highway if you look east you’ll see another bridge sitting 300 feet above the Crooked River.

This bridge is home to Central Oregon Bungee Adventures and the highest commercial bungee jump in North America.

As a jumper, you’ll plunge 250 feet into the canyon below.

I’m not gonna lie…out of everything on this list this is the only one that I haven’t done. I have been skydiving in the past but, at this point, I’ve moved past the jumping off or out of things stage of my life.

20. Try White Water Rafting

If you’ve tried floating the Deschutes and found it to be a little too slow-paced for you then you may want to give whitewater rafting a shot.

Just outside of Bend, there are numerous class III rapids and rafting tour companies willing to guide you through them.

I’d imagine most folks coming to Bend on vacation don’t have a river raft in tow so a guided tour is probably the way to go.

To be honest, for the cost of a half-day tour, I’d consider it very well worth it to get a real feel for the power of the river outside of its more tranquil stretches.

And who knows, maybe this will light a fire and you’ll find yourself on a full-day tour of the lower Deschutes and its more exciting sections.

Try Sun Country Tours for numerous rafting tour options both big and small.

21. Ride the Zip Line at Mount Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor has invested significantly over recent years in hopes of becoming a year-round attraction.

This has meant continuous growth of the bike park and, as of last year, the addition of a zip line that lets you speed down 1,400 feet of vertical elevation in a matter of minutes.

I will happily suspend my no jumping off or out of things rule for the zipline. Despite its pretty high cost (IMO), I feel it is well worth it for the views and thrilling ride down the mountain.

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