Of all the towns we stayed at on our road trip of the Pacific North West last summer, one came not only highly recommended but captured a little bit of our hearts. Welcome to Bend, Oregon.
Unassuming Bend in central Oregon may not have theme parks, national parks, all-inclusive resorts, or world-renowned natural wonders, but it simply oozes charm. A warm, welcoming reception awaits newcomers. Simply put, it’s a great family vacation destination in the US.
Hugging the Deschutes River, Bend offers breathtaking scenery of mountains, rivers, lakes, and hiking trails ideal for adventure and the opportunity to simply relax away from the frenetic pace of big city life.
This post is part of our series Discover the Pacific North West – a road trip through the USA
Best things to do with kids in Bend, Oregon
First, we’re going to take a look around the town of Bend itself. With a population of around 100,000, it’s a town that experiences the traditional four seasons, so there’s always something going on for families to enjoy in Bend year-round.
Float on the Deschutes River
The Deschutes River is action-packed, especially in summer. Among the most popular recreational activities for families in Bend is tubing.
You can float for an hour from Riverbend Park up to Drake Park in the downtown area. Various rental operators offer tube rental (with life jackets, required by law for minors) and transfers to get you from start to end of this incredibly popular water trail.
In the peak of summer, you’ll want to book a few days out to ensure you get your preferred time slot, especially weekends. Some companies to try:
- Tumola Creek (that’s the company with the bright orange tubes, pictured here!) They operate a park and ride service.
- Sun Country Tours – reliable local operator
- Bend River Floats – can be a cheaper option than the more popular names with 2 and 3 person float options
Top Tip: You’ll likely want water sandals of aqua shoes with you for getting in and out the river, and something waterproof to tie around your neck for valuables like phone, money, ID.
Bend Farmer’s Markets
The Bend Farmers Market during summer is one of the city’s most bustling events. Wednesdays from May through September, Brooks Alley is transformed with fresh produce through to flowers and sweet treats.
Bend Ale Trail
Yep, even with the kids! Did we mention how exceptionally family-friendly Bend is? The vast majority of the breweries on the Bend Ale Trail are more than welcoming to families, many providing great lawns, playgrounds, and outdoor entertainment in the summer months.
We suggest some of the best craft breweries in Bend to try with kids (but there are plenty more!) are:
- Bend Brewing Company – One of the city’s oldest found on the banks of the Deutsches River this is in the center of the action near the Farmers Market, offering a large outdoor lawned area perfect for kids
- Crux Fermentation Project – with lovely large lawn and food trucks you’ll find this large brewery on eastside of town
- Worthy Brewing – they have a small tasting room in town near the market “Beer & Burgers”, but make the time to head to their larger brewery location on the eastside if you want a big family feed; dog friendly, kid-friendly, and some brilliant brews, what more could you want on your family vacation in bend!
The Last Blockbuster
Cheesy but fun! The kids may be clueless about what a video store is but there’s nothing wrong with popping in for a little parent nostalgia and continuing to support this family-run store from a bygone era – learn more here!
Found at 211 NE Revere Avenue, or simply plug it into Google Maps, it’s the only one!
Rent a Bike Old Mill District
A wonderful area of Bend to explore is around the beautifully revived Old Mill District. Primarily a factory retail outlet with dining, you’ll also find a large amphitheater, home to concerts and events throughout the year, and a large cinema (good for rainy days).
Here you’ll also find Wheel Fun Bike Rentals; offering family-sized bikes, it’s a great way to explore in summer along the banks of the Deschutes. The “surreys” (large family bikes with 1,2 and 3 rows) can seat up to 9. You can also hire coupes, cruisers and multi-speed bikes, tandem bikes, and baby joggers.
Let it Ride Bend is another option with ebike tours and rentals on offer. You’ll find them at 25 NW Minnesota Avenue in central Bend.
Munch and Music Festival
If you’ll be in Bend over the peak of summer definitely keep your eye out for Thursday evenings at Drake Park. A fabulous party atmosphere can be found at Munch and Music, with food and drink vendors, kids’ activities, and some really good music acts to look forward to!
The weekly event is free to enter, we recommended you try and walk there if you can as it gets busy for parking! You can find the program of events for the upcoming year here.
Sun Mountain Fun Centre
A great indoor entertainment choice for a rainy day, the Sun Mountain Fun Center offers bowling, billiards, go-karts, mini-golf, bumper cars, batting cages, and a full arcade where you can cash in tickets for prizes.
Situated on Southwest Bradbury Way, Westside The Pavilion is a true year-round recreation venue – switching from roller season (April to September) to ice season (October to April).
In summer and fall they offer sports including basketball, pickleball, badminton, futsal, scootering, skateboarding, rock climbing, ping pong, foosball, cornhole, ladder toss, and bocce ball.
In winter it’s all about ice skating, curling, and hockey. The outdoor plaza has fire pits and even a snow play area, making it a great family gathering point even through the cold winter months.
Other Playgrounds in Bend
You can tell a place is made for families when there are over 40 playgrounds and parks to choose from!
Sadly, we found few really geared for older kids, much to the Globetrotters’ disappointment! However, for the younger ones, you’ll find an exceptional collection. Why not try putting these on your map:
- Columbia Park with its pirate ship structure SS Columbia is a popular choice, along with a slide that pops out down near the river.
- Canal Row Park has a good range of playground equipment, picnic tables, lawns and an interactive water nature play experience (in northeast Bend).
- Blakely Park is in proximity to the Deschutes River Trail and the Central Oregon Canal Trail has a good sized kids’ playground for the younger one and a basketball court
- Rockridge Park north of town makes are great stop if you’ve got scooters and skateboards with you (sadly, we did not!). There’s also a good collection of climbing equipment here, bike trails, picnic shelters and a wonderful log forest in this rugged but action-filled park
We found this park locator came in really handy for planning out our daily stops!
Best Things to do Near Bend With Kids
Bend makes a wonderful location to base yourself for exploring further around the region. Here are some ideas that all make wonderful day trips from Bend.
Deschutes National Forest
Deschutes National Forest, which spans 1.6 million acres of forest, offers all-year-round recreational activities. The park is also home to various landscapes and ecosystems. You’ll find alpine lakes and accessible byways through the wilderness to explore.
Some of the activities kids can enjoy here include hiking, fishing, and camping – with over 80 campgrounds spread across the park it’s an ideal family camping spot in Oregon to introduce your kids to camping. Just check in advance which recreation areas are open.
Deschutes National Forest has a $5 day-use fee (or use your America the Beautiful pass or Annual Northwest Forest Pass).
Tumalo Falls is a beautiful waterfall hike in Deschutes National Forest. To get a close view of this fantastic waterfall, you need to take a short, accessible walk from the parking area using a trail leading to the top. This scenic hike takes roughly half a mile to return, making it nice and manageable for the younger ones.
Tumalo Falls has incredible views along the way. The day-use park features picnic tables, a bathroom, and access to hiking and mountain bike paths in addition to waterfall views.
Benham Falls (1.5 miles out and back) also makes for a decent walk with little legs. The more adventurous can try the Dillon Falls to Benham Falls trail – 6.8 miles – for a longer day outing.
Wanoga Snow Play Area Sno-Park
One for the winter months, the Wonoga Sno Play Area has a long winter season that allows for tubing and sledding, cross-country skiing, and even snowmobiling. A great spot to enjoy the best of winter sports near Bend.
High Desert Museum
This Oregon museum is renowned for its spectacular displays that are captivating for the whole family. There are several exhibits and an outdoor section of the High Desert Museum making it a worthy day trip from Bend.
Here, the kids can have close encounters with lizards, salamanders, and the endangered desert tortoise in the Desertarium. Regular programs, like the Otter Encounter and Birds of Prey Encounter, allow visitors to get up close to the wildlife of the region.
If you’re a history buff wanting to discover the historical culture of the locals’ exhibits, you need to visit this museum. Alternatively, you can view the various rescued birds at the Kerr Center if you’re a bird lover.
The admission fee for adults is $17, and for children aged 3 to 12, it’s $10.
Kayak or SUP at Tumalo Creek
If you love your family water sports, make sure you check out the full range of activities available with Tumalo Creek. They offer tours and lessons as well as pay-by-the-hour rentals if you’d prefer to go at your own pace. If you found tubing the Deschutes fun and easy, this is a must for futher testing your skills on the water!
Expect the season to open late May and run through until September.
Shevlin Park is a 1000-acre park is an outdoor recreational paradise. There are numerous activities ideal for families, such as picnicking, hiking, fishing, and sightseeing. The park is close to downtown making it convenient to day trip, and it also has a great trail that is accessible all year round.
There’s a fishing pond on the northern portion of the park, and on the north of Shevlin Park Drive, we have an events space in the Aspen Hall. Shevlin Park also runs various summer camps for kids.
A little gem to seek out to the north of Bend, near Terrebonne. Stealhead Falls is a more challenging hike with kids; make sure they’re in some sturdy footwear for some narrow downhill sections, and pack some towels for this hike as your little daredevils will be rewarded with a swim and even a 20ft cliff jump!
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
The Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway is a fantastic destination for mild adventure. The best way you can enjoy the scenic view of this tourist paradise is by going on a 66-mile drive starting from Bend and taking you as far as Odell Lake and Crescent Lake.
While on a road trip to the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, you’ll go past volcanoes and glacier-crafted landscapes on your way. This popular Oregon Scenic Drive also has lovely scenery of the snowcapped Cascade Mountains and Mt Bachelor. (Note that the road west of Mt Bachelor is out of bounds during winter).
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
One of the best outdoor activities near Bend with kids is experiencing the Newberry National Volcanic Monument (it’s within Deschutes National Forest but we’d count it as a separate day trip!)
With the 54,000 acres of lava flow to explore, there are literally dozens of trails to enjoy in the area. One of the easiest to enjoy with kids is the Obsidian Flow Trail (your Minecraft fans will be going nuts at this point with their intricate knowledge of such a substance and its protective power!!)
You’ll want to take a drive to Paulina Peak for the best panoramic views over the park (seasonally closed). Also, pop into the Lava Lands Visitors Centre for some fabulous interactive displays and learning (just don’t tell the kids that’s what they’re doing, they’ll be having too much fun!)
Another great site is Paulina Falls and the Lava River Caves – a mile-long lava tube. You can complete this as a self-guided tour, recommended for slightly older kids as it can be a little slippery and very cold inside the cave! Alternatively, look out for guided tours with Wanderlust Tours.
Wanderlust Tours also offers guided tours with a naturalist around Paulina Lake which can be tailored to your groups interest. (Note recommend for ages 8+ as parts of the walk can be strenuous).
$5 per day parking or use your America the Beautiful Pass/Annual Northwest Forest Pass.
A quaint town to the south of Bend, with some cool little shops, plenty of recreation activities, and an awesome brewery, of course! Part resort, part residential community, you can easily spend a day or two of your time in Bend at the 3,300-acre Sunriver or even stay on this side of town at the Resort or RV Park for all it has to offer.
Brews in Sunriver
The Sunriver Brewing is regularly mentioned among the best in the state not just for its brews but family-friendly atmosphere including a children’s playground.
The Village at Sunriver
Pop into the Village at Sunriver, a wonderful open-air mall offering a wide range of shops and dining, fine arts and family entertainment.
SHARC– Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center – is an action-packed hub of activity year-round for families. As well as an indoor pool for winter, there is an outdoor aquatic center complete with a lazy river and water jungle gym (seasonal, opens around Memorial Day). You can also enjoy disc golf, bocce ball, rock climbing, basketball courts, and even a winter tubing hill.
Smith Rock State Park
This scenic park is one of the top rock-climbing spots in Oregon. North of Bend, Smith Rock State Park spans 650 acres and hosts hundreds of climbing routes for visitors. There’s also a wide range of hiking and biking trails that are filled with various wild animals such as the mule deer, bald eagles, river otter, prairie, and peregrine falcons.
If you have slightly, ah less willing hikers in the family, not to fear, as many of the lookouts in this state park are only a short walk from the car if rock climbing and hiking aren’t your thing.
The park also offers tent camping operating on a first-come, first-serve basis for those who prefer spending the night at the park.
The day-use fee at Smith Rock State Park is $5 (or America the Beautiful Pass)
We hope you’ve found plenty of fun kids’ activities in Bend and fall in love with this beautiful region of Oregon as much as we did.
To help you plan your family trip to Bend, we’ve got a few more planning tips for you below:
Best Time to Visit Bend
Is there a best time to visit Bend? The truth is that every season in Bend has its fair share of fun with things to see and do. However, there is no doubt that summer is the perfect time to visit.
Summer highs in Bend can reach as much as 84F but expect a fairly warm and pleasant average of 74F, perfect for all the city’s summer water sports. On average, Bend has more sunny days than anywhere else in Oregon!
However, note that its high desert climate means days can be hot, but overnights are quite cool; we’d be packing a pullover even in summer.
Winters bring cold temperatures and access to a variety of Sno Parks and skiing nearby. We recommend if you’re road-tripping around Oregon over winter check out the road conditions before you set off.
Where to Stay in Bend with Kids
Bend is a fantastic place to stay on a family vacation. We had it recommended by so many families when we asked for ideas in our Family Travel Inspiration group; we really should have paid more attention and booked even longer in Bend during our PNW Road Trip (we’d say a week minimum, 5 days was nowhere near enough!)
You can get all types of accommodation in Bend, from VRBO to RV Campgrounds camping, hotels, and everything in between.
VRBO Properties in Bend Try:
- A gorgeous house right on the Deschutes River in town would be an ideal location for a family trip to Bend
- Want to stay in the heart of Old Bend, within walking distance to everything? This large family home would be the perfect fit
- We loved our stay at Juniper Retreat in Westside, ideal for a family of 5 and complete with a lovely sundeck, fire pit, access to bikes, and a large garage.
Some family hotel suggestions in Bend
- Oxford Hotel Bend – A unique boutique hotel in the heart of Bend, perfect for smaller families (up to 4) in the center of the action with exceptional guest ratings
- Premier Best Western Peppertree Inn at Bend – a little further out of town but has excellent family facilities, including Rogue Room with kids activities galore and large rooms that can sleep up to 6.
- Hilton Garden Inn – puts you right next to Old Mill District, capable of sleeping 5 with rooms offering 2 queens and a sofa bed
See more accommodation options, with latest online deal, here:
If you’re traveling by RV, try Bend-Sunriver RV Campground (A Thousand Trails Park). It’s about 30 minutes from town, but you’ll have access to SHARC so plenty is still plenty to keep everyone entertained.
Getting to Bend – and Beyond!
- Bend sits around 160 miles to the southeast of Portland. The easiest way to get there is by private car – either via Mt Hood and the US-20 or the more southerly route via Salem and through Sisters. Both journeys take around 3.5 hours, though you’ll want to make some stops along the way as it’s an exceptionally picturesque scenic drive whichever route you take!
- There is also a public bus service from Portland to Bend, departing from Portland Union Station and arriving at Hawthorn Station in Bend. Try ShuttleOregon.com – the fastest route as it doesn’t go via Eugene, Amtrak or Central Oregon Breeze.
- Bend is about 140 miles north of Crater Lake National Park, allow about 2.5 hours of drive time. It can be done as a big day trip from Bend, or many will stop in at Crater Lake on their way between Bend and southern Oregon, such as Rogue River (direct to Medford without stopping is 170 miles, a bit over a 3-hour drive).
- Driving to the border with California is around a 3-hour drive from Bend, or all the way to the next large town in northern California, Redding, allow about 5 hours with only fuel stops.
- If you are driving onward from Bend to the Oregon Coast, you’ll find Newport about 170 miles away, a bit under 4 hours drive.
- East from Bend, travel 112 miles to get to John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
Getting around in Bend
Although you’ll still want a car to get around the various tourist attractions we’ve highlighted here around Bend, when you’re in the city, everything is very accessible on foot.
It’s a great walking city, only a little hilly in parts. You’ll find it stroller friendly and very bike-friendly too – if your accommodation includes some bikes you can use, it’s a great option for getting around town.
Note that you need parking passes at most of the state park attractions we have mentioned here. If you do not have an America the Beautiful Pass, you could alternatively purchase a Northwest Parks Pass, $30 annually which will allow you to make multiple state park visits in Washington and Oregon.
Visting in winter? For the Sno parks, you will need a Sno Park Pass for parking from November 1st to April 30th. These are NOT for sale at the trailheads, so make sure you purchase yours in advance online – they are $25 for an annual pass or if you’re just passing through Oregon, $9 for 3 consecutive days or $4 for a day pass.
Alternatively, if you prefer not to do the driving and would like a guided tour of some of Oregon’s best attractions, check out these options:
Exploring further around Oregon and the Pacific North West
If this family guide to Bend has got you excited to explore the Pacific North West, let’s explore a little further. How about checking out next:
- 20 Incredible Family Vacation Must-See stops in Oregon
- 14 Unmissable stops on the US West Coast
- Explore the Coastal Towns of Oregon
- Best Beaches in California for a Family Vacation
- Don’t miss these Family highlights of Northern California
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