The beauty and outdoor adventures that await in Central Oregon are probably some of the big reasons you find yourself visiting here. It's why we live here, too—and very likely why the people in the Airbnb next door to you are here as well. With the region's reputation comes lots of people, looking to enjoy the lakes, sunshine, mountains, trails and all the other great stuff.
While some of the most well-known outdoor destinations got that way for good reason (as in, they're stinkin' awesome), they can also be pretty busy. Here are some ideas for lesser-known sites that are equally spectacular.
Camping at the Cascade Lakes
A drive along the Cascade Lakes Highway west of Bend is likely to be high on your list of places to visit while you're here—and for good reason. The lakes are beautiful and the views of Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Broken Top are gorgeous. And while a lot of people make Todd Lake, Sparks Lake and Elk Lake part of their must-do lists, you'll find more serenity by heading up the road a bit farther, where you'll be treated to more of those awesome views along the way. Instead of camping at Elk Lake, consider getting a spot at Little Cultus or Little Lava lakes. They're smaller, with fewer camp sites and more opportunities for quiet time. West of Sisters, also look to Suttle Lake and the Suttle Lodge and Boathouse for a scenic, peaceful respite from the crowds.
Hiking the Cascade Lakes
Due to high volumes of people visiting popular hiking spots, officials with the Deschutes National Forest will soon implement a quota system for many hiking trails in the Three Sisters, Waldo Lake, Diamond Peak, Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Washington wilderness areas during the warmer months. Trails near the Cascade Lakes Highway that fall under a quota system—meaning a limited number of people will be able to access them on a given day— include Todd Lake, Lucky Lake, Broken Top, Elk Lake, Green Lake/Soda Creek and others. Similar to the scene at the lakes themselves, the less-traveled hikes are farther up the highway. Hikes to check out include Corral Swamp, Winopee Lake, Deer Lake and Many Lakes, all in the areas around Cultus Lake. Find information on accessing each trailhead by searching "Deschutes National Forest hiking" online.
Mountain Biking Around Bend
With hundreds of miles of single track in Bend, it's no wonder that cyclists flock to the area to get some of that action. If you're one of them, then chances are you've heard of the Phil's trail network, named after Phil Maglasson, one of the pioneers of Central Oregon mountain biking. The trailhead parking lot, just west of Bend, is gigantic—one indication of the volume of traffic this area gets. If you're looking for something a bit more low-key and less-traveled, check out Swamp Wells, a network of dry, desert-like trails offering loops between 10 and 30 miles. Bendtrails.org is a helpful resource for trail conditions and other ideas for lesser-known trails.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Mt. Bachelorhttps://www.mtbachelor.com/ is the big dog when it comes to skiing and snowboarding in Central Oregon—but don't overlook Hoodoo, a smaller, family friendly resort west of Sisters, where the old-school mellow vibe abounds. When it comes to Nordic skiing, the area west of Sisters is also a viable alternative to the area around Bachelor. Hoodoo offers groomed Nordic trails, and so does the nearby Ray Benson Sno-Park, where you'll find Nordic trails and snowshoeing.
With a range of hybrid ski setups and split boards on the scene these days, backcountry riding is also an option around the region. Check in with one of the local outdoor shops for tips on where to go, and gear to rent.
Dog Parks in Bend
Float the Deschutes River near downtown Bend and you can't help but notice the hordes of dogs jumping into the river near one of the main float departure points at Riverbend Park. The park has a dusty dog park, too—but if you're really looking to get your pup out and off-leash, we recommend two great dog parks on the east side of Bend. Check out Pine Nursery Park, with a giant off-leash area that includes walking paths, as well as Big Sky Park, with a dog park that's not quite as big as Pine Nursery, but one that contains picnic tables and plenty of shade.