Fascinating Day Trips From Bend That Will Help You Discover Central Oregon’s Highlights

If you’re researching places to take a day trip from Bend, look no further because this list covers some of the most fascinating places to visit in Central Oregon that are within an easy one or two hours drive.

Whether you’re a Bend resident wanting to explore your own backyard or a visitor who wants to discover some of the incredible places near Bend to make the most of your travels, I’ve got you covered!

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, Oregon
A scenic byway in Central Oregon

Bend has become a hot-spot for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers and it’s not hard to see why. Nestled between the expansive coniferous forests of the west and high desert plains to the east, this part of Oregon has it all! Mountains, buttes, hoodoos, hills, lakes, rivers, rapids, waterfalls, and more!

You can even surf in Bend! Yes, you heard that right, there is a surf-able river wave in Bend that you can find right in the center of town!

There are numerous hikes near Bend worthy of a day trip, including several grueling mountain trails that should be on your bucket list if you enjoy “bagging peaks” as much as I do. There’s also a plethora of sparkling jewel-like lakes for those of you wanting to spend a day out on the water. And incase you haven’t heard, Bend is a mountain biking mecca.

Would you prefer to take it easy and go sightseeing instead? That’s okay, Bend is a good jumping off point for several scenic drives where you can easily explore Central Oregon’s stunning Cascade Mountain Range, high desert landscapes, and unusual natural wonders like the Painted Hills.

Seriously, Bend really does have it all.

Not only does Bend abound in outdoor recreation, but the climate here affords residents and visitors the opportunity to make the most of almost every day thanks to year-round perfect weather!

Due to Bend’s geographic location, this area is known for having big blue skies and over three hundred sunshine-filled days. So if you’re ready to get out of town for the day, rest assured rain is not likely to interfere with your plans.

Best Day Trips From Bend, Oregon

Alright, with that said, you might now feel a little overwhelmed knowing there are so many places to visit near Bend. To help you narrow the possibilities, I suggest limiting your day trip to destinations that are within an hour or two of Bend. That way you’ll have plenty of time to explore wherever it is you choose to visit.

Here are my suggestions on top places to visit near Bend. These fascinating destinations will prove how incredibly beautiful and varied Central Oregon’s landscape is.

Todd Lake

Best Day Trips From Bend: Todd Lake

If you were to ask the residents of Bend where the most popular day trip destination from Bend was, they would likely reply Todd Lake. Visit Todd Lake on any given day throughout summer and you’re likely to find the area filled with hikers, bird watchers, families enjoying picnics, and people making the most of lake-life weather!

Todd Lake, which sits on the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range, is one of the prettiest lakes found along Cascade Lakes Highway. Not only is the lake impressive, but its location offers stunning views of both Mt Bachelor and Broken Top mountain.

There is a hiking trail around Todd Lake which is easy and suitable for all fitness levels. The trail travels along the lakeshore and as you make your way around the lake you’ll be treated to breathtaking views. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in the spring, you’ll get to witness wildflowers blooming in the meadows surrounding the lake.

The meadows surrounding Todd Lake are so well-known for their colorful wildflower display that the Forest Service designated Todd Lake as a Pacific Northwest Region Wildflower Viewing Area. Mid-June to July is the best time to see wildflowers in bloom around Todd Lake.

The nice thing about visiting Todd Lake is that it is very close to Bend! It will only take about thirty minutes or less to reach Todd Lake which means you’ll have plenty of time for hiking.

Smith Rock State Park

Smith Rock State Park In Oregon

At Smith Rock State Park you’ll find towering rock spires and deep river canyons. Although this geologically wonderful place is situated in the high desert plateau of Central Oregon, it looks more like a destination in Utah! I’m not kidding, this state parks looks like a mini Zion National Park!!

Smith Rock State Park has been designated one of the 7 Wonders Of Oregon. These ‘wonders’ are Oregon’s most mesmerizing landscapes, and essentially places that you simply must see! So if you’re ever visiting Bend (or a local who still hasn’t been to Smith Rock) don’t miss the opportunity to see this Oregon bucket list destination.

Smith Rock is considered the birthplace of rock climbing in America so it’s no surprise that the park attracts rock climbers from all over the world. However, you don’t have to be a rock climber to enjoy this state park.

There are several awesome hiking trails; some that are flat and easy and others that are geared towards more experienced hikers. The most popular hiking trail here is the Misery Ridge hiking trail, a trail that climbs to a 3,360 foot summit which offers incredible panoramic views of the Central Oregon Valley.

If you’d like to turn your day trip to Smith Rock into a weekend escape, there is a tent-only campground here that you can stay at. It’s a great little campground that offers views of the iconic Smith Rock.

Whether you come to climb or to unwind, you are guaranteed to have a good time here! The nice thing about Smith Rock State Park is that you can visit any time of the year, unlike some other destinations in this part of Oregon which have limited access in winter. Since this park is only a quick thirty minute drive north of Bend, it’s also one of the easiest places to visit on a day trip from Bend.

Painted Hills

The Painted Hills In Oregon

Vivid greens, fiery reds, burnt orange, and shimmering pink and gold colors cover the landscape at this surreal Oregon destination. It’s not hard to see why the Painted Hills are one of the ‘7 Wonders of Oregon’. Yes, this is another epic natural wonder that belongs to Oregon’s list of most amazing destinations!

Located a little over an hour west of Smith Rock State Park, you’d be silly not to include a trip to both destinations on your day trip. Smith Rock and Painted Hills are small parks and therefore possible to visit both destinations without missing out on seeing the highlights at each.

The Painted Hills are recognized for their intensely-colored soil that is splashed across the large, rolling hills here. Other-worldly is a term that comes to mind upon reaching the Painted Hills. Different volcanic eruptions and changing climate patterns over the ages are what’s responsible for this work of art by mother nature.

On your day trip, be sure to allow at least an hour to see the monument from various viewpoints and to take the short stroll through the Painted Cove.

The Painted Hills are part of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and if you have more time on your itinerary, take a drive out to the Sheeprock Unit which is almost as spectacular as the Painted Hills.

Tamolitch Blue Pool

Best Day Trips From Bend: Tamolitch Falls Is Only A Hour Drive Away

Tamolitch Falls, also known as the “Blue Pool”, is a remarkably clear, topaz-colored lake in Central Oregon. This strikingly vivid pool has become so famous on social media that it has become a top bucket list destination in Oregon!

Visitors from all over the country (and btw, even folks from outside of the U.S. have heard about Tamolitch Falls) come to Central Oregon to seek out the crystal clear waters of the Blue Pool.

If you’re visiting Bend, the good news is that Tamolitch Falls is within an hours drive! It’s also a stunning drive along one of Oregon’s most scenic byways. So if you’re looking for day trip ideas from Bend, consider taking a short road trip to one of the most amazing bodies of water in the state of Oregon!

Now, you will need to hike to get to the Blue Pool, but it is a relatively flat hiking trail that almost anyone can do. The trail is also family-friendly so don’t be afraid to bring your kids.

To reach Tamolitch Falls, you’ll hike through mossy, old-growth forest alongside the McKenzie River on the McKenzie River Trail. The trail is open year-round and the hike is beautiful in any season, however keep in mind that the waterfall only flows at certain times of the year.

Do you want to hike to Tamolitch Blue Pool? Find out everything you need to know about hiking to Tamolitch Blue Pool on the McKenzie River Trail, including interesting facts about how the pool was formed and why the water is so vivid here!

Koosah & Sahalie Falls

Koosah Falls In Oregon

Do you love chasing waterfalls? Yes? Then be sure to visit Koosah Falls and Sahalie Falls in the McKenzie River Valley. These two neighboring waterfalls which are one mile of each other, are nothing short of spectacular!

The waterfalls mark the end of two thick lava flows that dammed nearby Clear Lake about 3,000 years ago. Both falls are part of the McKenzie River watershed in the Willamette National Forest.

Sahalie Falls plunges 100 feet (30m) over a natural lava dam before tumbling in a series of cascades. This impressive waterfall was featured in the Disney movie “Homeward Bound”. There is a viewing platform which is wheelchair accessible less than 100 feet from the parking lot.

Koosah Falls, which is slightly smaller than Sahalie, drops 70 feet (21m) into a deep pool. In the drier months, this waterfall divides into two streams as it drops into the pool below.

Each waterfall has its own parking lot and can be reached via a short walk from the roadside, but the most rewarding way to visit them is on the Waterfalls Loop Trail, a hiking trail that connects both waterfalls. This 2.6 mile hiking trail also offers close up views of the wild McKenzie River as it winds through a towering, old-growth conifer forest.

While summer is perfect hiking weather, autumn is also an ideal time to visit the area when the landscape here changes from green to orange and yellow hues.

These two popular waterfall hikes in Oregon can be found along McKenzie River Scenic Byway (OR-126) which travels through the Oregon Cascade Range. The drive from Bend is less than an hour. Keep your eyes peeled for signs that will let you know you have arrived at your destination. There are restrooms at the parking lots.

Try not to park along the highway if the parking lots are full as it is not safe, especially during the winter when the road becomes even more dangerous.

Clear Lake Resort

Clear Lake Is An Easy Day Trip From Bend, Oregon.

If you’re looking for a fun summer destination to get out on the water, head to Clear Lake Resort! This resort which is an easy day trip from Bend offers all sorts of on-water activities including kayaking, canoeing, and fishing.

You won’t have to bring your own watercraft either as the resort offers kayak and rowboat rentals. However if you would prefer to bring your own equipment, you are more than welcome to for a small $5 launch fee.

Note that recreational activities are only recommended on the water, not in it! Swimming is not recommended here because the lake’s temperature is near freezing! But don’t let this little fact deter you from visiting as Clear Lake’s cold waters are what keeps it so pristine and clear.

Believe it or not, scuba divers from around the world come to swim in this lake due to its clarity. Apparently they enjoy swimming amongst the sunken trees that line the haunted-looking lake floor. Boaters can also see the massive trees below the lake surface thanks to how amazingly crystal clear the water is.

You might be asking yourself why are there trees at the bottom of this lake? Well, there was once a dense Douglas Fir forest here that was submerged by a volcanic eruption about 3,000 years ago. The lava from the eruption completely decimated the ancient forest except for a few submerged trees that still stand under the frigid waters of Clear Lake. These trees continue to be preserved due to the extremely cold water.

After spending a few hours on Clear Lake, you’ll likely wish you had another day up your sleeve here. Not to worry because you can turn your day trip into a weekend away by renting a cabin at the resort. Cabins at the resort are rustic and without indoor plumbing however they are still super cozy! They are also a steal at under $80 a night!

Cabin rentals are available year-round, as are boat rentals. If you can brave frosty temperatures, this is a fantastic place to experience a winter wonderland.

Shaniko Ghost Town

Shaniko Ghost Town In Oregon

If you enjoy visiting ghost towns, you need to plan a day trip to Shaniko! This popular Oregon ghost town attracts hundreds of tourists every year for its well-preserved buildings.

Among the haunted remnants of what was once the “Wool Capital of the World” are the weathered structures of a historic hotel, a jail, and a schoolhouse. There is also a small museum that you might find interesting.

In the early 1900s, Shaniko served as a transit hub for the Columbia Southern Railway. At the time, the town lay at the center of 20,000 square miles of wool and wheat land. By 1901, Shaniko had the largest wool warehouse in Oregon, in which four million pounds were stored and sold. It was 1903 when the town gained the nickname “Wool Capital of the World.” That year the town shipped over 2,000 tons of wool which amounted to some $3 million in sales. A year later in 1904, the wool sales were up to $5 million. 

Unfortunately the good times didn’t last. In 1911, the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company opened a route linking Portland to Bend through the Deschutes River Canyon. The new line diverted traffic from the Columbia Southern, and Shaniko began its decline. Passenger service to Shaniko ended in the early 1930s, and the entire line stopped running in 1966.

Shaniko is one of my favorite ghost towns and I always stop by for a quick visit when I’m on my way to Bend. The town has a different mood and energy depending on the time of day and year. For example, I stopped to visit during sunset on one occasion and the buildings up against a bright pink sky were incredible! Of course once the sun goes down, the vibe in town starts to feel a little eerie.

Learn more about visiting Shaniko Ghost Town! Here’s a quick guide to visiting Shaniko. If you have time during your day trip, consider taking the Journey Through Time Scenic Byway which travels through sagebrush plains to see more fascinating places in eastern Oregon.

The Cove Palisades State Park

The Cove Palisades State Park is an easy day trip from Bend, Oregon.

The Cove Palisades State Park is a place where the Deschutes, Crooked, and Metolius rivers all converge inside a steep gorge made up of volcanic basalt. This state park showcases all of Central Oregon’s characteristic features including crystal clear rivers and lakes, gaping canyons, high-desert rocky plateaus, fragrant sagebrush vegetation as far as the eye can see, and snow-capped peaks that linger in the distance.

The impressive destination offers endless outdoor opportunities from hiking to fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing. If you’re looking for a summer day trip destination from Bend, this is the perfect place to plan a trip as there is no shortage of outdoor activities here.

Only an hours drive north of Bend, and just a few miles west of Highway 97, you would never guess there is such a massive chasm and towering canyon walls hiding amongst the surrounding flat farmland.

The highlight at Cove Palisades State Park is Lake Billy Chinook, a huge lake with 72 miles of shoreline that offers all sorts of water activities including swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking, and even overnight houseboat rentals!

There are also several awesome hiking trails that will help you explore this fascinating destination. The best hike here is the Tam-a-Lau Trail, a 6.5 mile hike up to a lava plateau known as “The Peninsula”. This hike will take you through a steep canyon with basalt-columned walls to a mesa with incredible views of Lake Billy Chinook and Central Oregon’s famous peaks such as Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Mount Jefferson.

If you’re looking for a place near Bend to beat the summer heat, add a day trip to this state park! Don’t worry about bringing anything with you as you’ll have access to all sorts of equipment rentals at the park’s marina. No need for a packed lunch either as there is a cafe onsite.

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