Great food, spectacular scenery, interesting shopping, heart-pounding outdoor activities–Central Oregon is an all-season destination.
East of the Cascade Mountains, Central Oregon is one of those blessed U.S. travel destinations that boasts both prime winter and summer travel seasons. Winter fans love the sunshine and downhill and cross country skiing, snowmobiling, tubing, tobogganing, and just about any winter sport and activity you can imagine. Summer visitors are attracted by the dry heat, the natural beauty, and fishing, water sports, golf, hiking, rock climbing and more. Year round, the seasons and the activities overlap: if it’s outdoors, you can do it in Central Oregon.
A friend and I have a full week to explore this area of mountains, volcanoes, lakes, rivers, forest, and high desert.
Sweet Home Base
We’re based at Eagle Crest Resort, just two miles outside the town of Redmond and 17 miles outside of Bend. Our condo overlooks the Deschutes River and we can see and hear water flowing in the canyon’s bottom. We have all the comforts: a large living room with gas fireplace, full kitchen, washer and dryer, and picture windows that let us watch mule deer pass each evening. The loft bedroom has a jetted tub, and the upstairs deck puts us close to the spectacular display of stars each night.
At the bottom of the Deschutes Canyon, we stroll trails along the river. Our forays to the pool, hot tub and sauna become our relaxing evening routine. We rent bikes at Wheel Fun Rentals next door, and traverse miles of bike trails and ride to the cafes, restaurants, and the market.
Central Oregon is known for golf and there are three challenging courses at Eagle Crest. The putting course is also a great way for all ages to spend time outdoors. I love the corny fun of a good miniature golf of the windmill and castle variety, but the putting course at Eagle Crest is a little different: 18 holes of water hazards, breaks, rough, sand traps and great views. The greens are slow, so it doesn’t totally mimic regular courses, which evens out the playing field somewhat for good golfers and bad golfers (me)…although I still do pretty badly.
Early one morning, we opt for a trail ride. The resort works with Ikiutan Stables and our guide, Sarah, leads us onto Bureau of Land Management trails with our horses, Ben and Cayenne. The trails are quintessential Central Oregon: mountain views, variegated dry browns, wildflowers and fresh air with the heady scent of sage and juniper. There are deer and rabbits everywhere and the warm and the dry heat feels great.
Rafting the Deschutes
White water rafting is one of the most popular activities in Central Oregon and makes for a great story for the folks back home. The watery scenery on a hot day and the thrill of Class I-IV rapids is one for the bucket list.
We choose Sun Country Tours, which leaves from Bend. At the river, we’re assigned rafts, life jackets and paddles. Our guide, Matt, is the trip leader, so he keeps an eye out for the other five rafts as well as our’s. We introduce ourselves and we’re off.
“Push forward, stop, left side paddle forward, right will paddle backwards.” We learn verbal commands and what to do if someone falls out or the raft overturns. Matt warns us to control our paddles so we don’t whack someone. We take this seriously. We don’t want to knock someone out the boat or get knocked out.
There are squeals, smiles, and hearty laughter. Our trip embodies just the right combination of fun and scary. Between rapids, I ask Matt how long he’s been guiding. “About three days,” he deadpans. “I normally do office work, but the temp agency sent me.”
Time for another series of rapids. My feet go into brace position and I’m ready-but-not. Down we go, up we go—we’re wet, laughing, then dropping again. Whoo-hoo!
When it’s calm again, the rafts gather. We glide along a wall of black lava rock. Some take a dip in the cool water.
The trip ends too soon, and, as we travel toward shore, we feel happy and satisfied.
Shopping and Time for To Eat Again
There is no sales tax in Oregon. The week before, in Chicago I paid 9.25% sales tax on everything so I enjoy saving a little money on meals and purchases here in Central Oregon.
The little town of Sisters has a busy, touristy downtown strip with a western frontier motif and a host of shops good for browsing and gift shopping. Redmond’s downtown boasts some of the best antique shopping in the state and some great restaurants. The Village at Sunriver offers fun shops and pubs as well.
However, Bend, the largest city in Central Oregon, is the commercial hub and Central Oregon’s shopping and dining Mecca. The attractive downtown core has great architecture and restaurants and hipster shopping. I get my book and coffee bar fix at Dudley’s, where the barista plays Chopin on a grand piano when she isn’t pulling espressos or ringing up book purchases. Rejuvenated and caffeinated, we head for a bit of shopping before dinner.
Shopping has made us hungry and Barrio, a Latin-inspired bistro that won Bend’s Rookie of the Year award when they debuted in 2012, is a great choice. While lunches feature predominantly authentic Mexican dishes, the dinner menu includes tapas, paella, and steak and seafood entrees. We order a couple of creative, well-mixed cocktails, and an assortment of tapas. The Blue Cheese and Potato Croquettes have a great crust and bits of crispy chorizo that round out the flavors. The Shrimp, Eggplant, and Manchego includes fresh shrimp in a chimichurri sauce on a firm, baked eggplant. The Grilled Broccoli is tossed in a sofrito aioli, cojita cheese and lime that’s both crunchy and smoky. A salsa and guacamole platter adds good texture and color to the meal. Finally, the Rib Eye Rollo is a mushroom and corn stuffed steak with black beans, kale and mojo de ajo (garlic). Our Spanish Rioja pairs well with the food. And, when I see the bread pudding go by on the dessert cart, I can’t help myself and the leftovers make a great breakfast.
We also dine at Redmond’s tiny Pig & Pound where we enjoy a house salad with maple vinaigrette, fish and chips, Scotch egg and an unorthodox poutine with feta, which go well with a Boneyard IPA and a Klamath Basic Vanilla Porter. This is simple British Pub fare that makes the place a popular local spot.
Bend’s Zydeco would make my Louisiana family members homesick. My shrimp etouffee has a flavorful roux-based red-brown sauce and plenty of large fresh prawns. It’s served over basmati rice with a wedge of moist cornbread.
Down on the (Goat) Farm
Goats and goat Cheese and a beautiful pastoral working farm setting where friendly and proud farmers eager to share their knowledge and abundance—that’s Redmond’s Juniper Grove Farm. Touring the farm is great fun and their cheeses are an artisan treat. We visit the kid barn, the milking parlor, cheese room and cheese cellar and sample owner Pierre Kolisch’s tomme, feta, chevre and gruyere and load up on some to take home.
Wildlife and Living History
If you think there’s nothing for grownups at the High Desert Museum in Bend unless you have a kiddo or two in tow, take another look. All ages enjoy this 150-acre living museum. Indoors, we visit the permanent exhibit halls and rotating exhibits. Outdoors, we stroll through the excellent otter exhibit, pond viewing area, forest exhibit, and the interactive 1904 Miller Family Ranch and Sawmill.
We check out the Desert Dwellers and Bird of Prey Encounter live programs, as well as the new Raptors of the Desert Sky program. (Birds of prey are my personal favorite, and I threaten to take up falconry.) Amidst the trees, a turkey vulture, a pair of Harris’ hawks, a peregrine falcon, and a barn owl soar directly overhead. We’re impressed by their grace, beauty, and strength. The fascinating conservation, breeding, history, flight and behavior facts about these magnificent creatures that the museum biologist shares with us is well worth our visit and the museum’s natural sage brush and pine beauty make us appreciate Central Oregon all the more.
Name that Mountain
Everywhere we look, the mountains of Central Oregon and beyond are imposing. I learn to identify the iconic peaks–Broken Top, the South, Middle and North Sisters, Black Crater, Mt. Washington, Three Fingers Jack, Black Butte, and Mount Jefferson.
The hiking opportunities in Central Oregon are endless. One place in particular should not be missed: Smith Rock State Park. One of the mostly frequently photographed stops in Central Oregon, it’s a world famous rock climbing destination. It’s a dramatic and imposing site created by volcanic activity and water erosion and the strong sun and reds and browns of the rock make a powerful impression on us. We hike Homestead and Wolf Tree, trails with beautiful views at every switchback, and we cool off by wading in the Crooked River.
After a fortifying lunch at popular Terrebonne Depot, we drive the Camp Sherman Highway to Black Butte. We’re in the evergreen canopy of the Metolius River, beneath western hemlock and ponderosa pine. We’re here to see “the Spring,” a place where ice cold water bubbles up from beneath the rocky earth and the Metolius River begins. The springs are thought to originate in the Cascade Mountains to the west; the fault we’re standing on brings the springs to the surface to flow downward for 25 miles. The water is clear and cold and the river is a fishing and hiking mecca. The Metolius is also home to Wizard Falls Fish Hatchery where more than 2.5 million salmon and trout are raised each year.
We take a break at the General Store at Camp Sherman—a fly fisher’s dream and the place to add to your t-shirt or cap collection. Across from the store, we sit on the bank and put our feet in the icy waters as we reflect on our time in Central Oregon. In places like Rome or New York, you can’t see everything in a week. In the relatively small area of Central Oregon, a week is plenty of time to do just about everything we wanted.
And yet…it’s just not. So I’ll be back. — Story and photos by Nancy Zaffaro, RFT Contributor
If You Go
Eagle Crest Resort, www.eagle-crest.com
There are also numerous hotels, motels, resorts, rental homes and condos, and camping options throughout Central Oregon.
Pig & Pound, 427 NE 8th Street, Redmond, Oregon, (541) 526-1697
Barrio, 163 NW Minnesota Avenue, Bend, Oregon www.barriobend.com
Zydeco, 919 Bond Street, Bend, Oregon, www.zydecokitchen.com
Terrebonne Depot, 400 NW Smith Rock Way, Terrebonne, Oregon, www.terrebonnedepot.com
Sun Country Tours, whitewater rafting, river tubing, SUP, www.suncountrytours.com (Also see http://www.realfoodtraveler.com/2013/05/be-safe-have-fun-eight-questions-to-ask-your-white-water-rafting-company/ )
High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon, www.highdesertmuseum.org
Dudley’s Books, 135 Minnesota Avenue, B end, Oregon, (541), 749-2010
Juniper Grove Farm, 2023 SW 58th Street, Redmond, Oregon, www.junipergrovefarm.com