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On the Road with Nancy Brown: Big Outdoors in Central Oregon

Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown discovers why U.S. News & World Report ranked Bend, Oregon as one of the best places to live.

Central Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor looms in the distance of the Deschutes National Forest.

Photo by Kendall Brown

Outdoor (and beer) paradise in Bend

Every summer, as the snowmelt feeds into Central Oregon streams, outdoor enthusiasts and weekend warriors pour into the Cascade Range, and are absorbed into acres of national forest as fast as maple syrup disappears into a stack of hot pancakes.56994 Dancing Rock Loop served as home base for our Sunriver, Oregon vacation // Nancy D. Brown

City dwellers escaping Portland as well as adventurers from California and Washington make it to Central Oregon's backcountry roads, often with mountain bikes or a kayak strapped to the roof. They come to climb the surrounding buttes and cinder cones or raft the many clean rivers of this high desert region.

The ones who’ve traveled this road before know to head to Bend, where a good day’s fun can also be had exploring the Bend Ale Trail by bicycle, bus, or horse-drawn wagon. Like many recreation-focused towns, Bend has seen increased unemployment with the downturn in the economy, yet this town with an estimated population of 83,125 manages to support seven breweries and more restaurants than you’ll have time to explore.

Caldera Springs and Sunriver Resort

The gated community of Caldera Springs is a new upscale development under the Sunriver Resort umbrella. While Sunriver Resort has served as my family’s Oregon home base for over 15 years, this year, we decided to splurge on a dog-friendly property at neighboring Caldera Springs. Our 2,866-square-foot rental home on Dancing Rock Loop offered soaring ceilings and a view of Mount Bachelor that re-affirmed the term “happy hour” any time of day. The foosball table in the three-car garage and flat screen TVs in the bedrooms certainly appealed to the teenagers in our group.

Guests of Caldera Springs have access to Sunriver Resorts’ Meadows and Woodlands golf courses, Sage Springs Spa, swimming pools, stables, and the marina. Yet Caldera Springs has its own private Quarry Pool and Fitness Center, Obsidian Lake for canoeing or kayaking, a playground, and sport courts.

Caldera Springs vacation homes can be rented through Bennington Properties, 56842 Venture Lane, Sunriver, Oregon, (888) 610-9700, benningtonproperties.com

Central Oregon’s Deschutes River //  Kendall BrownRafting the Deschutes’ Big Eddy

Kayak and canoe excursions launch from the Sunriver Marina and float for two hours down a calm six-mile stretch of the Deschutes River. For white water action seekers, professional rafting guides will put you in below Benham Falls, heading north in Bend and ending above Lava Island Falls. You’ll be thrilled by class I - III rapids, ranging from Big Eddy and The Notch to Kenmore, a drop into washing machine-like action.

While experienced rafters may forge the rapids without professional guidance, private guide companies such as Sun Country Tours and Seventh Mountain River Company provide transportation, rafts, life jackets, and help through a couple tricky class III rapids. Our family has enjoyed rafting this roller coaster stretch of the Deschutes for many years. We enjoy the guides banter and appreciate their expertise on the water.

Sun Country Tours, Sunriver Village Mall, Sunriver, Oregon (800) 770-2161, suncountrytours.com.

Seventh Mountain River Company, 18575 SW Century Drive, Bend, Oregon (541) 693-9124, seventhmountainriverco.com.

World class cycling and mountain biking

Famous for some of the best mountain biking in the nation, Central Oregon offers an all-day ride (20 to 30-plus miles) from Mount Bachelor to Bend on single track, or scenic trips on the Cascade Lakes Loop Trail, passing Mount Bachelor and the alpine lakes of Central Oregon. Families looking for an easy ride may want to join Bend-based Cogwild and leave the route planning and logistics to the locals. Cyclists will start their six- to ten-mile ride from the top of Lava Butte, only a few miles outside Sunriver Resort. Bring your camera as this ride offers views of the entire Cascade Range, including Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Washington.

Cogwild, 255 SW Century Drive, Bend, Oregon (866) 610-4822, cogwild.com.

Nancy Brown and Resort Stables Owner Debi SmithHorsing around in Bend

For those looking to shake things up a bit, try trotting beside the Deschutes River on horseback. Having rafted and mountain biked along the Deschutes, I was thrilled to view the Big Eddy rapids from the back of a horse. Our two-hour scenic ride began in Deschutes National Forest and continued alongside the Deschutes River, eventually looping back to the stables. We stopped for pictures with white water from the river churning below us. Across the river, thousands of acres of stark lava fields jut up from the terrain like craters on the moon. Pony rides are available for buckaroos ages two to six, and horse-crazy kids might like the multi-day horse camp.

Seventh Mountain Resort Stables, 18575 SW Century Drive, Bend, Oregon (541) 693-9132, seventhmountain.com

Brews and views from A to V

Looking for Bend hot spots? Start happy hour at Astro Lounge and work your way to the bar and café known as Velvet, visiting a few microbreweries in between. Try the Blacksmith Restaurant for excellent drinks and appetizers in the historic Pierson’s Shop or mosey on over to McMenamins, a pub located at the old St. Francis School. O’Kanes is located at the back of the property and offers a nice place to sit next to fire pits while sipping locally crafted ale.

For more information and trip-planning advice contact Visit Central Oregon, 661 SW Powerhouse Drive, Bend, Oregon (800) 800-8334, visitcentraloregon.com.

For an in-the-boat view of rafting the Big Eddy on the Deschutes River, watch the video below:


A lifelong resident of Contra Costa County, Nancy D. Brown grew up in Moraga. When she’s not traveling, she lives in Lafayette with her husband and teens. Nancy is the Uptake.com Travel Editor, writes the What a Trip blog and is a Contra Costa Times Lamorinda Sun columnist. Horse lovers will find her at writinghorseback.com. Follow Nancy on Twitter at twitter.com/nancydbrown