The High Desert Museum in Central Oregon

The High Desert Museum Includes Live Animals, Historical Re-Enactments and Much More

It's a zoo! Its a history museum! Its a children's museum! Yes, the High Desert Museum in Central Oregon is all that and more.

Located just 5 minutes south of Bend, Oregon (about 10 minutes north of Sunriver), the High Desert Museum is a local attraction you just have to see whether you are here on vacation, or a long-time resident. Rotating exhibits, richly detailed information on Oregon's history, and hands-on learning for all ages make this museum a favorite among kids of all ages.

Take a walk through Oregon's history and learn what it was like for early fur traders, settlers, people on the Oregon Trail, and the impact of the gold rush. You'll be able to peek inside the rooms of log cabins, walk through a coal mine, and into a kitchen of an American Indian family in the 1950s.

The High Desert Museum also is the only zoo in Central Oregon, with a number of popular wild animal exhibits. Two children's play areas - one indoors and one outdoors, allow young visitors to work off extra steam, while learning about wildlife and the high desert region of the Pacific Northwest.

If you get hungry during your visit, you can enjoy lunch at the Rimrock Cafe. Vending machines with drinks and other snacks are also available. The Silver Sage Trading Store includes many unique treasures to commemorate your visit to Central Oregon and the High Desert.

Any time of year is a great day to visit the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks
Any time of year is a great day to visit the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks

Address, Hours and Other Details for the High Desert Museum

Address: 59800 S Highway 97, Bend, OR 97702

Telephone: (541) 382-4754

Social Networking: Follow on Facebook and Twitter

Hours: Daily, 9:00-5:00 (except Thanksgiving and Christmas)

Admission:

Summer: May 1 - October 31

Adult $15; Senior (65 plus) $12; Youth (ages 5-12) $ 9; Child (4 and under) Free

Winter: November 1 - April 30

Adult $10; Senior (65 plus) $ 9; Youth (ages 5-12) $ 6; Child (4 and under) Free

Stroller Rental $ 3; Wheelchair Free

**If you "show your key" from participating hotel and resort properties in Central Oregon, you may be eligible for a 10% discount. Be sure to ask at the front desk!

History Comes Alive at the High Desert Museum

Four main areas of the museum house permanent exhibits at the High Desert Museum: Wildlife, Living History, Outdoor Exhibits (including a working saw mill) and Indoor Exhibits (our favorite is the Hall of Exploration and Settlement).

Each visit offers a new experience! Volunteers in period costumes re-enact Oregon life in the 1800s and 1900s. Guided tours and daily talks at the High Desert Museum give in-depth information and answer your questions.

There is so much to see here, you'll want to plan at least 3-4 hours for your visit.

Two primary indoor exhibits are worth the price of admission alone. By Hand Through Memory takes you through life as a Native American living in Oregon. Life-size replicas, photographs and artifacts showing intricate beading and leatherwork bring to life the challenges and experiences faced by native peoples in the high desert region. Influence of settlers becomes more and more apparent as you travel through time to present day.

On the opposite side of the museum is "Spirit of the West." You'll walk through time there, too. Map making instruments, and fur trading stations are displayed in a way that you feel you are witness to settling of the Wild West. Walk through a town from the 1800s, complete with a bank, trading post and "real life" pioneers (volunteer actors).

During summer months, volunteers outside also bring the hard scrabble life of the pioneers to life. Help them pump water and tend to the crops. Year round, you can explore the inside of teepees, check out covered wagons and walk through small cabins like the ones that settlers lived in years ago.

Since Bend, Oregon was established as a timber town in the early 20th century, naturally you'll want to see the working saw mill - operated by men dressed in period costumes. Visit the High Desert Museum during summer months for this experience!

Museum volunteers in period dress show children what its like to pump water and tend to crops at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks
Museum volunteers in period dress show children what its like to pump water and tend to crops at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks

Working Saw Mill at the High Desert Museum

Children love to play in the teepees at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks
Children love to play in the teepees at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks

Guided Tours and Field Trips at the High Desert Musuem

As a scout leader, I've taken my den to the High Desert Museum on several occasions to earn different merit badges and achievements. The museum is also a popular destination for school field trips.

As shown in the photographs, you can see that the museum is open year-round and the weather can be chilly. Just plan ahead to dress warmly for snow or freezing temperatures during winter months. Outdoor exhibits will still be open (except for the saw mill, which is only operational during the summer).

You will definitely want to plan ahead to make the most of your field trip or guided tour at the museum. The High Desert Museum offers special rates for group tours of a minimum size of 10 people, but you do need to make arrangements at least 2 weeks ahead of your visit by calling 541-382-4754 ext 241. Confirmation two days prior to arrival is also required.

As of the date of this publication, 1 bus driver and 1 tour escort are allowed free admission for a group tour, and the admission fees for other members of the group are discounted, but must be paid as a single, collective admission at the front desk.

Groups can choose to picnic outdoors at the picnic tables near the parking lot, or can call to make arrangements for box lunches to be prepared for purchase at the Rimrock Cafe.

For groups 10-25 people in size, you may want to consider adding one of the museum's personalized 30-minute tours. For $50, you can enjoy the Spirit of the West Tour, or the By Hand Through Memory Tour. Call the museum for more information, or to make arrangements.

Civil War Re-Enactment at the High Desert Museum

Outdoor sculptures make great photo opportunities at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks
Outdoor sculptures make great photo opportunities at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks

Wildlife at the High Desert Museum

My children love animals, so we usually head straight to see the wild cats when we visit the High Desert Museum. The lynx and the bobcat on display from the inside of the museum are housed at in separate enclosures. Unlike other zoos, the animals are here because they would no longer survive in the wild

The river otter is another favorite exhibit - watch "Thomas" swim and play, and check out information on some of his wildlife relations. Reptile lovers will enjoy the snakes and tortoises, as well as some amazing fish! Last year, a baby porcupine was born at the High Desert Museum. If you don't think that porcupines can be cute, then just watch the video below!

One of the most popular attractions at the High Desert Museum is the Birds of Prey Center Golden eagles, bald eagles, several owl species peer down from their perches. Interactive displays allow children to listen to, and compare, various raptor calls. Daily talks offer in-depth learning about the birds' habitat, diet and more.

Baby Porcupine at the High Desert Museum

Covered wagon at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks
Covered wagon at the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks

The High Desert Museum Offers Special Events and Programs

The High Desert is a popular place for weddings and other special events! We've been there for fundraising dinners and other community programs. The facility can accommodate up to 500 people. As noted on the High Desert Museum's website:

The High Desert Museum is a nationally renowned, unique venue that may make for the perfect, unique setting for you and your guests for your next special event. The Museum's unique setting on 135 pristine acres just 10 minutes from the Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon offers a place for an unparalleled, memorable experience for your guests.

As The New York Times described it, the Museum is an architectural jewel, "nestled into the spare basalt of Central Oregon as if it grew there."

The Museum exudes the natural beauty of the Northwest. Skylights and aspen-filled atriums allow natural light to dapple its interior. A peaked, 16-foot Douglas fir-beamed ceiling rises above floors of inlaid Northwest slate. Eye-catching sculptures of wildlife from various artists and rare Western artifacts are on display throughout the spacious Schnitzer Entrance Hall.

I'd have to agree that the space is classic Central Oregon! Somewhat rustic, but regal and lovely. We've thoroughly enjoyed dining and dancing at the museum over the years!

Checking out fish in a stream outside the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks
Checking out fish in a stream outside the High Desert Museum (c) Stephanie Hicks

Visit the High Desert Museum in Central Oregon

If you're in Central Oregon for a visit, be sure to check out the High Desert Museum!

Although Bend, Oregon is now far from the timber town it was 100 years ago, the surrounding region still includes much of the spirit of the Wild West.

Step back in time, and experience a side of Oregon and our country's history you won't soon forget!

Cowboys, Indians and More at the High Desert Museum

A markerThe High Desert Museum -
59800 S Hwy 97, Bend, OR 97702, USA
[get directions]

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Comments 19 comments

robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey

what a great place to take kids... I love the volunteers in pioneer dress. Looks like a wonderful, hands on local history treasure trove


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Robie - kids always love visiting the High Desert Museum, even if they've been there a number of times before. I need to add information above that you can get an annual pass for individual or a family (that also includes passes for grandparents or babysitters). The passes are super handy to have and we always renew ours. Cheers, Steph


nifty@50 profile image

nifty@50 6 years ago

Looks like a fun & educational time and a wonderful chance for some great photos! Great hub!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Nifty! I had hoped I would find some scout photos in my online albums (we've been to the High Desert Museum at least 4 or 5 times since moving to Bend). They are probably there - buried somewhere! But yes, its a fun place - educational and always interesting! Cheers, Steph


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

That High Desert Museum in Central Oregon sounds amazing! Would definitely be worth a visit if one was traveling in that area...and so nice for people who live there. Thanks for telling us about it. Voting this up!


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Peggy! What I really love about the High Desert Museum is how its situated here in Central Oregon (an area that is rural and still growing) and can perfectly illustrate the experiences of pioneers and Native Americans in this region. It really is a very cool museum. Much thanks, Steph


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country

I haven't been to the Bend area for a long time. This does sound like a real treasure. When local folks take pride in their heritage and history it does make the place a special experience.

We have a local history museum with a working stamp mill and other interactive exhibits-- it does take a community that appreciates the pioneer past.

I really enjoyed your article and photos.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Rochelle - you are right! Its the heritage pride that really comes through here in Oregon, but particularly at the High Desert Museum. Would love to hear more about your local history museum, too. Thanks so much, Stephanie


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 6 years ago from California Gold Country

Actually I have written several hubs inspired by 'my' museum. If you search "gold rush" under my profile page picture you will find five or six-- especially the "Silly Person's Guide to a Gold Rush Museum".

Thanks for sending me the fan note--

(I also did one about my recent visit to S. Oregon.)


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Awesome Rochelle - gonna check them out! ;-)


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

Super job about one of my favorite places here! I need to go revisit it now that I think about it! They are so cool too - they let you bring your dogs in and crate them if it's too hot.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Right Audrey! I remember seeing that, although dogs are not allowed at the High Desert Museum (except guide dogs), they don't want you leaving them in the car.


LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 5 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

This is a great Hub, I enjoyed every part of it. The videos, the photos and the well laid out information. It is a future vacation destination for sure. Thank you very much.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thank you Lilly - I am telling you - next time you come to Oregon, let me know. I am happy to show you around! Cheers, Steph


LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 5 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

I will! No kidding. I see travel in my future, and definitely the West Coast, back to my roots. I will let you know when and if :0) Thank you for your hospitality and kindness


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Hi Lilly - I have had the pleasure of meeting 3 hubbers in person and it is always such a joy! Please do shoot me a message when you'll be in my neck of the woods! Best - Steph


LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 5 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

Will do.


Shiley profile image

Shiley 3 years ago from Washington

I stopped by this museum with my children a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised. It was a great place to spend the day with my kids.


stephhicks68 profile image

stephhicks68 3 years ago from Bend, Oregon Author

Thanks Shiley, my youngest two are now in 5th grade and the High Desert Museum is still a favorite for field trips! Best, Steph

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