Visit Central Oregon for Family Vacation
Kid-Friendly Central Oregon
If you are looking for a fun, affordable family vacation, Central Oregon is your destination! This region east of the Cascade Mountains enjoys over 300 days of sunshine, which means that you can get outdoors just about any day of the year for some fun.
Whether you are traveling to Central Oregon for a long weekend, or staying several weeks, there is so much to do that your kids will beg you to return. Local residents are friendly, restaurants serve up great food, and lodging in this resort region abounds.
You could stay in Bend, Oregon, or one of the numerous other surrounding towns or resorts. Pick from Black Butte Ranch, Sisters, Redmond, Prineville, or Sunriver. Kids simply love the water park and resort at Kah-Ne-Tah, on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, past Madras.
What better family activity than camping? Campgrounds abound in Central Oregon. Every few miles along the Cascade Lakes Highway you'll spot another campground on a beautiful mountain lake. Pitch a tent, or pull up your RV and relax.
Many of the family attractions in Central Oregon involve recreation. Year round, you can get outdoors for fun in the sun. Whether you're going to head to Mt. Bachelor to ski, or go hiking along one of the thousands of trails in the State Parks or along the Deschutes River, chances are you'll get some exercise enjoying the fresh, mountain air here.
You can't help but have fun in kid-friendly Central Oregon!
Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs in this Hub are the property of Stephanie Hicks. Please contact me for permission to use.
For many families, skiing or snowboarding at Mt. Bacheloris the reason they come to Central Oregon. In fact, Mt. Bachelor is where I first experienced a true ski resort when I was growing up.
Today, Mt. Bachelor is one of the Pacific Northwest's most popular skiing destinations, and one of the largest ski resorts in the United States. It boasts more than 3,000 acres of terrain served by chair lifts. As described on the official website:
Mt. Bachelor hosts a wide variety of terrain from skiing big lines 360 degrees off the top to hiking the cone, skiing the trees and riding above timberline. Not only is Mt Bachelor a great place for expert skiers but also a great place to learn a snow sport or take the family. Carrousel, our free beginners lift, will get you up the hill for your first time or you can choose from one of many lesson packages.
The top of Mt. Bachelor is more than 9,000 feet above sea level - the highest ski mountain in this area of the country. And, it has one of the longest seasons - from November through much of May! After the snows melt, visitors can still enjoy the stunning beauty of the Cascade Mountains as the mountain operates its summit chair lift throughout the summer for families to ride. Take a round-trip tour, or hike back down Mt. Bachelor, as you look out over the Cascade Lakes and enjoy the views!
During ski season, the mountain is open from 9-4 daily. Rates vary depending on ages and the number of days for which you are purchasing a pass. Annual passes are also available, as well as ski and snowboard lessons. And get this - Mt. Bachelor offers a Kids Ski Free program too:
One child up to the age of 18 (some would prefer to be called young adults) can ski for FREE when their parent buy a 3 out of 5 or 5 out of 7 multiday ticket. As an example, mom & dad each purchase a 3 out of 5 multiday ticket for $147 each meaning up to 2 children (youth or teen) can get the same.
If alpine skiing or snowboarding isn't your thing, choose one of the many cross-country or skate skiing trails in the area instead! Sledding or intertubing are also popular when snow's on the ground!
Mt. Bachelor PhotographsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sunriver, Oregon is a favorite destination for families traveling to Central Oregon. Not only is it a resort with full lodging and rental units available, but Sunriver also has a central shopping village, restaurants and coffee bars, numerous swimming pools, paved trails on which you can bicycle or walk, picnicking facilities, playgrounds and parks, stables with horses and ponies, golfing, and even its own airport!
Many businesses and organizations choose Sunriver as the location for conferences. Conference rooms and banquet facilities are top of the line. You can also arrange to get married at Sunriver! The backdrop of the Cascade Mountains is simply amazing.
Whenever my sisters visit Central Oregon with their children, we always go to Sunriver for horseback riding. Our scout organization has its annual picnic at the Fort Rock Park at Sunriver, as well.
Sunriver is about 15 miles south of Bend, Oregon, and conveniently located about 20 minutes away from Mt. Bachelor.
Sunriver is open year round, but some attractions may not be available. Summer hours for horseback riding and ponies are daily from 8-5. You'll need reservations for trail rides on the horses, but pony rides are first come, first served. The minimum age for trail riding is 7 years old; kids as young as 2 can enjoy the pony rides.
For more information and reservations, call the Sunriver Stables at: 541-593-6995.
Sunriver PhotographsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Lava Cast Forest
A trip to the Lava Cast Forest is only about 20 minutes east of Sunriver (or about 1/2 hour south of Bend). What we love the most about the Lava Cast Forest is that it is a cool teaching opportunity, and most kids don't even realize that they are getting lessons in geology and history by visiting.
Parking at the trail head is $5, and it's a very easy, flat and paved trail through the "forest." 6000 years ago when the Newberry Crater was erupting, lava flowed through a standing forest. When the lava cooled, the trees eventually died, leaving casts of their trunks in the lava fields.
I've taken my family and a group of scouts to the Lava Cast Forest and everyone loves to climb down inside the casts, which range from 2-5 feet deep. Marvel at the fields of lava rock and witness nature bursting through the devastation as wildflowers bloom and trees re-emerge to start a new forest once again.
The Lava Cast Forest is accessible only in spring and summer months, through early fall. Once the snow starts falling in October or November, you won't be able to see the casts until snowmelt. The elevation is approximately 5700 feet above sea level, so bring along a sweatshirt or light jacket. As always, wear sturdy, closed toe shoes and bring along a water bottle.
The trail through the Lava Cast Forest is less than 1 mile, and will take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete.
Lava Cast Forest PhotographsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Playing in the Lava Casts at the Lava Cast Forest
Fort Rock is another cool geological marvel in Central Oregon that you and your kids will enjoy. Created by the same volcanic forces that shaped much of the region, Fort Rock stands in the middle of a desert that, not too long ago, was a lake.
Located about 2 hours southeast of Bend, Oregon, the state park offers hiking trails, free parking and picnicking. Camping is not allowed, however.
Wondering how Fort Rock came to be? As explained in my related hub:
The creation of a "tuff ring," is described by geologists as occurring when a volcanic vent is located in a lake or other area of abundant ground water. When magma rises to the surface of the vent, it meets the muddy lake bottom. Like other types of volcanic activity, molten basalt will explode from the ground, when steam pressure becomes too great from within the earth. Hot lava and ash erupting from the earth eventually settle around the vent, in a ring formation, and cool in the lake waters. Fort Rock is one of approximately 40 tuff rings in the Brothers Fault Zone of the Fort Rock Basin. It is estimated to have been created 50,000 - 100,000 years ago. In prehistoric times, it was an island, surrounded by the waters of Fort Rock Lake. Native Americans once would have to canoe to and from the island.
Bring along a camera because you'll probably spot some of the abundant wildlife that lives in and around Fort Rock. When we visited, we saw falcons, hawks, ground squirrels, butterflies and even a jack rabbit!
Fort Rock PhotographsClick thumbnail to view full-size
The High Desert Museum
No visit to Central Oregon is complete without a trip to the High Desert Museum. The facility is less than 10 minutes south of Bend and is a combination of a zoo, history museum, and children's museum.
You can literally step back in time through the indoor and outdoor exhibits that show you what life was like when settlers first arrived. Pioneering is brought to life with volunteer actors dressed in period costume.
Native American life is also showcased with authentic relics from tribes that have lived on the High Desert for many years before people of European descent arrived.
While kids are learning, they are also having a lot of fun.
The High Desert museum is open daily from 9:00-5:00 (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). Admission rates vary, depending on season:
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
Deschutes River Trail
The Deschutes River Trail covers a number of miles throughout the City of Bend. Many of the reaches of the trail are dusty and/or gravely trails. However, through the centrally-located Old Mill District and downtown Bend, adjacent to the beautiful river, you can easily ride bicycles, walk dogs, push strollers - even roller-blade (see the map above).
The parks that are dotted along the trail are all kid-friendly. Several parks have fun playgrounds and convenient full bathrooms. They all have park benches, picnic tables and large, grassy areas on which you can play frisbee, ball, or just hang out.
The Bend Parks and Recreation District does a wonderful job maintaining the parks along the Deschutes River Trail. You'll find informational signs and public art to enjoy. Waste bins and dog-clean-up bags help visitors keep the parks clean.
During summer months, the Farmer's Market is located in Drake Park, adjacent to Mirror Pond. Community events are also held in or around Drake Park, including the annual Bend Christmas Parade!
Deschutes River Trail PhotographsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Smith Rock State Park
One of our favorite locations to hike is Smith Rock State Park. Located about 35 minutes north of Bend, Oregon, Smith Rock is a favorite among locals and tourists of all fitness levels.
Strenuous rock climbing and steep hikes challenge athletes, while there are plenty of meandering trails along the Crooked River, which runs through the middle of the park. If you don't want to walk, then pick one of the mountain biking trails, or go horseback riding instead. There are over 1000 trails throughout the Park!
Parking is only $5 and Smith Rock State Park is open year-round. Be aware that if you are planning on camping, outdoor fires are prohibited. You must use the designated cooking area.
Bring along a backpack with water, snacks and sunscreen and don't forget your camera. The scenery is simply breathtaking! You will probably spot some wildlife, as well: Golden eagles, prairie falcons, mule deer, river otter and beaver all make their home in the Park and surrounding areas.
During summer months, a trip to Central Oregon simply wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Cascade Lakes. Head west from Bend towards Mt. Bachelor and then keep driving along the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway. Within 5 minutes, you'll arrive at the first of 8 beautiful lakes along the drive.
Children love picnicking near the lakes, swimming, canoeing and looking for wildlife. Older kids could try their hand at fly fishing, where permitted. Hiking abounds throughout the Cascade Lakes region. There are so many trails from which to choose, your best bet is to consult a guide book and determine the abilities of your children so that you can have an enjoyable family hike.
If you haven't hiked in the Cascade Mountains before, be aware that elevations can leave you winded (ranging from 5000-7000 feet above sea level). Take your time and allow for rests along the way. Be sure to wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes, pack a backpack with plenty of water and snacks, and don't forget the sunscreen and bug spray.
Cascade Lakes PhotographsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Kah-Nee-Tah Resort and Casino
Approximately 75 minutes north of Bend, Oregon is the Kah-Nee-Tah Resort and Casino, within the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Kah-Nee-Tah is one of my kids' favorite destinations as the outdoor pool - warmed with natural hot springs - has a pair of "awesome" slides. A 140-foot slide and a 184-foot slide empty into the double Olympic sized pool.
You won't find many outdoor pools in Central Oregon that are open year round. Thanks to the hot springs mineral water, the pool is a comfortable 92 degrees during fall.
You don't have to be a guest of the resort to swim at the Kah-Nee-Tah pool. Changing rooms include lockers and showers. A huge pool deck, plenty of lifeguards and a shallow kiddie pool are among other features.
You can bring your own inflatable water toys, or purchase some at the entrance. Food and drink cannot be taken into the pool area, but there is a concession stand and you are welcome to picnic outside the gates to the pool.
Day use parking is $5, and admission varies, depending on whether your children are tall enough to use the water slides:
General Admission (11 years and older): $10
Seniors (55+): $6
Children (ages 3-10): $6
Unlimited use of waterslides: $4 (Height requirement of 48")
A smaller slide is also free for young kids.
The pool at Kah-Nee-Tah is open from 10-6, and the slides open one hour later and close one hour earlier.
Guests of the resort can also enjoy spa service, golfing, live entertainment in the evenings and trying their luck at the casino (21 years old and over).