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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.
Address, Hours and Other Details for the High Desert Museum
Address: 59800 S Highway 97, Bend, OR 97702
Telephone: (541) 382-4754
Hours: Daily, 9:00-5:00 (except Thanksgiving and Christmas)
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!
Working Saw Mill at the High Desert Museum
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
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
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!
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!