One of my family’s FAVORITE places to travel is the Bend/Sun River area. We tend to find a reason to head that way every year, and always love our time there.
After our last family trip, I was asked by multiple friends for my recommendations and tips, and thought I would share my thoughts in a post.
In this post, I’m sharing our favorite activities. This is certainly not a comprehensive list of activities in the area. My hope is that you’ll find a suggestion or two that your family will enjoy. Happy traveling!
As a large family, we love opting for rental homes over hotels whenever cost allows. It is so much more enjoyable when everyone has a comfortable bed and their own space. I also enjoy getting to cook many of our meals, instead of relying on (and paying for) restaurants.
What To Look For In a Sun River Rental House:
- SHARC passes! (You will have to pay to use the SHARC if your rental house does not come with passes!)
- Hot Tub
- Basic kitchen equipment (plates/silverware, pots/pans, etc.)
We have stayed in many different Sun River rental houses over the years, but this one is our favorite!
Sun River is terrific because there is so much you can do without leaving the resort community. Here are a few of our favorites:
Things to Do IN Sun River:
The bike paths at Sun River are phenomenal – and wind all throughout the entire resort community. Most of the paths are perfect for family rides, and can accommodate beginning riders. (Several paths are more on the “uphill” side – but are still do-able.)
If the rental house you are staying in does not have bikes (and if you’re not able to bring your own), there are several places to rent bicycles in Sun River. Village Bike & Ski (in the Sun River Village) rents bikes for about $20 a day.
- Make sure to take a ride by the stables – especially if your kids love horses. The route takes you outside the paths by the houses, and out into nature. It is breathtaking. (You won’t be far from the Sun River Airport at this point – so swing by catch a glimpse of a few planes!)
- When you can, bike to the parks and other Sun River activities on the list! Our kids loved biking to the playgrounds!
- The SHARC
The SHARC features an indoor pool center, large outdoor pool (with a few fun features like a rope walkway and tot-sized water slide), a “tot pool”, a lazy river, and several water slides. (The SHARC offers Winter Tubing in the colder months.) While different parts of the SHARC are open seasonally, I encourage you to take advantage of what is available during your stay!
- Disc Golf! Most people only think about the SHARC for swimming – but you can utilize their 9 hole Disc Golf as well! Disc Golf is a great outdoor activity for families with elementary/tween/teen kids.
Things to Consider:
- The SHARC will be busy during peak season. If you want to avoid crowds, go earlier in the day!
- There is not a lot of shade. (Trust me – my pink skin can attest!) Bring sunscreen!
Sun River is home to several unique playgrounds. I love that the play equipment is different from your standard playground fare. I also personally love that each playground features some equipment that allows kids to explore, climb, take risks, etc. It’s great!
Fort Rock Park is our favorite! (We loved biking to it as well!) Fort Rock is not only HUGE, but it features several things your kids may not typically get to experience at your local neighborhood park.
The centerpiece of the park is a large climbing “tree” that spins! It’s a climbing wall merry-go-round! The kids also enjoyed the 4-seat teeter-totter, tetherball, tire swings, and the play structure.
Paulina Park is located right next to the SHARC (also making it convenient to bike to) and is essentially a climbing park. The park features two rock-climbing structures that your adventurous kiddos will love! It also includes a bocce ball court.
The Sunriver Observatory (sometimes referred to as the Oregon Observatory) is free and a one-of-a-kind experience. Where else can you actually LOOK AT THE SUN? (I’m not kidding!) The observatory offers an incredible solar telescope – where you can actually see solar flares! It was incredible, and I highly urge you to check it out!
The observatory is located right next to the Sun River Nature Center. The center offers hands-on activities and live animal exhibits. There is a cost of $7 per adult and $5 for children ages 4-12. Kids 4 and under are free.
Outdoor Activities in the Bend Area
Whenever we visit Sun River, we make it a point to explore the area. There is SO much to do and see in Central Oregon. Here is a list of some of our personal favorites!
I recommend Benham Falls to EVERYONE I know planning a trip to the Bend area. It is BREATHTAKING, and probably my favorite thing to see in Central Oregon. While you can access the falls from Sun River, it can be confusing to find, and you miss out on the trail. We recommend starting at the trailhead which is located in the same entrance as Lava Lands (right off the main road from Bend to Sun River.)
Drake Park is located in the heart of downtown Bend. Adorable bungalows line the street that surrounds a beautiful lake and surrounding lawns. It’s a great place to take a family walk, watch the geese and ducks, toss a frisbee, or have a picnic. (Why not grab a coffee downtown, then walk the park and enjoy it?)
Lava Cast Forest
The Lava Cast Forest is pretty interesting. You definitely don’t see forests inundated with dried lava everyday! You’ll travel a fairly bumpy gravel road up towards the official entrance of the site (keep driving until you see the signs!) – and find a nice walking trail with plenty of great photo opps. You’ll see incredible tree molds formed by molten lava!
You can also visit Lava Lands, which offers another paved trail, the opportunity to walk/drive/take a shuttle to the top of Lava Butte (it has a great view), and tour the visitor center.
Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint
If you happen to be in the area on a clear day, take the drive up to the top of this viewpoint. You’ll be able to see panoramic views of the surrounding area, including the incredible mountains. It’s an amazing view.
On our last trip, it was cloudy – but the kids still enjoyed spotting some of our favorite areas, such as the Old Mill District, (which is great for shopping & dining, and has a movie theater!)
Take the drive, and head up to see Mt. Bachelor during your stay. We love getting to experience snow during non-winter months – and the mountain truly is a thing of beauty.
Places to Eat:
- Goody’s – Goody’s is a combo ice cream shop/candy store. There is a Goody’s located IN Sun River, as well as several in the Bend area. (You can take a free candy factory tour at one of the Bend locations!) The ice cream is great, and the kids will love the atmosphere. (Who doesn’t love all those jars filled with candies?)
- Deschutes Brewery – One of my favorites. Awesome mac n’ cheese, great IPA.
- 10 Barrel Brewing – Another great local pub.
- Richard’s Donuts and Pastries – Seriously incredible donuts. They only take cash and are a little pricey, but SO so good! (My fave is the long twist!)
McMenamins Old St. Francis School is a great place to catch a cheap movie! Shows before 6pm are “all age” shows, and will cost you just $4 for adults and $2 for kids 12 and under. We’ve seen many movies here, and always enjoy the atmosphere. You can order food/drinks during the shows as well.
Old Mill District is full of fun little shops and restaurants, and also houses a Regal Cinemas theater. (You can also see a ton of nutria in the rocks on your way in/out.)
Downtown Bend has so much character. There are so many fun shops, places to grab food or coffee, etc.
I hope this post gives you a few ideas to help plan your next trip to the Bend/Sun River area. There is so much to do and see, and I know you’ll have a great time! Have something YOU love to do in the area that isn’t listed in this post? Leave a comment and let us know!