A Change of Seasons Ups the Fun in Central Oregon’s Liveliest Town
After surveying the scene from atop Mount Bachelor, my family and I slip to the side and pose for a photo. We are three skiers in a ball of blue gazing into the future. I mean that almost literally. Stand here on the 9,000-foot-high summit of the ski area near Bend, Oregon, 160 miles southeast of Portland, in spring and you can witness the seasons transitioning before your eyes. Beneath our skis a hard winter has faded into a sun-warmed carpet of forgiving snow—locals know March and April are really the best times to ski here. Lower, and toward town to the east, summer is gathering its might to march up these flanks. Snowfields become bursts of forest green. The rivers surge with frothy brawn. Somewhere on the trails below a mountain biker must surely hoot. Bend’s outdoor offerings are fun any time of year, but spring is special for all that lies ahead. Add in new eats and drinks and a concert or two, and you can see for yourself how Central Oregon’s most-visited town is constantly changing, too.
Bachelor boasts one of the nation’s longest ski seasons, with lifts typically running through Memorial Day. Spring means warm, windless days and sunny lunches on the deck at Clearing Rock Bar. In 2016, the resort’s $6 million high-speed quad lift Cloudchaser opened 635 more acres of terrain to lift access in what was already one of the largest ski resorts in the country. Starting in late spring and cruising into fall, Bendites shift gears and go biking. (The Central Oregon Trail Alliance offers maps and trail information.) When snow covers trails west of town, riders head north to the Maston area near Redmond for fast, flowy spins through 4,100 acres of high desert scrublands, or east to Prineville, for spectacular 20-mile rides around Lookout Mountain. The Gravity School at Bachelor offers lessons and a rental fleet of high-performance bikes for rides on its 13 miles of lift-serviced trails. Biking not your thing? A hike among ancient junipers in the 29,180-acre Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area, which begins about 16 miles southeast of Bend, is a wonderful way to stretch your legs when the Cascades are still socked in. Access the Ancient Juniper Trail from the Flatiron Rock Trailhead. In town, the Pavilion, off S.W. Simpson Avenue, offers ice-skating and curling lessons through March. As summer approaches, you can rent an inner tube to float down mellow sections of the whitewater park near the Old Mill District.
Dining and Nightlife
Bend’s beer reputation continues to grow with 19 breweries now in town and 25 in the region, as of last count. Catch the sunset with a pint of On the Fence at Crux Fermentation Project (above) or hit Worthy Brewing for its luscious warm beet salad and spacious beer garden. (Remember to plan a safe ride home.) Beyond beer, you can dig into Spanish-style tapas and the best off-the-menu bloody mary in town (ask for the chile Colorado sauce!) at Barrio, on Wall Street. The Stihl Whiskey Bar offers grilled or seared meats that pair with selections from its 200-strong menu of bourbons, ryes and other whiskeys. As tourist season goes full throttle, locals like to head out to eat at newer, lesser-known spots. Try Rockin’ Dave’s Bistro & Backstage Lounge for saucy meatballs served with a side of the Rolling Stones on the sound system, or Bethlyn’s Global Fusion for a Thai coconut curry bowl with fried julienned yams. Washington Dining & Cocktails, in Northwest Crossing, offers a fire pit on the patio and shucked oysters on the half shell.
After dinner, catch an art-house flick at the Tin Pan Theater (above), set in an alley off N.W. Minnesota Avenue. The Century Center, home to GoodLife Brewing, also includes a festive outdoor venue for live concerts.
–Written by Tim Neville, revised and updated in November 2022 by Harriet Baskas.