BEND IT LIKE OREGON
If you’re into the outdoor life, this small US town will take your breath away
On paper, Bend sounds almost too good to be true. Located in the high desert near Oregon’s spectacular Cascades mountain range, it receives 300 days of sunshine a year and has access to some of the best outdoor terrain in the US. Whether you want to hike, bike, raft, ride, golf, climb, kayak or ski, you can do it here. And probably with an Olympian. Many have made Bend their home for precisely that reason.
A friendly, close-knit community of 91,000 people, it’s home to 26 breweries, four wineries and a dining scene that rivals many major US cities.
Throw in a vibrant arts scene, a packed schedule of summer festivals plus tax-free shopping, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of America’s fastest growing towns. Convinced? Good. Here’s what you need to know.
OUT ‘N’ ABOUT
If you’re into outdoor adventure, it’s hard to think of another place in the US that offers more options. Mountain bikers are particularly well catered for with 480km of trails that range from tame to terrifying.
A good place to start is Phil’s Trailhead in Deschutes National Forest, which provides access to dozens of well-maintained tracks and is just 7km from town. Whether you’re after a gentle half-day cruise or a hardcore three-day challenge, local experts Cog Wild can organise bikes, guides and transfers.
Hikers are similarly spoiled for choice with options ranging from a gentle stroll along the banks of the Deschutes River to tackling part of the 1200km Oregon Desert Trail, which starts 32km east in the Badlands Wilderness.
If you prefer your explorations to be petrol-powered, Outriders Northwest offers guided ATV tours of the Deschutes and Willamette national forests. It’s a great way to see the region’s geological diversity, which includes stunning snow-capped mountains, sweeping high desert plains and remnants of ancient lava flows.
However you decide to spend your day, there’s no better way to cool off than with a relaxing float on the Deschutes River. In summer, this waterway through the centre of town becomes a colourful blur of inner tubes, kayaks and paddleboards. Rent your vessel of choice from Tumalo Creek and spend a lazy afternoon exploring under your own steam or with a local guide.
COGWILD.COM; OUTRIDERSNW.COM; TUMALOCREEK.COM
Perhaps it’s the number of ways to expend calories or maybe it’s the town’s proliferation of hungry Olympians but either way, Bend’s dining scene is unexpectedly diverse.
If you’re looking to splurge, Ariana uses local produce to create a fresh take on regional Mediterranean fare and serves it up in a cute-as-a-button bungalow. Zydeco Kitchen does a similar thing with Cajun and Creole flavours so you can expect southern favourites such as shrimp andouille and crawfish jambalaya.
Ever woken up with a craving for West African peanut curry?
Should this happen in Bend, you’re in luck. Spork’s globetrotting menu features dishes from Africa, Asia and South America, not to mention a killer range of cocktails (try the Mexicali Honky Tonk).
For a small town, there’s a refreshing sophistication to Bend’s dining scene. Chefs are passionate about using local seasonal produce and willingly cater for vegetarians, vegans and the gluten intolerant (Zydeco has an entire gluten-free menu). Even Bend’s oldest eatery, Pine Tavern, which opened in 1936, champions local ingredients. Featuring a giant ponderosa pine in the middle of the dining room, this local institution is a sure-fire bet for American classics such as fried chicken and meat loaf with a side serving of glorious river views.
Wherever you end up for dinner, be sure to drop into Bonta Gelato for dessert. Only the finest local ingredients go into its handmade gelato to create heavenly combinations such as cranberry cognac and lemon cream with candied ginger. ARIANARESTAURANTBEND.COM; ZYDECOKITCHEN.COM; SPORKBEND.COM; PINETAVERN.COM; BONTAGELATO.COM
Mention craft beer in Oregon and most people will think of Portland. However, Bend has more breweries per capita than anywhere else in the state. Clearly, living in the high desert is thirsty work. The town boasts 26 craft breweries and even has its own Ale Trail. Pick up a map and passport from the visitor centre and you can sip your way around town, collecting stamps and souvenirs along the way.
If you only visit one brew pub, make it Deschutes, the town’s oldest and most established brewery.
With a rotating selection of 19 beers on tap, it’s a great place to get your beer bearings and they also offer a free tour that includes complimentary samples.
Don’t worry if beer’s not your thing, Bend has plenty of other options. If you like your favourite tipple with a dash of intrigue, try finding the secret Broom Closet bar (the clue’s in the name) inside McMenamins Old St. Francis School Hotel.
Another popular spot is the Dogwood Cocktail Cabin, which serves up inventive craft cocktails in a cosy brick-walled space.
After a night on the Ale Trail, you’ll be in need of a decent coffee (which, let’s face it, can be elusive in the US). Thankfully, Bend has your back. Head to Thump or Backporch and you won’t be disappointed. Don’t leave town without trying one of Sparrow Bakery’s ocean rolls. This decadent cardamom and vanilla-infused pastry may just make you want to stay. DESCHUTESBREWERY.COM; MCMENAMINS.COM; THEDOGWOODCOCKTAILCABIN.COM; THUMPCOFFEE.COM; BACKPORCHCOFFEEROASTERS.COM; THESPARROWBAKERY.NET
Golf fans should check out Tetherow Lodges, a modern 50-room luxury hotel overlooking a stunning 18-hole championship golf course 7km from the town centre. If you’d prefer to be downtown, the boutique 59-room Oxford Hotel is in the heart of the action, offering contemporary rooms with impressive environmental credentials.
THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF UNITED AIRLINES, BRAND USA AND TRAVEL OREGON
SPARKS LAKE Bend is a mecca for outdoor types with everything from kayaking and mountain bike riding to all-terrain vehicle tours.
DESCHUTES NATIONAL FOREST