The best things to do in Bend in May

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The best things to do in Bend in May

April showers bring May flowers in some parts of Oregon. But Bend’s snowy spring brings much more magic to our mountainous high desert oasis.

May means it’s technically spring, with summer beckoning like a warm orange glow on the horizon. Then you wake to three inches of snow and remember it’s Central Oregon—the land where you wear sandals with a puffy coat, and it’s definitely do-able to ski and SUP in the same afternoon.

While all May activities hinge on random acts of Mother Nature, here’s what to see, do, and experience in Bend during the marvelous month of May.

Skiing corduroy at Mt Bachelor
May is the month for bluebird skies at Mt. Bachelor.

Squeeze in some spring skiing

While snow conditions vary from year to year, it’s a safe bet Mt. Bachelor’s lifts keep churning into May. Offering 4,300 skiable acres and 3,365 vertical drop, the season typically spans from mid-November through late May. Enjoy skiing and snowboarding under bluebird skies, or bust out the cross country gear to enjoy the longest groomed Nordic season in the nation. 

May brings a bounty of fresh produce to the Bend Farmers Market.
May brings a bounty of fresh products to the Bend Farmers Market.

Grab some fresh veggies

As sunshine bathes area farms, the Bend Farmer’s Market springs to life in Brooks Alley above Drake Park. The market operates from May to October, offering everything from fruits to flowers to meats to baked goods and more. Hours typically run from 2-6 each Wednesday, though it changes occasionally due to rain, extreme heat, or wildfire smoke. It’s a great stop to fit in after a late lunch in Downtown Bend, and a wonderful way to grab goodies for your Bend vacation rental kitchen while supporting small regional farms.

The wildflowers of the high desert are gems, and something to watch for in springtime.
The wildflowers of the high desert are gems, and something to watch for in springtime.

What’s blooming?

Bend’s springtime blooms aren’t the flashy sort you’ll find on the rainy side of the mountains. But there’s something wondrous about the tiny desert flowers that spring up through soft sand and lava rock in Central Oregon’s high desert. Keep your eyes peeled for bitterroot blossoms, sand lilies, desert phlox, buckwheats, mariposas, and dime-sized goldfields when you’re out and about. 

Deschutes and Crooked River canyonlands are the perfect place to spot them, or plan a hike at Pilot Butte State Park or the Oregon Badlands Wilderness. Oh, and if you’ve got a non-fishing spouse paired with one who wants to cast a line, these activities go well together as the canyon landscape lends itself to both.

Be sure to follow the best practices and help to keep fish wet!

It’s fly fishing time

May is trophy fishing month on the Middle Deschutes between Benham Falls and Steelhead falls, so it’s time to bust out the flies. The bigger redsides and browns (rainbow and European brown trout) come out of their deep water lairs where they’ve been gobbling up leeches, crawdads, and smaller trout. They’re feeling fat and frisky and ready to feed on the surface for the legendary two-inch long salmon flies. 

The bugs themselves are a wonder to behold, even if you’re not into fishing. The males get helplessly windblown into water from trees and brush, while females slam their egg-laden bodies against the water’s surface to dislodge their progeny. The hatch moves gradually upriver from North to South during the month, so it’s a good thing to track for the fly fishing enthusiast. 

The Bend Ale Trail is filled with unique stops and brews to discover.

Crack a cold one on the Bend Ale Trail

May makes a great time to tackle the Bend Ale Trail, as seasonal beer offerings shift from heavier stouts and porters to lighter, brighter picks like kolsch and pilsner. You also have extra offerings from Wanderlust Tours, which runs beer-centric outings like their Brews & Views Sunset Hike, Brews & Views Paddling, and sometimes even Shoes & Brews snowshoe adventure if there’s still enough white stuff on the ground.

And if non-boozy beer is your thing, check out this post spotlighting some of the best non-alcoholic brews the Bend Ale Trail has to offer.

Gravel cycling with great views in Bend, OR
Gravel cycling on seldom-used Forest Service road is one way to get fresh air in May or any time of year.

Get your gravel on

Cycling’s a year-round sport in Bend, but May brings drier trails and dwindling snowpack that opens up some higher-elevation hikes. (Important sidenote: Stay off bike trails when they’re muddy so you don’t create tracks that’ll rattle the brain of every cyclist who hits them for next few months). 

From road cycling to mountain biking, Bend’s bike scene has it all. Get a sense for all your options here

May is an especially good time to try gravel cycling, including specially curated rides on the Cascade Gravel Scenic Bikeway. Whether you’re feeling competitive or more like a spectator, the Cascade Gravel Grinder takes place each May in a three-day gravel extravaganza.

Pilot Butte in Bend, Oregon.
By May, Cascade Lakes Highway and the road to Pilot Butte should be open to vehicles for the season.

Throw open the gates

May is when some of us (*quietly raises hand*) keep a constant watch on announcements from the Forest Service, Deschutes County, and local land managers to know when high-elevation roads and trails are opening. Dates vary from year to year, but May is typically when you’ll see Pilot Butte State Park open for motorized vehicles instead of just foot traffic. 

It’s also when attractions like the Lava Lands Visitor Center and Lava River Cave open for the season. The snow gate on the Cascade Lakes Highway typically opens near the end of May, as does the one in the Newberry Volcanic National Monument. Want an up-to-the-minute answer on whether something’s open? Swing by the Bend Visitor Center on the corner of Lava and Oregon Ave. in Downtown Bend, or give them a call at 541-382-8048.

PPP for you and me!

No event screams “Bend!” more than the Pole, Pedal, Paddle. Bend’s quintessential, multi-sport relay race has six legs that include alpine skiing/snowboarding, cross country skiing, biking, running, canoeing/kayaking/SUPing, and a sprint to the finish. Compete by yourself or with a team, or simply show up to watch the eclectic mix of hardcore athletes, multi-generational family teams, and competitors decked out in some of the wackiest costumes you’ve ever witnessed.

paddle boarding in Bend, Oregon.
Play ahead, the busy season is on its way!

Make Memorial Day Weekend plans early

Memorial Weekend marks the unofficial opening of Bend’s busiest season. Diehard Bend fans sometimes set reservations a year in advance, so this isn’t the weekend to chance it on scoring a last-second Bend hotel or campsite. It pays to plan early, so browse the Visit Bend website to get the creative wheels turning for all your future lodging, dining, and Bend attractions.