The best things to do in Bend in May


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The best things to do in Bend in May

A pal who’s coming to Bend this month just asked me, “should I pack for cold or warm weather when I visit Bend in May?” My answer: Yes.

Yes to sunshine and blue skies and standup paddleboarding in shorts and a tank top. And also yes to quirky spring snow showers that blow in out of nowhere and blanket our slopes with the best spring skiing you’ll find in this universe. 

While visiting Bend in the spring means you’re subject to random whims of Mother Nature, here’s my roundup of 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.

Did someone say spring skiing?

We’ve been lucky lately to have heavy snow years, which means odds are good Mt. Bachelor’s lifts will keep well into late May. Offering 4,300 skiable acres and 3,365 vertical drop, the season typically spans from mid-November through the last days of 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.

Here come the fresh fruits and veggies

As Oregon farms get infusions of sunshine, 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.

Look at all the pretty flowers

Spring wildflowers in Bend aren’t the showy sort you’ll find on the rainy side of the mountains. But there’s something wondrous about the tiny desert blooms bursting 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. On my recent hike near Prineville Reservoir State Park, I saw such a sea of sand lilies and desert phlox that I had to rub my eyes to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.

Pro tip: 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!

Here, fishy fishy…

May is a banner fishing month on the Lower Deschutes between Benham Falls and Steelhead falls, so now’s the right time to bust out the flies. The bigger redsides, rainbow, and 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 dine 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.

Bust out those springtime beers

Is there anything as magical as cracking a cold one on the sunny deck of your favorite Bend Ale Trail brewery? Lucky for you, spring’s when lots of Bend breweries bring out fresh new brews to perk up your patio sipping.

GoodLife Brewing recently launched Wave Park Hazy IPA with a tasty blend of stone fruit and herbaceous floral notes. I drank a pint last weekend with one of their housemade pretzels, and lemme tell you…GO TRY IT NOW! Bevel Brewing, Wild Ride, Monkless, and 10 Barrel also just launched new spring beers, so now’s a great time to tackle the Bend Ale Trail. 

Try a guided adventure with 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.Looking for non-alcoholic beer? So many Bend breweries are slinging booze-free varieties, with Crux, Deschutes, Bridge 99, 10 Barrel, and Worthy offering some of my faves.

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.

Hear that? The bike trails are calling

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.

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

Gates are opening in 3, 2, 1…

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. 

Keep a close eye on 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.

Embrace the PPP

The Pole, Pedal, Paddle stands as Bend’s quintessential, multi-sport relay race with 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!

Nail down Memorial Weekend plans now

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.