Crater Lake National Park
September 27, 20236 minute read
Bend’s abundance of recreational opportunities may overshadow the five incredible Oregon State Parks nearby, but these parks offer something unique for everyone. Each one provides an integral piece of Central Oregon’s rich natural character. Collectively, they contribute to making this region one of the hotspots of the great American West. And you won’t want to miss out! Whether it’s camping or making the most of day-use areas, there’s plenty of outdoor exploration to enjoy.
Tumalo State Park, Smith Rock State Park, and Cove Palisades State Park all require a parking pass. Visitors can purchase a daily parking pass at $5 per day, per vehicle on-site. Alternatively, consider a 12 or 24 month Oregon State Parks Pass for $30 or $50, respectively. The pass is absolutely worth it if you are planning to frequent any of these parks or any of the other 22 parks across the state of Oregon that require a fee. Stop by the Bend Visitor Center for additional details or to purchase a pass.
Nestled into the Tumalo basin on the northwestern edge of Bend, Tumalo State Park somehow retains its rural feel despite its proximity to one of the busiest corridors of all of Central Oregon. While Tumalo Creek meets the Deschutes River about a mile upstream from the park, it’s actually the Deschutes River that flows through the park. Fishing in the park is very popular, with many marked and unmarked access points up and down the river from the parking area. A large shaded grassy area beside the river is often filled with kiddos, dogs, and families during the summertime, barbecuing, swimming, hunting for crawdads, and playing ball.
A popular alternative to the busy Deschutes River floating route from the Old Mill District to Drake Park, many floaters put in at the south end of Tumalo State Park and take out in the township of Tumalo just two miles downstream. This stretch is a moderately active float, requiring modest navigational ability and even some portage through a section that is too shallow for most inflatables to clear through the majority of the summer. A shuttle is required to get back upriver to Tumalo State Park afterwards, and there is no public transit available for this section of river.
Running or hiking access from the park is incredibly convenient, with the downstream section of trail lying on the western edge of the river, and the upstream route remaining on the eastern edge. The downstream path leads to downtown Tumalo, which is about a mile away. The upstream trail extends up to 2.5 miles, connecting with the Riley Ranch Nature Preserve trail network to the south. Whichever direction you choose, you’ll enjoy breathtaking river views along the way.
Tumalo State Park is one of just two parks in the area with designated year-round camping. Still, we highly recommend a reservation as sites are in high demand during peak season.
The only State Park within the Bend city limits, Pilot Butte serves as an unofficial community hub in many ways. The spiraling road to the summit of this ~500 foot cinder cone is open to cars (seasonally, with restricted daylight access only). More commonly, it’s climbed by hikers, runners and cyclists looking for a great, unique workout in the open air. Many running and cycling races have finished atop this iconic Bend landmark over the years.
Regardless of your chosen route to the top, the summit offers 360-degree views. These views provide a unique perspective on Central Oregon. You’ll enjoy a spectacular sight of the Cascade Mountain Range to the west and the High Desert to the east. But come July 4th, all eyes turn back on the butte itself. Pilot Butte serves as the launching pad for the biggest annual fireworks display in the region.
The park has drinking water and bathroom facilities at the bottom and the top. At the base of the butte are covered picnic tables, parking, and an unpaved trail connecting to the summit. A playground area and an enormous grass field round out the facilities at the trailhead. Parking is at the southeast corner of Pilot Butte, accessed via Highway 20. Parking is free and does not require a pass.
Along the banks of the Upper Deschutes River, beneath old-growth ponderosas and immense views of the Cascades, lies LaPine State Park (and yep, you read that right—the state park is LaPine, the town is La Pine, because words are weirdly evolving creatures). But some things like rivers and trees endure for ages, and LaPine State Park has lots of those. This park is home to Oregon’s largest ponderosa pine, at a whopping 162 feet high and over 500 years old. Although the crown of the tree was recently lost to weather, it remains the largest tree in Oregon by circumference, at 28.9 feet around. “Big Red”, as it is affectionately known, is worth the trip alone. Amongst all of this natural beauty, fishing, hiking, cycling, and bird watching are some of the most popular draws to this destination.
The park is home to a lovely beach for swimming and has a hand-carry boat ramp. Trailers are currently not allowed on the boat ramp due to ongoing construction. Anglers will also find plenty of fishing opportunities within the park. LaPine State Park is known for its trout fishing, which can be enjoyed by wading along the riverbanks or by boat.
Over 14 miles of multi-use trail are maintained within this 2,400-acre park. A great gravel bike/mountain bike loop within the park is highlighted in our gravel cycling article. Hiking these trails can be just as enjoyable, however, featuring grand views of the river and the surrounding mountain peaks. Or visit in the winter months and enjoy the excellent ungroomed cross country skiing or snowshoeing options through the park!
Offering a full-service campground, camping at LaPine State Park is open year-round, accepting reservations up to 6 months in advance. There is no day use or parking fee.
At the confluence of the Deschutes, the Metolius, and the Crooked River, sits Lake Billy Chinook, just a 60 minute drive north of Bend. The Cove Palisades State Park lies along the shores of the lake. A top local destination for hiking, fishing, and camping, this park is also one of the premier boating destinations in the area. From April through October, The Cove Palisades Resort and Marina rents moorages, water toys, and all the essentials for a fun day on the lake. Houseboat rentals are also available here for those looking to book a vacation on the water. And for those looking for human-powered boating opportunities, the six-mile Crooked River Water Trail offers outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities and a historical look at multiple submerged artifacts, remnants of life in the valley before the installation of the Round Butte Dam in 1964.
Although the park is open year-round, The Cove Palisades offers two seasonal campgrounds. The larger of the two, the Deschutes River Campground, is open from mid-May through mid-September. The Crooked River Campground is open for a longer period, from March through October.
Just a quick 40 minute drive north of Bend is Smith Rock, a true regional gem. Smith Rock was recently named one of the “7 Wonders of Oregon” by Travel Oregon and is featured in artwork just about everywhere you turn in this town, from beer labels, to wall art, to Hollywood productions. Yet we still can’t get enough.
Generally regarded as the birthplace of modern American sport climbing, Smith Rock is a world-famous destination for climbers of all skill and experience levels. But the park’s many other activities each bring in adventurers from across the globe. Hiking, running, mountain biking, road cycling, horseback riding, fishing, and birdwatching are just a sampling of the many activities in this incredible place. Read more on Smith Rock here.