Bend vs. beach: Why you should spring break in Bend, Oregon
February 16, 20246 minute read
Few things say “community,” like local parks and playgrounds. Many of our earliest memories are from these places. Swings, slides, and games of tag on a sprawling lawn in interurban green spaces are where many of us first develop a love of the outdoors.
Bend is proud to offer over 3,000 acres of such spaces. You can explore 84 parks and designated open spaces maintained by the Bend Park & Recreation District. Pilot Butte State Park and Tumalo State Park also offer an impressive array of recreational opportunities just minutes from Bend, making them ideal options for those seeking parks near me.
Many of these facilities offer kid-friendly playgrounds for a safe, fun, open-air experience for the youngest among us. Most provide public facilities, including fresh drinking water and flush toilets. Some offer unique features like disc golf courses, river access, dog off-leash areas, and developed hiking trails. Field and court sports enthusiasts will gravitate towards several primary options, including Pine Nursery Park, Big Sky Park, and Skyline Sports Complex.
When the snow flies, The Pavilion offers a covered, full-size ice rink for open-rink ice skating and hockey/curling. Additionally, the trail network and open field space at many of these options provide ample room for snow play, snowshoeing, and even cross country skiing right in town after a good storm cycle.
Below, we’ve highlighted a few of our favorite parks and kid’s playgrounds around town. Looking for information on dog parks, specifically? Here are some off-leash areas in Bend.
One of Bend’s newest park’s, Alpenglow brings a vibrant community hub to a newly developed part of town. It features Bend’s only free splash pad, a playground with musical elements, accessible play equipment, and a covered picnic area. Alpenglow’s dedicated bouldering area is also a first for the city of Bend. This 37-acre natural space in SE Bend features 3.5 miles of developed trails and a large lawn for gatherings and play.
Downriver from the iconic smokestacks of the Old Mill District, you’ll find the Colorado Avenue spillway. This spillway has been modified to provide a set of whitewater features. These features bring smiles to the faces of all river users. From a gentle passage to a set of waves that expert kayakers and surfers line up for, this project offers a wide range of experiences.
The Whitewater Park stands as one of the most unique endeavors the Bend Park & Recreation District has ever undertaken. And it has quickly become a hallmark feature of the city of Bend for all sorts of river users, even the wild ones! Please steer clear of the east side of the channel, which is a designated habitat for ecologically sensitive wildlife. Dogs and kids can enjoy from the beachfront, just downstream on the west side of the channel, at McKay Park.
On the East edge of town lies the sprawling 97-acre sports complex we call Big Sky. Sports fields here host soccer, lacrosse, baseball, and softball. A BMX track, pump track, skills area, and singletrack bike trails complete the new Big Sky Bike Park. An off-leash area for dogs, a playground, and several covered picnic areas make this a popular destination.
South of the Galveston corridor on Bend’s westside is Columbia Park. This is one of Bend’s most treasured play areas. It features a giant pirate-themed play structure on the shores of the Deschutes River. Enjoy swings, a covered picnic area, and a sprawling lawn. A pedestrian bridge also accesses the Deschutes River Trail and the Old Mill District/Downtown areas. Columbia is a fantastic option for those with little ones who need to get some wiggles out before a day on the town.
In the heart of Downtown Bend, Drake Park serves as a gathering place for the entire community. Bordering the Mirror Pond on its western shores, this park offers sprawling lawn space for multipurpose use. Catch a free outdoor concert here on Thursday evenings in the summertime for Munch & Music. Gather leaves for fall photos. Or simply meet a friend for a coffee and a stroll along the riverbank. It’s hard to spend any time in Bend without at least admiring this park as you pass by.
Informally known as “The Boat Park,” Harmon Park is one of Bend’s oldest public parks. It’s located along the shores of the Deschutes River across from Drake Park and Downtown Bend. It’s a favorite in the downtown area. It features river access for small self-propelled watercraft, a playground with modern equipment, and two ballfields. You can also find the original steel tugboat replica that serves as the park’s namesake.
Serving as the launchpad for the City of Bend’s annual 4th of July fireworks showcase, Pilot Butte is an ancient cinder cone that sits central to the city and offers grand views of the Cascade mountains from the top. Be sure to take a moment to use the mountain identifier atop the hill if you do make the trek. Hike or run up the unpaved trail to the summit, ride your bike, or drive (during select hours) up the access road, gaining around 500 feet from its base.
The 159-acre campus of Pine Nursery Park offers a wide range of recreational opportunities. However, it’s perhaps best known for having the largest pickleball facility in the area. In addition to the 16 dedicated pickleball courts, there are numerous fields for a variety of sports. Enjoy a disc golf course, a fishing pond, a 14-acre off-leash dog park, sand volleyball courts, and more. The park, located in NE Bend, offers outstanding facilities for a host of activities.
The site of Bend’s original city skatepark, Ponderosa Park is located just south of Pilot Butte. The park also offers a playground, a basketball court, a court marked for pickleball, an off-leash dog park, and plentiful grass space.
The Riley Ranch Nature Reserve spans 184 acres of land along the Deschutes River canyon on the NW edge of town. It provides a sense of separation from the hustle of city life within just a stone’s throw. Dogs and bicycles are prohibited at Riley Ranch. But runners and hikers have several great options from the parking area on Glen Vista Road. Above the canyon, a 1.57-mile soft-surface loop offers grand views of the Cascade Range and the Deschutes River canyon below. For more adventurous explorers, there’s the Canyon Loop, a rugged 1.25-mile dirt trail that leads down to the river. For those interested in more adventure, 6.5 miles of trail connect the Riley Ranch Nature Reserve to Tumalo State Park. This trail follows along the Deschutes River and passes the confluence of Tumalo Creek and the Deschutes River. Birdwatching, fishing, and even historical education are major attractions in this unique space.
Shevlin Park covers a vast 1,000 acres on the northwestern edge of town. It flanks Tumalo Creek as it passes from the Bend watershed where it meets the Deschutes. This park boasts a rich pioneer history and an incredible diversity of tree species, including Western Larch, Spruce, Ponderosa Pine, and Aspen. The phenomenal trail network both in and around the park makes it stand out as one of Bend’s best natural experiences.
Just beyond the northern city limits is Tumalo State Park. It offers the only government-run campground within 5 miles of Bend. But even for those not looking for camping, it provides some spectacular day-use features. A popular fishing destination, the park has public access via the Deschutes River Trail. Whether you head north or south from the park, you’ll find plenty of great spots to please fishers, even on the busiest days. The trail access to the south connects to the Riley Ranch Nature Preserve. To the north, it leads to the town of Tumalo, creating a 3.5-mile stretch of riverfront trail. Please note that bikes are not allowed on the section south of the park. River access is plentiful right from the grassy shores of the park. Enjoy river play and crayfish hunting here and use it as a launch point for floating the Tumalo section of the Deschutes.
While this list may feel extensive, it only accounts for a small fraction of the options available within Bend. It’s a lot! Here’s an A-Z directory from the Bend Park & Recreation District’s website with a summary and map guidance to each park in the district.
Between fun trips out to the many natural wonders that surround Bend and the countless breweries/cafes right here in town, it’s always nice to have a great park to relax or play in within an arm’s reach.