The best things to do in Bend for December


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The best things to do in Bend for December

Picture it: You’re strolling along, boots crunching sparkly snow, as you stop to watch ice skaters twirl and wonder turns your breath to foggy bursts. There’s nutmeg and pine on the breeze, and laughter drifting off the river where twinkle lights turn kayaks into floating festivals.

Sounds like a holiday movie, and you know what? It kinda is. That’s December in Bend, a month filled with cocoa and carols and snowflakes falling like confetti. 

Here’s what’s happening in Bend this December as the lights in our winter wonderland shine brightest.

Two kids enjoy hot cocoa near the slopes at Mt. Bachelor.
Warm up with a cup of hot cocoa after a day on the slopes.

Bring on the white stuff!

Even in lean snow years when Mt. Bachelor’s not open Thanksgiving weekend (lookin’ at you, 2023), there’s nearly always enough white stuff to open near the start of December.

And while odds are good we’ll get sprinkles of snow in town by Dec. 1, you may not see much while strolling the streets. What’s up with that?

Welp, Bend’s annual precipitation is around 12 inches with half of it falling as snow between November and February. 

But travel just 22 miles west and gain a little elevation and boom! There you are at Mt. Bachelor, where their average snowfall is a whopping 462 inches. 

What that means is you can spend the day savoring Mt. Bachelor’s 4,300 acres of lift-accessible terrain, along with all the skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, and dogsledding your flurry-filled heart can handle.

Then head back down to Bend to do some biking or enjoy one of the lower-elevation hikes you’ll have all to yourself this time of year. It’s the best of both worlds, and one of many things that makes Bend a perfect winter vacay spot.

Bend, Oregon community gathers in Drake Park for the annual tree lighting.
The community gathers in Drake Park for the annual tree lighting. | Image courtesy of Downtown Bend Business Association


Hunting for a holiday wonderland? You’re on the right path if it’s headed for Bend. December adds an extra layer of enchantment with a fairy dusting of holiday tradition.

Enjoy treasured small-town celebrations like Bend’s annual Community Tree Lighting or the festive Christmas Parade in Downtown Bend. These events take place each year and offer fun for the whole family.

Over in the Old Mill District, they have their own roundup of holiday happenings. Santa’s standing by to hear your kids’ Christmas wishes, and there’s a Tree of Joy bearing tags with wish lists from folks in need. As holiday carollers serenade you, slip a letter to Santa in the dropbox before ducking into one of the Old Mill’s wine tasting rooms for a winter belly warmer.

Menorah lighting in the Old Mill District in Bend, Oregon.
The Chabad of Central Oregon hosts their annual menorah lighting in the Old Mill District. | Image courtesy of The Old Mill District

The annual Menorah Lighting hosted by Chabad of Central Oregon takes place in the Old Mill’s Center Plaza. Be there before dusk so you don’t miss the main event.

Want a one-of-a-kind Bend holiday experience? Don’t miss the annual Holiday Lights Paddle hosted by Tumalo Creek. It’s a thing of wonder watching Bend’s most dedicated paddlers light up their canoes and kayaks to cruise the Deschutes River through the Old Mill District.

For more holiday happenings around Bend, check our event calendar for the dates you plan to be here. From holiday bazaars to kids’ craft fairs, there’s always something happening this time of year!

Snow-capped mountain view from the trail at Bessie Butte.
Snow-capped mountain view from the trail at Bessie Butte.

How’s Bend hiking in winter?

Does it make you dizzy trying to mix visions of sugarplums with those snow-covered trails I  described? Strange as it seems, you’ll find plenty of bone-dry trails to hike around Bend each winter, thanks mostly to that low precipitation I mentioned.

For hikes closer to town, it’s a whole different landscape than you’ll find in the mountains. Try lower-elevation trails like those in the Oregon Badlands Wilderness or through the Crooked River Gorge (Chimney Rock is my pick out here). 

December’s a great time to explore Bend’s parks, and…what? Ohhhh, you’re picturing swings and a merry-go-round? Sure, we’ve got parks like that (plenty of ‘em) but we also have plenty with sweeping acreage and some of the most stunning scenery you can picture.

Explore Sawyer Park’s 53.4 acres of trees, trails, and Deschutes River frontage with outstanding birdwatching. At nearly 1,000 acres, Shevlin Park offers oodles of trails for hiking, running, biking, and nature walking, or bust out the snowshoes or cross country skis when the snow falls. To explore your own sweeping nature preserve, head to Riley Ranch and find 184 acres filled with rimrock cliffs, pine forests, grassy meadows, and river views to make your toes curl.

And don’t forget Pilot Butte, where you’ll get bragging rights for hoofing it up a dormant volcano. You can make it up and down in under an hour, with the bonus of epic sunrises and sunsets from the top (don’t forget your headlamp for the latter!)

Bessie Butte makes another great desert hike with fewer humans than you’re likely to see on Pilot Butte. Be aware there are no dog doody bags out here, and no garbage cans, either. It’s a good chance to practice your pack-it-in, pack-it-out protocol.

Need more ideas for inspiring winter hikes? Check out this post for a plethora of suggestions perfect for December conditions. 

Oh, and invest in some microspikes for your shoes to give you peace of mind and extra traction. I don’t always need them on winter hikes, but when I do, it’s handy to slip them on and keep truckin’.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway the day before its annual closure in Bend, Oregon.
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway the day before its annual closure.

What’s winter driving like around Bend?

As I shared in our Best of November post, lots of local roads shut down once snow piles up at higher elevations. The perk? So many places to explore in car-free peace! You won’t be watching for vehicle traffic on Pilot Butte if you walk up the paved road, and areas off the Cascade Lakes Highway become wonderlands worth exploring on snowshoes, skis, or via snowmobile.

Does driving on ice and snow make you edgy? Keep a close eye on the Oregon Department of Transportation’s TripCheck page for up-to-the-minute info on road conditions around the state. Then scan our conditions page for even more info like weather reports, trail conditions, and road reports. If in-person interactions are more your jam, stop by the Bend Visitor Center for trail and road info, plus complimentary maps and smiles.

Wanderlust offers a variety of snowshoe tours—both in daylight and under the stars.

So much to pick from!

December’s the month when you want to do ALL THE THINGS and if you don’t plan carefully, you might miss out.

With limited-time winter activities, it pays to prioritize what’s most important. That way, you won’t risk missing out on something you can’t do again ‘til next year.

To get your list going, here are some top December attractions in Bend.

  • Check out holiday lights. You’ll see neighborhood lights just driving through Bend’s streets, or head to Eagle Crest or Sunriver Resort to see spectacular, flashy displays.
  • Scope out special holiday events at the High Desert Museum. There’s always something happening, from Winter Wonderland camps for kids, to their Winter Nights events when they stay open late on a few special evenings.
  • Catch a holiday concert or show at the Tower Theatre.
  • Go ice skating and savor the sparkle of holiday lights and a sea of stars overhead.
  • Take the whole fam sledding. While this isn’t a December-only attraction, it might be your one chance if your only trek to Bend happens over winter break.
  • Sip a hearty craft brew beside a fire pit on the Bend Ale Trail. Now’s a great time to swill seasonal faves you’ll only find this time of year!
  • Lots of folks choose the holidays to get engaged, and wouldn’t it be awesome to plan your proposal on a snowshoe outing? Plenty of folks have popped the question on Moonlight Snowshoe Tours with Wanderlust, or check out my snowshoeing roundup to pick the spot that’s right for you.
  • Make New Year’s Eve plans now. Bend loves celebrating our surge to a new year, so make those special dinner reservations now. It’s also the time to scope out parties and festivals. A brand-new don’t miss event is the Mad Hatter Ball held at the Riverhouse Convention Center with dinner, live music, and more. Tickets will go fast, so grab ‘em now and rest easy with your holiday plans set.

Have a great holiday season in Bend, everyone!