Indoor activities in Bend, Oregon
January 2, 20247 minute read
The High Desert Museum offers a truly engaging and fun Central Oregon experience full of wildlife, history, and culture. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or traveling with the kids, it has something for everyone.
You can experience a firsthand look at native wildlife like cute as-can-be river otters, majestic birds of prey, and even porcupines. Engage in lively conversations with historical characters who regale you with tales of Oregon’s early homesteaders. Or, take a journey to a bygone era as you explore an authentic 1904 ranch and bustling sawmill.
Kids will absolutely love all the interactive programs. From experiencing up-close views of owls, falcons, hawks, and vultures as they soar overhead at the Bird of Prey Encounter to hands-on exhibits and events that bring history and science to life.
Founded in 1982 by teacher and conservationist Donald M. Kerr, the museum is a unique, immersive experience that inspires, informs, and connects you to the High Desert. The museum sits on 135 acres and has more than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, making it a fantastic place for everyone to learn about the region’s plants, animals, and cultures.
The museum is located just 10 minutes south of Bend. Take Highway 97 to exit 132, and you’ll find yourself at the museum’s doorstep.
The museum is open daily from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, with occasional extended hours during peak seasons. Before planning your visit, check the museum’s official website for the latest information on operating hours and any special exhibitions or events that might be taking place.
Admission fees vary, and you can buy tickets online in advance or just show up. Discounts are available for seniors, students, and children. Museum members enjoy free admission, making it an excellent option for locals and frequent visitors.
The High Desert Museum weaves the stories of the region’s diverse people and places through ever-changing and permanent exhibits and events.
Take a step back in time and experience what life was like at the 1904 High Desert Ranch and the Lazinka Sawmill. See an authentic 1900s sawmill processing wood with an enormous blade that slices through thick Oregon timber. Help with chores like digging in the garden, washing laundry, or cross-cutting firewood. And when the work is done, play some frontier games or listen to tales of the olden days.
Learn about the history and indigenous cultures of Central Oregon with the Spirit of the West and By Hand Through Memory exhibits. Spirit of the West takes you from the Northern Paiute shelter to the boomtown of Silver City. It features detailed recreations of historical sites, costumed interpreters, and interactive elements that bring the past to life. By Hand Through Memory takes you along the journey of the Plateau Indian Nations as they traveled from reservation confinement to the present day. This exhibit highlights the experiences of Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Yakama, Spokane, and Colville people.
The museum also has various temporary art exhibits throughout the year. Experience Indigenous artists bring stories to life through their creative works. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the High Desert landscape with inspiring paintings, photos, or large-scale art installations. Visit their website for more information on current and upcoming art exhibits.
Without a doubt, the animals at the High Desert Museum are a highlight. Animals on display here can’t be released into the wild, giving us the opportunity to see them in their natural habitats in indoor and outdoor exhibits.
The Desertarium offers a close-up look at the creatures of the High Desert, from lizards and snakes to turtles, frogs, and fish. Or, for a spike-tacular experience, you can visit Juniper and Tumbleweed, two sibling porcupines that live at the museum.
Do not miss the playful otters in their outdoor habitat at the Autzen Otter Exhibit, which has outdoor glass walls for excellent viewing for kids and those in wheelchairs. Get a close-up look at some of nature’s most spectacular predators—owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, and even vultures at the Donald M. Kerr Birds of Prey Center.
Be sure to check their calendar for seasonal events and programs. From the Natural History Walk, the Carnivore Talk, the exciting Bird of Prey Encounter, and more not-to-miss experiences.
There’s a wide range of kid-friendly activities that blend education with fun, making it a must-visit destination for families. The museum’s hands-on exhibits let kids interact and explore real things from the area to learn about the plants, animals, and people who live there.
You can also enjoy leisurely walks with the entire family along nature trails, where you can encounter native plants and wildlife while learning about the high desert ecosystem. The museum also offers interactive camps, special events, and programs for kids of all ages that you can register for in advance.
When the kids are ready to refuel, the Rimrock Cafe offers lunch and snacks. And if you need a keepsake to remember your visit, Silver Sage Trading offers a selection of unique souvenirs, including books, artwork, toys, and gifts.
The museum is open year round, with summer being the most popular time to visit. The warm weather and school being out make it an excellent time for families to enjoy the museum’s many activities. Since several exhibits are outdoors, it’s a good idea to dress warm in the winter and bring sunscreen and water in the summer.
Give yourself at least a couple of hours to fully explore the grounds, or better yet, dedicate an entire afternoon to immerse yourself in its numerous exciting exhibits and activities.
If you’re traveling with your dog, kennels are available so your dog can relax and cool off in the parking and picnic area. Please bring your own water bowl, and it’s your responsibility to check in on your dog while they’re in the kennel.
The museum welcomes everyone! Brain Break Bags with tangible items, coloring pages, communication cards, noise-canceling headphones, and puzzles are available to guests to reduce anxiety and stimulation. There’s also a variety of accessibility features to accommodate people with disabilities, including accessible parking, ADA-accessible restrooms, and doors, paved wheelchair-accessible trails, benches, ramps, and even wheelchairs available to use for no charge.
Whether you’re fascinated by wildlife, history, or art, visiting this museum promises a memorable journey through the high desert landscape. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this gem and gain a deeper appreciation, understanding, and connection to the region.