Top picks for Central Oregon camping, hiking, and more!
For most people, autumn and winter in the Pacific Northwest evoke images of endless rain, stubborn fog, and lush (if damp) forests. In one pocket of Oregon though, this is not the case. Central Oregon sees 263 dry days per year, with 158 of those days reported as sunny.
Whether you’re looking to escape the rainier parts of the PNW, or you’re an adventure-enthusiast in search of a sunny weekend getaway, central Oregon is the spot. From Smith Rock State Park, which boasts some of the best climbing in the region, to the iconic beer scene in Bend, a small city with the highest micro-brewery per capita in the nation (one brewery for every 3,636 humans), there is something for everyone in this sunny oasis.
Central Oregon Camping + Outdoor Adventures
The best way to get the most out of central Oregon camping is to pick your adventure first. Skiing, rock climbing, snowshoeing, hiking, or beer tasting—its got ‘em all.
For Climbing: Smith Rock State Park Campground (The Bivy)
If you want to spend your weekend exploring the 1,800+ climbing routes Smith Rock has to offer, then Smith Rock State Park Campground (also known as The Bivy) is the place for you. Located right at the park entrance, this campground comes with unbeatable climbing access. From your campsite, you have access to countless hiking trails and thousands of sport climbing routes. Surrounded by the dramatic rock formations the park is known for, this campground will give you the ultimate Smith Rock experience. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you if you’re looking for central Oregon camping on a weekend or holiday, get there early! The campground only has tent sites, but offers showers, toilets, and drinking water.
“Tents are pitched at the Bivouac, an area about 50-100ft away from where you park. If you get there early enough, sites along the fence posts offer incredible views of the Crooked River and basalt monoliths. However, there are plenty of places to pitch your tent, and even some good trees for hanging a hammock.”—The Dyrt camper Megan W.
For Hiking and Beer: Tumalo State Park Campground
If you’re looking for a weekend of hiking and beer tasting and camping in central Oregon, this is the campground for you. Just 15-minutes from downtown Bend, it’s an easy drive into town to visit one of Bend’s 22 breweries. The centrally-located campground offers several shorter hiking trails within walking distance. It’s also only a 20-minute drive from the spectacular Deschutes National Forest.
These 1.8-million acres of protected forest run along the east side of the Cascades, offering hikes of all levels with breath-taking views of iconic peaks on clear days. Catch a glimpse of Mount Bachelor, host to the best skiing in the state in the winter, and a wealth of hiking trails in the summer and fall, as well as a variety of fun events from movie premiers to festivals all year round. Tumalo State Park Campground has more than 50 tent sites, and 23 RV sites, drinking water, showers and flush toilets.
“Tumalo campground is located within the vibrant town of Bend. But what makes this campground unique is that staying there you quickly realize that your completely removed from the hustle and bustle of a town that has so much to offer.”—The Dyrt camper Rick W.
For Fishing and Swimming: Walton Lake Campground
Looking to spend the weekend lounging by a pristine forest lake? Look no further than Walton Lake Campground. In the heart of the Ochoco National Forest, this campground is perched on the edge of the beautiful Lake Walton. Surrounded by old-growth ponderosa pines, the lake offers a whole host of activities. Rainbow trout and catfish run rampant in the remote waters, making it a perfect place to fish. If boating is your thing, the boat ramp makes it easy to launch out onto the lake. A sandy beach is the cherry on top, it’s the perfect place to lounge after taking a dip in the water. The campground offers tent and RV sites, vault toilets, and drinking water.
“What a sweet place, it was nearly full when we stayed, but still felt as though we were in the woods camping, spaces spaced apart, quiet, beautiful lake, many fishermen, my daughter swam in the Lake, and we took a short hike for a beautiful view.” — The Dyrt camper Lauren B.
For Paddling River Canyons: Cove Palisades State Park
About halfway between Bend and Mount Hood, the Deschutes, Crooked and Metolius rivers converge in a broad gorge walled with volcanic basalt. If paddling down this breathtaking canyon sounds like an ideal weekend to you, then Cove Palisades State Park is your campground. The park provides boat launches into Lake Billy Chinook (where the river canyons meet), along with kayak and boat rentals, swimming areas and a fishing pier. Tent and RV sites are available, and the campground offers toilets, showers and drinking water.
“On a clear day you can see at least 6 mountain peaks from the top of the canyon. This is a great spot to explore Central Oregon.”—The Dyrt camper Debbie M.
For a Walk in the Woods: Limberlost Campground
For some quiet Central Oregon camping in the Willamette National Forest, check out Limberlost Campground. This spot is off the beaten path, located just minutes from the iconic Three Sisters Wilderness. The campground is surrounded by fir and cedar forests overgrown with vine maples, providing a sheltered retreat for campers. The campground is situated on the edge of the babbling Lost Creek, which also serves as a great swimming spot on warm summer days. In colder weather, check out the nearby Belknap Hot Springs on the McKenzie River. This campground offers lots of privacy and a break from the busier tourist attractions of Oregon, but with all the classic Pacific Northwest beauty. Tent and RV sites are available as well as vault toilets.
“I imagine this place fills quickly in the summer with bicyclists on their way down from over the pass from Sisters, Or. Lots to do around the campground, but also a great place to just sit and relax and listen to the small river flow by.” — The Dyrt camper Tj B.
Hiking in Central Oregon
You’ll find hikes for all experience levels in Central Oregon. A few day-hiking favorites:
Dry River Gorge: 4.6 Miles
A 4.6-mile out and back just south of Bend, this hike is a great option for a moderate day hike. The trail winds along the path of an ancient riverbed through twisted juniper, with dramatic basalt cliffs as a backdrop. The canyon provides gorgeous views, and the turnaround point is marked by a grove of ponderosa pine trees, a tree native to high-desert regions like central Oregon. The trail is relatively flat, and art can be found carved in the rock of the canyon. The trail is closed over the summer to protect wildlife, so this is an ideal hike for the off-season.
Ray Atkeson Memorial Trail: 2.3 Miles
This 2.3-mile loop trail has unique and beautiful scenery; half the loop winds through lava fields, and the other half affords sweeping views of Sparks Lake and the snowcapped Three Sisters behind it. The hike is relatively flat, making it a great option for those with kids. In the summer you can hop in the lake to cool off!
South Sister Summit Climb: 12.2 Miles
If you are looking for a challenging, all-day trek with unbeatable views, look no further than the summit of South Sister. Clocking in at 12.2 miles out and back, this climb should only be attempted by experienced hikers. The best time to climb South Sister is between June and October when snow is limited, allowing for a challenging but non-technical summer climb. The hike climbs high above tree-line offering panoramic views of the volcanic Cascade Range.
Lava River Cave: 1.5 Miles
For a hike unlike any other, check out the Lava River Cave! This mile-long lava tube looks like something out of a sci-fi film, with astonishing geological features and massive domed ceilings measuring 58 feet high. You will see stalagmites and stalactites, a subterranean lake, and ancient hardened lava from a volcanic eruption hundreds of years ago. The hike is only 1.5 miles altogether, making it suitable for those of all fitness levels (but be sure to bring two light sources and lots of warm clothes; temperatures inside the cave are in the low 40s).
Eat and Drink in Central Oregon
Sisters Coffee Company, in Sisters
This cozy coffee shop in the heart of Sisters, Oregon serves rustic cabin vibes along with really freaking good coffee (so good that their coffee is distributed all over the Pacific Northwest). The café has indoor and outdoor seating, and is always pleasantly bustling. If you’re into people-watching, you can sit beneath the Doug Firs, sip your coffee, and chat with the slew of local characters who frequent Sisters Coffee Co. on any given Sunday.
Humm Kombucha Taproom, in Bend
Humm created the first-ever kombucha taproom in 2013, right in the heart of Bend. Clearly their idea caught on! If you’re into refreshing, delicious (and non-alcoholic) drinks in a classic brewery-style setting, this is the spot. The taproom does kombucha flights, growlers, and pints. Humm recently started serving a few local beers on tap as well, so you can enjoy your favorite local beers alongside some refreshing kombucha.
Deschutes Brewery (Bend Public House), in Bend
The Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House has been a fixture of downtown Bend since 1988. It’s where the now-famous Deschutes Brewery first started brewing some of their most popular beers (like Black Butte Porter!) The Public House has a small-town feel to it, and for good reason; locals frequent this spot for some of the best beer in the state. Deschutes has a self-described “beer-centric food menu,” so expect menu items like seasonal-ale stoneground mustard, and beer-battered fish and chips.