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Bend is the largest city in eastern Oregon, and there are many things to see and do in and around Bend. However, visitors may also want to get ‘out and about’ to take day trips to experience the surrounding areas. Here are some ideas:
Crooked River Scenic Drive —
From Bend, take Hwy 97 north, then Hwy 26 to Prineville, about 30 minutes
drive. The scenic drive starts in downtown Prineville at the intersection of
3rd and Main. Go south on Main, which becomes Hwy 27. You'll pass the Crook
County RV Park, the county fairgrounds, and the pleasant Crooked River Park
which has recreational facilities. Farther on, there are farms and cattle
In about 6 miles, the landscape changes and becomes much more rugged and steep as you enter the canyon. There are a number of camping and day use areas through here along the river that have access to the river.
As you continue the drive south, you'll see some interesting rock formations such as a line of cliffs to the right called palisades. At about 17 miles, there is a campground and day use area called Chimney Rock. The rock itself is far above the river on the east side of the road, and the hike up there and back is about 4 miles round trip. (Caution – rattlesnake area!) At the day use park there is a handicapped-accessible wooden "pier" where you can walk out over the river.
The road continues to wind along the river, and about 5 miles farther along is Bowman Dam. The road goes across the top of the dam and the resulting lake is called Prineville Reservoir, which is very popular in the summer for recreational boating, fishing and camping. There is a small park here called Powder House with restrooms and a boat ramp, named for where they stored the explosives they used when building the dam.
This is the end of this part of the canyon. Continue, turning right at the intersection, on Reservoir Road, toward Bend. In a few miles, the road will bend to the right, and you will see a shoe tree. [insert shoe tree link]
Turn on Powell Butte Road to return to Hwy 20 and downtown Bend.
The entire road is paved and smooth, suitable for RVs, with total driving distance on the circular loop route about 50 miles. Through the canyon, the road winds a bit, but it's well marked without any excessively sharp turns. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it by the river :-)
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument --
John Day Fossil Bed National Monument consists of three separate sections, called "units". These are the Painted Hills, Sheep Rock and Clarno Units. The Painted Hills and Sheep Rock units are close enough to Bend for a day trip.
Take Hwy 97 north, then Hwy 126 east. You’ll go past the
Ochoco Reservoir and will see some nice wooded scenery as you drive into the
hills of the Ochoco National Forest. There are places to stop and enjoy the
fresh mountain air.
About 80 miles from Bend (approximately 1½ hours), you’ll
see the signs to the Painted Hills. This is a truly unique natural attraction. There
is a paved road that goes about 6 miles off the main Hwy 26 and leads to a
picnic area and restrooms. From there the road is graded gravel for about
another mile or so. It is suitable for smaller RVs. There is parking at the top
and an easy trail (which used to be a road many years ago) follows the
ridgeline slightly uphill to provide a great overview.
The hills are splashed with colors -- red, pink, tan, yellowish, near-black -- all in "stripes". The colors are caused by various minerals weathering over the eons - pick up a free brochure and it explains it in much more detail. The view is very impressive.
Drive a little farther on to the Painted Cove Trail. This is a much smaller area where you can get right up close to the hills. There is a boardwalk suitable for wheelchairs that goes part way around, then the easy trail continues for a total of about 1/4 mile. In this area, the small hills are bright red.
As you drive in and out of the Painted Hills, you'll see hundreds of acres of rich bottomland farming, mostly alfalfa fields. Some of these farms and ranches have been in the same families for 150 years.
Leaving Painted Hills, turn east on Hwy 26. In about 35
miles, you’ll see Hwy 19 going north, and the signs to Sheep Rock. Be sure to
go into the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center which is very interesting, even
for children. There are several rooms with hundreds of items on display and
beautiful, colorful wall size murals depicting all sorts of extinct animals.
Outside, there are dramatic rock formations and trails to walk along for nice views. The trails vary from short and easy to a more strenuous 3 mile overlook trail. The pretty John Day River winds through this area.
Just a short distance down the road is the James Cant Ranch, a restored 1917 ranch house that houses cultural and historical displays.
Although quite different, both these units are well worth visiting. Allow enough time to see them both! To return to Bend, retrace your route on Hwy 26.
The old west town of Sisters is a short, easy 20 minute drive from Bend. This tiny town of about 1,200 is packed with events during much of the year. The Sisters Rodeo is one of the best known rodeos in Oregon, and seats sell out far in advance. For information about it and other events: http://www.sistersoregonguide.com/eve...
Shopping is one of the main attractions in this compact town. Park your vehicle and stroll the sidewalks. You’ll find shops that sell an eclectic array of merchandise, from books to art to western wear. No sales tax in Oregon!
Lake Billy Chinook / The Cove Palisades State Park —
For a full day of fun on the water, head about 40 miles north from Bend to Lake Billy Chinook and The Cove Palisades State Park. The lake is manmade, and offers a variety of water sports for all members of the family. The local marina rents several types of water craft including ski boats, fishing boats, kayaks, SUPs and more. They also offer pedal boats, water toys and bumper boats for the younger set. For longer visits, you can even rent houseboats.
Off the water, this area offers State Park camping (although the campsites are well away from the lake) , over 10 miles of hiking trails, bird watching, picnicking and sightseeing. Within the State Park is a boulder that has ancient petroglyphs . There is a small day use fee for the park.
Enjoy your visit to Oregon’s high desert!