Bend has established itself as Oregon’s #2 spot for all things hip, outdoorsy and chic, if not having already surpassed longtime hipster haven, Portland. The growing city offers outdoor adventure in the surrounding Deschutes National Forest as well as immediately in town, with the similarly named river being a hot spot for everything from river surfing in a whitewater park to an easy float through the Old Mill District.
A vibrant downtown equates to walkable shopping in high-end boutiques and skate shops alike, restaurants with fare from around the world, and enough craft beers to quench a small army. Mountain bike trails and golf courses fill the spaces between the growing city’s roundabouts, and places like the High Desert Museum offer visitors to Bend a chance to learn more about the natural world around them. The city divides that natural world almost perfectly, with lava flows and rolling desert buttes to the east and the prominent, stunning Cascade Mountains to the west, forested and filled with beautiful drives through lakes, by waterfalls and around ski resorts.
This makes for the perfect blend of nightlife excitement and wilderness relaxation.
Camping in Bend, Oregon
If your goal is to explore Bend itself, and you’re more interested in an easy Uber or bike ride around the city than finding peace and quiet in the Deschutes National Forest, there are a few options for camping immediately in the city.
What was once little more than a rundown, dirty RV park, The Camp’s (GPS: 44.052, -121.3017) new owners have transformed into a small campground nearly in the heart of the city. Only a mile from downtown, what you forego in peace and quiet (a busy road runs along the entrance to this RV park) you more than make up for in convenient access to everything Bend proper has to offer. Within a block or two, you’ll have access to a bakery, taco shops, Cajun food, and more. Add a few more blocks to your stroll through town and you’ll come across what seems like endless breweries, organic grocery stores, pizza joints and dive bars alike. The Camp offers full hookups, free WiFi, little grassy knolls at each spot, recycling facilities and even private bathrooms with hot showers, all in exchange for around $70 per night.
The next closest RV park to downtown is Scandia RV Park (GPS: 44.0303, -121.3114), which is a little more affordable but you lose the walkability, and frankly if that’s out of the question, and you couldn’t get into The Camp, the next best bet is Crown Villa RV Resort (GPS: 44.0181, -121.2941), a rather upscale RV park with a clubhouse, immaculately kept grounds and a chipping hole in the center of all of the RV spots if you want to practice your swing before hitting the city’s many real courses. They also have a gym, sauna and hot tub, and a guy in a golf cart will swing by and pick up your trash and recycling anytime you feel like putting it out. You’ll still have a drive to town, but Crown Villa is almost a destination unto itself, and puts you both close enough to town to keep your commute short, but far enough out that should you want to escape into the desert or forest surrounding town, you can do so without fighting much traffic. Crown Villa RV Resort costs around $85 per night.
Moving away from the city limits, Tumalo State Park (GPS: 44.1289, -121.3313) is a beautiful slice of nature just under 20 minutes from downtown Bend, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by ponderosa pine and juniper trees, playgrounds and hiking trails. Hot showers, solar powered in fact, and clean restrooms round out the experience, all without putting you too far from town and in prime position to explore points north such as the crafty little town of Sisters, Oregon and the climber’s paradise, Smith Rock.
At the opposite end of things, if you’re more interested in exploring Newberry Volcanic National Monument and the Lava Lands south of town, LaPine State Park (GPS: 43.7683, -121.5409) lives a little over half an hour south of town, directly on the Deschutes River and always under the blue skies for which sunny Bend has become famous. Hookups, showers and bathrooms are available, you can fish the waters and they even have a general store for small supplies. There’s also a 500-some year old ponderosa pine in the park, a massive thing with bright orange puzzle shaped bark worth seeing should you decide to stay here.
Beyond those options, if you see yourself surrounded by nothing but endless wide open spaces, and like free camping, Badlands Rock (GPS: 43.9435, -121.0257) is an expansive desert run by the Bureau of Land Management where you can just drive on up, find an open patch between the otherworldly terrain, and setup camp for up to 14 days.
Should you prefer your free camping to resemble something closer to Yogi Bear than Marvin the Martian, there is nearly unlimited camping in the Deschutes National Forest. Forest Road 260 (GPS: 44.0369, -121.4342) and a place by the name of COD Rockstacker (GPS: 44.0044, -121.3905) are not only just such forested sites–and keep in mind they are bare bones campsites, with no facilities whatsoever, just the real deal finding a spot in the woods–but they’re both also within a fifteen minute drive back to downtown Bend.
As if Bend wasn’t enough to take up weeks worth of your time, small towns like Sisters and Sunriver, Mt. Bachelor (both the ski resort and mountain in general), the Deschutes Forest and River and everything in between makes it easy to see why this is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Just remember, all of this free camping and beautiful public land only stays like this if we all do our part, so be sure to take advantage of the plethora of options to dump your trash and recycle what you can!