Free Activities in Bend, Oregon

Whether you’re fresh off the Pacific Crest Trail with very little money to your name or passing through on a tight budget, there’s so much to explore for free in Bend.

For a free day in the high desert, strap on a backpack filled with a collapsible river float, swimsuit, headlamp and helmet, puffy jacket, crate of cliff bars and a utility water canteen. Then try to cross off everything on that list.

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Search secret rooms in McMenamins

While the Pacific Northwest has many microbreweries, it only has one highly regarded regional craft beer chain, McMenamins. In Bend, McMenamins Old Saint Francis School’s unique decor, swimming pool, hotel rooms, delicious pub fare served in three distinct bars, and event spaces have been wowing visitors for decades. One of their newest hijinks came into play when they built two hotel buildings in place of old houses. During the project, a secret bar and four secret rooms were dug in the corridors of the two buildings. Each secret space has its own theme and vibe. Wandering the hallways of each building and searching for the secret rooms is a fun, exciting, and free way to kill a few hours. First dig the cushions of the sofa and the corners of the car to change, this way you can also have a beer.

Younger children can ski at Mt. Bachelor in Oregon © Bobbushphoto / Getty Images

Ski for free in the side country

Lift tickets for toddlers 5 and under are free at Mount Bachelor, children 6-12 can also ski for free with advance online purchase of a 3-day adult/parent pass and Saturday and Sunday. The Carousel Beginner Lift at Sunrise Lodge is also free to the public. Other ways to ski or snowboard for free include taking advantage of the easily accessible side country options that surround Mount Bachelor. Climbing the cone on the side of Mount Bachelor, accessible from the parking lot, or climbing to the summit via split board or touring skis are also options. Be sure to follow the uphill traffic rules set by Powdr.

Go underground and try caving

Extensive networks of lava tubes exist underfoot in the high desert. Although many have yet to be found or mapped, some do intersect the Earth’s surface and can be explored on a half- or full-day excursion. At the Redmond Caves Recreation Site, you can explore five caves formed from cooled molten lava. Open year-round, these caves have been in the care of Native Americans for over 6,000 years and are home to wildlife and stellar examples of igneous geology. Other options closer to Bend are Boyd Cave and Lava River Cave.

Drone flight over the Deschutes River towards Bend Whitewater Park with paddlers in the water
Join the locals on tubing, paddle boarding and kayaking near Bend Whitewater Park © halbergman / Getty Images

Get wet at Whitewater Park

Another free activity not to be missed on a hot day is hanging out at Bend Whitewater Park. Whether you unearth your float stowed in your backpack, don your wetsuit and try your hand at scaling whitewater fish ladders on gauntlets, or just sit back and watch others, the park is a sight to watch.

Other options are swimming, sunbathing or the beach at McKay Park. The footbridge suspended above the park is a particularly pleasant point of view to observe the action. Experienced whitewater enthusiasts bring surfboards, boogie and paddleboards, kayaks, and even rafts to ride the waves. Travelers and locals easily spend entire weekends watching the action.

Deschutes National Forest Hike with Free Admission

Each year, the Deschutes National Forest, home to many of the outdoor attractions that draw travelers to Bend, offers free days, including four national holidays and National Public Lands Day on September 24. Oregon State Parks holds three free days a year, including State Parks Day on the first Saturday in June. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife holds 3 weeks a year where visitors are allowed to fish for free. To learn more about free dates, read this article. Central Oregon’s beloved High Desert Museum is also offering a free day to the public. Call ahead to inquire.

A close up of various types of beer in small glasses held by a metal flight.
Take a self-guided tour of Bend’s microbreweries © Angelo DeSantis / Getty Images

Enjoy a self-guided tour

For an informative and entertaining day, embark on a number of self-guided tours in Bend. The Bend Ale Trail will take travelers from brewery to brewery with a passport or stampable card. Often, breweries offer free samples of their beer to beer trail patrons.

The Tin Pan Alley public art and roundabout art route are mapped via brochures that travelers can obtain from Visit Bend.

The Old Mill also provides a map and brochure with a checklist for birdwatchers and nature walkers.

Finally, the Deschutes County Historical Society has a smartphone app that guides travelers through the sites during their 97 cruise. Stops are recorded at Bend, Deschutes National Forest, Redmond, Terrebonne, Sunriver, and LaPine. Rumor has it that a tour of the Old Mill district is in the works (for the same Cruise 97 app) which guides travelers through the remaining artifacts of the old mill.

Take advantage of free transportation

The good news for getting around Bend, within a certain radius and at specific hours of operation, is that there is a free service called Ride Bend that can take you where you want to go. Available via a smartphone app, Ride Bend offers the public an on-demand, app-driven transit service. Download the mobile app or call 866-921-8924. Vehicles are dog-friendly vans equipped with bike racks and ADA access. Plan a ride and get picked up and driven to your destination in a grid marked by Reed Market to the south, Portland Avenue to the north, Bend Parkway to the east, and 14th Street to the west.

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