There are two important things to know about Bend. First, it’s different than it was last year. Growth went crazy in the early 2000s, with a good bit of the population of 81,000 housed in expensive new developments, earning Bend a ranking in 2006 as the nation’s fifth-most-overvalued real estate market…then the crash came, leaving many partially built-out developments and some practically empty new subdivisions, including the locally infamous Shire, built with a J. R. R. Tolkien theme. In 2009 one family was living in a hobbit house here.
And oh, yes, there is one other thing about Bend: It’s still a fantastic place to visit. The hiking trails, fishing streams, golf courses, white-water runs, and ski slopes are all still here and all still top-notch; there’s still sunshine 250 days a year and a dry climate that makes the average winter low of 27°F feel warmer than the 40°F temperatures in the wet Willamette Valley. And even though the economic downturn has hit the town hard, it’s still easy to find a good restaurant and a lovely place to stay.
Visitors will notice that thanks to the boom years, fueled largely by California retirees attracted by the climate, zoning and planning efforts are still playing catch-up. After years of traffic jams, however, a sense of controlled mayhem has emerged thanks to a massive road-building effort that has focused on the use of traffic circles rather than stoplights. Slow down and drive carefully, and you may be surprised how well this system works.
The Old Mill District, a huge housing, office, and shopping area just south of downtown, opens up access to the Deschutes River in this formerly industrial part of town. The actual old mill smokestacks now soar above an REI store, and they serve as a fitting symbol of Bend’s transformation from mill town into recreational hot spot.
Getting to Bend
By Air: With flights to and from Portland, Eugene, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City, access to central Oregon is quite good. The air hub of this section of the state is Redmond’s recently expanded Roberts Field (2522 SE Jesse Butler Circle, Redmond, 541/548-0646), located 16 miles north of Bend and east of U.S. 97.
By Bus: The Central Oregon Breeze Shuttle (541/389-7469 or 800/847-0157, www.cobreeze.com, $49 one-way, $88 round-trip) serves Bend to and from Portland International Airport, with pickups and drop-offs at downtown hotels. Redmond Airport Shuttle (541/382-1687 or 888/664-8449) offers door-to-door service to and from the Redmond airport and to and from the Chemult Amtrak station.
A free ski shuttle run by Mount Bachelor (541/382-2442) links Bend (from a park-and-ride lot near McKay Park and the Colorado Ave.–Simpson Ave. traffic circle) to West Village on the mountain.
By Train: The closest you can get to Bend via Amtrak (800/872-7245, www.amtrak.com) is Chemult, 60 miles to the south on U.S. 97. Amtrak will assist you in scheduling your transfer to Bend.
By Car: The automobile is still the vehicle of choice for exploring this quadrant of the state. U.S. 97 and U.S. 20 converge on Bend, much as the Native American trails and pioneer wagon roads did 150 years ago when this outpost on the Deschutes River was called Farewell Bend.
Crater Lake National Park is about two hours south down U.S. 97. There are also many loops worth investigating, like the Cascade Lakes Highway, Newberry Crater, and the Lava Lands, as well as other touring corridors.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel