People seem a little too happy in Bend, Oregon. It could be the 300 days of sunshine a year, the gorgeous scenery or the 11 breweries, but even winter can't dampen their spirits. A soft blanket of snow just turns the area into a winter wonderland for outdoor lovers, who can hit the slopes, go snowshoeing, or ever take a dog sled ride — all within a short drive of Bend's amenities.
Bend is only a five-hour drive from Seattle, and you can make a pit stop in Portland for lunch along the way. Here are our top ways to have a wintry blast in Bend. Get ready for some fun!
1. Ski and Dog sled at Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort
Only 20 miles from downtown Bend, Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort is webbed with trails for sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Experienced downhill skiers and snowboarders are attracted by the diverse ski runs contained within the 3,700 acres of lift-accessible terrain, but the resort's beginner's lift and lesson packets make it a great place for learning, as well. Kids 12 and under ski and ride for free when mom or dad purchases an adult multi-day lift ticket.
For a truly unique adventure, go mushing with a real dog sled team. Oregon Trail of Dreams is owned by Jerry Scdoris and his daughter Rachael, an Iditarod competitor. They provide family dog sled tours based out of the ski resort ($45 for kids, $84 for adults). The sleds can seat up to two adults and two kids, and rides last for about an hour.
2. Tube away at Mt. Bachelor's tubing park.
Sessions at the tubing park fill up fast, and no wonder: there are surface lifts to haul you to the top of the 800-foot slope, which is manicured to provide a fun, rolling ride. It costs $10-$14 for a two-hour session, or $27 for a day pass ($21 for kids 12 and under).
3. Cross-country ski and snowshoe
If you prefer gliding or shuffling along pristine trails, there are miles upon miles for you to choose from in Bend. The Virginia Meissner SnoPark, which has more than 40 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails of various lengths, is only 15 miles from Bend. It's free to ski, but be sure to pick up a SnoPass ($4 for one day, $9 for three consecutive days) from a retailer in town.
The Nordic Center at Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort features 56 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails through the forests. A day pass is $17 for adults, $10 for kids, and skis and snowshoe rentals are available at the center.
4. Pedal through the snow on a fatbike
Skiers and snowshoers are a common sight, but in the last few years a new kid has joined the playground: a cyclist on a odd-looking contraption called a fatbike.
These quirky, fun-loving cousins of the mountain bike are designed to accommodate extra-fat tires (hence the name) that float over the snow.
There are plenty of places around Bend to ride. Try the trails in the Wanoga Snow Play Area, particularly the snowmobile tracks after the machines have had a few days to pack them down for you. While fatbikes aren't welcome on most Nordic cross-country ski routes, the Nordic Center at Mt. Bachelor plans to open some select areas to fat bikers this year.
Want to try it out? You can rent fatbikes at WebCyclery (pictured), ($50 for a full 24 hours), where the staff will be happy to share their knowledge with you, and point you towards good trails. Crow's Feet Commons also rents fatbikes ($50/$70 for a half/full day). Both shops also sell SnoPasses for parking in winter recreation areas.
5. Play hard at Sunriver Resort
About 20 minutes south of Bend, Sunriver Resort is a great place for families to both stay and play. It's especially ideal for family reunions, since you can rent enormous vacation homes (with hot tubs!). The resort has a fitness center with pool, a quaint shopping center with an ice skating rink, more than 35 miles of paved bike paths, and Victorian sleigh rides along the Deschutes River during the holiday season.
Each sleigh has private seating for four adults and two children, and is equipped with warm blankets and sleigh bells. Reservations are required (call 541-593-6995), and rides cost $125 except for holidays, when the price is $175.
Where to stay in Bend
Along with having a slew of hotels for all price ranges, Bend is full of vacation rentals homes. These can be perfect for families large and small, and make great spots for reunions, or for vacationing with other families. Bend Vacation Rentals has a good selection of unique places in Bend itself, and you can head to Sunriver Resort if you want your own winter wilderness away from it all.
A few hotels and resorts offer package deals in partnership with Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, which can save you money on lodging and lift tickets. The Riverhouse Hotel, just about two miles south of Bend, has an indoor pool to splash around in, family kitchen suites, and beautiful river views. (Rates start at $109 for a Deluxe Queen.) Seventh Mountain Resort is the closest lodging to Mt. Bachelor, and only about 5 miles outside of Bend. They have an outdoor skating rink, too (pictured). Rates start at $124 for a Guestroom Queen.
About the author: Jessie Kwak is a Seattle freelance writer who loves to type about the good life: travel, outdoor adventures, cycling, food, and sewing. You can follow her on Twitter, connect on Google+, and read more of her writing on her blog, Bictoro: Bikes and Crafts.
Photo credits: Dog sledding: Photo courtesy of Oregon Trail of Dreams. Snowshoeing: Photo credit: Wanderlust Tours/CCOP/Visit Bend. Fatbiking: Photo courtesy of Kevin Gorman from Webcyclery. Seventh Mountain: Photo courtesy of Seventh Mountain Resort.