Northwest Destination: Bend, Oregon

Visit Bend in the Spring

written by Kevin Max

Many people in the Pacific Northwest know Bend as a two-season town in summer and winter. Cue the crusty with the cliché, “The only two seasons in Bend are winter and July.”

Spring, however, makes a fresh and compelling argument all its own.

Let’s face it—summer in Bend has become a mild variation of Fools Rush In, a story of momentary attraction leading to cultural imbalances. The Deschutes River becomes a floating carnival, strewn with medium-rare performers, three dogs to every campground up the road, past-prime adults stretching their heads with prescribed Stitch Fix beanies to fit in at the breweries. Driving takes the amorphous shape of motorized wandering without the inconvenience of turn signals. Summer rules.

Before all of that, truly, spring is Bend at its finest.

I wouldn’t wager if I were going to be skiing on late corn snow or road biking on dry pavement in May or even June in Bend, but I’d bet that, either way, the sun would frame it in a golden array. Frankly, it doesn’t matter. It turns out that, in the long-standing Pole Pedal Paddle, or PPP, you can do both in the spring at different elevations.

No event better sums up the opportunities and the weather in Bend in spring than the 42-year-old PPP, in which participants start with downhill and Nordic ski legs at Mt. Bachelor above 6,000 feet and in snow, before jumping on a bike and flying 22 miles down to 3,400 feet in town to finish with a run, paddle and a sprint into the Les Schwab Amphitheater, where craft beer, music and war stories meld and top finishers pick up the coveted coffee mug trophy. “Did you mug?” is on everyone’s tongue.

In mid-May, the PPP marks the shedding of a layer of fleece for Bendites, a local Groundhog Day.

While many locals are pulling on Spandex and saddling up mountain and road bikes, anglers are gearing up for the most spectacular events of the year—the mayfly and salmonfly hatches. Drift-boat rodeos float past the wader-clad anglers in one of Central Oregon’s high rituals. In late March and the beginning of April, rainbow trout surface for the brown mayflies. Fly-fishermen and women trim their lines ahead of the first nibbles. Then in May, salmonflies, or stoneflies, drip from the banks and trees of the Lower Deschutes in a decadent affair of redsides cast-and-catch fishing. If you need new gear, local beta and flies that match the hatch, head to Fly & Field Outfitters in Bend.
Random and remote encounters can put events like this in new perspective. Almost fifteen years ago, while I was in a small tavern in rural Vermont, a surgeon from Boston on the next stool asked me if I had ever heard of the salmonfly hatch on the Deschutes River, while he studied the surface of his beer, perhaps for riffles. “One day,” he said, pitifully. “One day.”

Spring matters when it comes to golf, tee times and greens fees. Among its other charms, Bend is a place where serious golfers can keep busy for months without doubling back on the same course. Tee times and greens fees are more reasonable at the top spots. Resort courses at Tetherow, Brasada and Pronghorn are masterpieces of architecture and beauty. The David McLay Kidd-designed Tetherow course brings challenging Scottish links-style play to Bend, finishing at the resort bar and restaurant, both destinations in themselves. A little farther flung in the eastern flanks of Bend are the Brasada and Pronghorn resorts. Pronghorn brings together two titans of the sport in Jack Nicklaus and Tom Fazio courses. Brasada’s comely features lead with a Peter Jacobsen-designed golf course and comfort food at one of its restaurants, the Ranch House. All of these resorts broaden their appeal with full day spas.

For hikers and trail runners, there is no better time to be in Bend. The benefits of spring are on display along trails at lower elevations. The scent of desert juniper infuses a canvas of sensuous violet lupine, garish orange of Indian Paintbrush and inconspicuous pink bells of blossoming manzanita. What’s missing from this picture is the crowd. Hikers head east of town to Oregon’s Badlands Wilderness, where centuries-old juniper trees twist in an artful display. Bring water as you head into 30,000 acres of well-marked trails.
Shevlin Park on Bend’s southwest side is another charmer. Out Shevlin Drive to the trailhead parking on the left begins a serene stroll along Tumalo Creek. Hikers and trail runners can pick off 5-mile or 7-mile loops, even easy out and backs of varying lengths. Footbridges and a covered bridge cross the creek at different points. Bring a picnic lunch from Newport Market and set up at one of the riverside picnic tables. The farther out you go, the better the experience.

If you have little ones with you who desperately need stimulation without epic hikes, hit the High Desert Museum, where live interactions with wildlife are a child’s storybook thrill. Bobcats, otters and birds of prey will keep the kids engaged until they get pulled into chores on the museum’s Miller Family Ranch. It’s a parent’s wonder to witness the specter of honest pioneer-era work on their offspring’s young modern faces.

For one of the most beautiful and navigable strolls, head over to the Old Mill District and loop a paved section of the ambling Deschutes River. This is particularly good for families with small children, infants in strollers and people who prefer flat, even ground underfoot. On this hike, you are never far from creature comfort. Strictly Organic Coffee makes a compelling cup. REI’s signature store in the old mill brick building is a must. Greg’s Grill offers a full dinner menu, a hopping happy hour and al fresco dining next to an outdoor fire pit.

Not long ago, a Belgian ale was considered culture. Led by innovative programming at downtown’s Tower Theatre, the culture scene is vastly improving. From intimate concerts such as Jethro Tull and Madeleine Peyroux to film festivals and visiting speakers, Tower Theatre is the intellectual campus of Bend. The local music scene plays out across town at places like the Athletic Club of Bend, Volcanic Theatre, McMenamins Old St. Francis School, Worthy Brewing and the Domino Room. First-rate jazz can be found at the Oxford Hotel, Joe’s Music and now at the Riverhouse on North Highway 97.

Perhaps because of an increasing feeling that global forces are beyond our control, coziness is making a huge comeback. This time it’s happening in places like the new Crater Lake Spirits tasting room for vodka, gin and whiskey; and Oregon Spirit Distillers; as well as over in the Old Mill at Va Piano and Naked Winery tasting rooms.

No place better epitomizes coziness as Dudley’s Bookshop Café on Minnesota Avenue downtown. I have seen people wearing their own slippers while curled on an upstairs couch engrossed in a book. Did she bring her own afghan? Culture, any facet of it, begins on page one and is limited only by the number of pages turned.

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