The Best Free Campsites in Mt. Hood

The Best Free Campsites in Mt. Hood

The Best Free Campsites in Mt. Hood, Oregon

What You Need to Know About Free Campsites in Mt. Hood, Oregon

 

Is There Free Camping in Mt. Hood?

Yes! Not only do you have the National Forest camping options but you also have free access to the Sno-Parks out of ski season. This was by far one of our favorite locations to camp because of the vicinity to hiking and the lakes that Mt. Hood offers.

Our Favorite Hiking Shoes

 

The Best Free Campsites in Mt. Hood

In our experience, the best free campsites in Mt. Hood are Trillium Lake Airstrip, Skyline Sno-Park, Little John Sno-Park and Bennet Pass.

You can view all the campsites listed below on the google maps with their exact coordinates. You’ll also be able to see photos taken at the campsites we stayed a night at.

1. Trillium Lake Airstrip Near Government Camp

The Trillium Lake Airstrip was the perfect spot to spend a couple weeks around the 4th of July. It offers a ton of space for all vehicles, though it was very busy during the holiday, and is a short walk to Trillium Lake. Trillium Lake is a very popular day and weekend spot for locals and travelers looking for a day at the beach or on the lake. You also get epic views of Mt. Hood while at the lake and even while going for walks near the campsite. You’ll likely even catch a glimpse of bald eagles in the area. We can’t stress enough that being able to come and go to this area, without a fee, is a huge perk of the campsite.

In addition to the Trillium Lake access you are also right across the street from Government Camp which is the main strip in Mt. Hood. There is even a gas station there for necessities. The location also provides an easy jumping off point for the popular hikes in the area like McNeil Point, Ramona Falls and Tom, Dick and Harry.

As a bonus there is also free spring water in the parking area at Trillium Lake. Keep in mind that there is a fee to get down there during the busy hours of the day. If you head down early or a little later in the day, you’ll be able to fill up without paying the fee.

Coordinates: 45.2811, -121.7353

Cell Service: Yes, we had 3-4 bars of Verizon.

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: Yes, at Trillium Lake.

Vehicle Access: All. This is perfect for RVs, buses and other large vehicles.

 

2. Sno-Parks

Oregon offers free overnight parking at the various Sno-Parks in the state. Mt. Hood, being a ski destination, has a number of Sno-Parks in the area. We’re going to highlight some of more convenient ones below.  Sno-Parks are basically a big parking lot for in season winter sports. During season they require a Sno-Park pass but during the off season are free to use.

These sites are perfect for overnight campers or for self-contained vehicles that don’t require much of a campsite.

Trillium, Glacier View and Snow Bunny Sno-Parks are all located either right outside of the Trillium Lake Airstrip or within a mile. I’d only recommend using these space if the Trillium Lake Airstrip is too busy, your vehicle is too large, or if you get in late and don’t want to look for a spot.

White River, Teacup, Pocket Creek and Little John Sno-Parks are along route 35 going northeast along Mt. Hood. They provide nice options along a main road but away from the busier Government Camp.

Skyline Sno-Park gives you access to the southern part of Mt. Hood National Forest and is a good stop when traveling to or from the Bend area.

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: This is perfect for all sizes.

Other Community Picks

These are sites you’ll find on the iOverlander’s of the world and have the least sketchiness to them. For us they were a little too far away, not needed or just didn’t give the same access as the Trillium Lake camping.

1. Bennet Pass

This Bennet Pass location is one that we wish we tried. The mountain views and seclusion look like a dream for free camping. The reviews on iOverlander are also very encouraging.

Coordinates: 45.30809, -121.63812

Cell Service: No

Bathrooms: Yes, Pit Toilets

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: No

Vehicle Access: From the reviews there is space for smaller vehicles like vans or cars.

 

Don't Miss a Workout While Camping or on the Road

What We Would Do

Home Base: Trillium Dispersed Airstrip

This is the no brainer of no brainers. We would stake a claim to a site for a couple weeks at the Trillium Lake Airstrip campsite. We would use this as the home base to spend days down at the lake and then venturing out for hikes all along Mt. Hood. Even the hikes that are “further” away, like Ramona Falls and McNeil Point, are only 25-30 minutes away.

1-2 Night Stay: Sno-Parks When Visiting Other Areas

You can use the Sno-Parks as options heading in and out of Mt. Hood or if the site is that full during the summer. Skyline provides a good overnight on your way to or from Bend and Little John is an easy stop if you are heading north toward Hood River or Mt. Adams.

Supplements for Hikers and Campers

 

More Posts About Free Campsites

Head over to Free Campsites page for an entire list of sites including a map of all the locations we've stayed at.

The Best Free Campsites in Mt. Hood

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The Best Free Campsites at North Cascades National Park

The Best Free Campsites at North Cascades National Park

The Best Free Campsites at North Cascades National Park

Who Is this Guide For?

This is for those of you looking to enjoy North Cascades National Park and be as close to the gorgeous turquoise water and epic hikes as possible.  It isn’t for travelers who are passing through and want to stay for 10 days at a remote campsite a couple hours from the park. There are free campsites available, an hour or more away, that you can stay at for extended lengths. These sites however won’t give you access to the park without a good amount of driving.  

Is Car Camping Legal in North Cascades National Park?

Like every National Park you will visit in the United States you will see “No Overnight Parking” signs throughout. In our experience at North Cascades, despite being one of the least visited, this rule is enforced. You will have a hard time finding free sites or parking in any of the lots or areas of North Cascades. We aren’t saying it can’t be done but you will have a hard time getting a restful night of sleep without worrying about that dreaded knock. This is even more unlikely if you are in a van or vehicle that makes it obvious that you are staying overnight. 

During the winter North Cascades does keep a couple of sites open, Goodell Creek and Gorge Lake, for tents and small RV’s. Keep in mind that Route 20, the road to get into North Cascades, is usually closed from November until April for snowfall. 

With that said you do have a couple of options to stay for free outside of the park, off Route 20, along with the option of trying your hand at snagging a free, first come first serve, site at a park campground. 

Supplements for Hikers and Campers

 

The Best Free Campsites at North Cascades National Park 

1. Free Camping at Pay Sites in the Park

The trick to score free camping at North Cascades is to wait for first come, first serve sites to become available. These are sites from cancelled reservations or campers leaving early. From what we could tell they aren’t put back into the reservation system online but instead are available to campers already at the park. This means waiting for the camp host to go around and determine which sites are open. The sites that are “open” will have the green sign, like the one in the banner above, with the dates available. If you are able to find one of these sites you don’t have to worry about registration or payment. Simply turn the sign over to “occupied” as you just scored a free night or two of camping.

Keep in mind that this may only be for one night at a time and you have to time things right. With that said you may be lucky and snag a site with 2-3 nights. 

In my experiences I first tried to look for a site Newhalem Campground and saw that there were 3-4 sites that were turned to green from the previous night. These were occupied with the campers leaving that morning around 830am. One guy leaving mentioned that the ranger or host usually does site occupancy around 9 am but he’s also seen them come around as late as 1130am.

Keep in mind when looking for an open site you will have to choose which campsite to stake out as you likely won’t have a shot if you miss on the first one. Newhalem and Colonial Creek will be your best targets as they have the most number of sites available. I’d suggest starting with Newhalem as there are more sites and it is less popular than Colonial which is on Diablo Lake.

After stopping at Newhalem we didn’t have the patience to wait for the ranger and had a hike planned near Diablo lake. The hike actually started and ended out of the Colonial Creek campsite which allowed me to time the end of my hike, 11am, for when the ranger was making rounds. I was lucky enough to be walking through the campsite after the hike to see a sign that had just changed to open. There were 4-5 people driving through, over the next hour, after asking if I was staying at the site or if it was open. 

I had similar luck in Diablo for a second night and then the morning after had the spot across from mine open up for 3 more nights. A good rule of thumb is to see if you are able to speak with the ranger making their rounds. After my second night I started a conversation with the ranger, making rounds, about the hiking in the area and mentioned that I was night to night with camping. She let me know she was going to be opening up the site mentioned above in a couple minutes if I wanted to move over to it for the next few nights. 

The options below are the big two to scope out for your first come sites. I had a ton of luck at Colonial but again Newhalem also as a ton of sites and seems to be the less popular of the two. On the other hand Newhalem is the first large campsite you will pass when entering the park so this may play a hand in where other campers are looking. 

Colonial Creek Campground on Diablo Lake

This is where I stayed for two nights after my first night at the road stop. I was lucky enough to get a first come first serve open spot which has no charge. Colonial is on Diablo Lake which is one of the most beautiful turquoise lakes you will see. You have easy access here for hikes and trips to the water. This would be our pick if we had to choose one of the campsites at North Cascades. 

Coordinates: 48°41’24.7″N 121°05’52.4″W

Cell Service: No

Bathrooms: Yes

Picnic Tables: Yes

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: Yes

Vehicle Access: All. This is perfect for Cars, Vans, and RV’s

Newhalem Campground

Newhalem is a large campsite with 3 loops. We stopped on the way in to see if there were any sites available. It’s your standard national park campsite that also gives you easy access to the visitor center. 

Coordinates

Cell Service: Yes. 2 bars of LTE from Verizon

Bathrooms: Yes

Picnic Tables: Yes

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: Yes

Vehicle Access: All. This is perfect for Cars, Vans, and RV’s

Goodell Creek Campground

We didn’t have to test our luck here. There are only 19 or so campsites available which didn’t give us much confidence to even try. 

Coordinates

Cell Service: Yes. 2 bars of LTE from Verizon

Bathrooms: Yes

Picnic Tables: Yes

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: Yes

Vehicle Access: All. This is perfect for Cars, Vans, and RV’s

2. Rest Area at Marker 100 on Route 20

On your way into the North Cascades park area you will pass a small rest area along the water. This is a free site that you we stayed for the night on the way into the park. We felt very safe here, and it was very convenient for access to the park. While not nearly as pretty as the sites above you are only a 25-30 minute drive from the heart of the park. It may not be ideal but there is plenty of room, other travelers staying the night, and it gives you a good fallback while you try to snag opportunities at the campsites in the park. 

Coordinates: 48°29’39.9″N 121°32’30.1″W

Cell Service: Yes. 3 bars of LTE from Verizon

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: Yes

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: This is perfect for Vans, Cars, RV’s, and even small buses.

Other Community Picks

These are sites you’ll find on the iOverlander’s of the world and have the least amount of sketchiness to them. For us they were either a little too far away or just didn’t give the same access or safety as Route Marker 100 did. 

1. Skagit Logging

Coordinates: 48°30’29.9″N 121°59’49.2″W

Cell Service: 1-2 Bars

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: No

Vehicle Access: 

2. Wild Camping Off Route 530

Coordinates: 48°28’54.7″N 121°35’30.4″W

Cell Service: 1-2 Bars

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: Cars and small vans.

Our Favorite Hiking Shoes

 

What We Would Do

Home Base: Route 20 Rest Area at Mile Marker 100

Mile Marker 100 gives you a great fallback option for your home base on the trip. At the very least you’ll know you have a spot to sleep when you get near the park. There isn’t much around North Cascades National Park and it’s a wooded road going all the way in. Having a go to place is one of the keys to a great trip here. 

2-3 Night Stay: Colonial Creek or Newhalem

With Mile Marker 100 as your fallback you now have the option to head into the park and try your luck at one of the national park campsites. As mentioned above we had good luck, the entire week we were there. Keep trying and make sure to touch base with the rangers stationed there. There is a good chance you can make Colonial Creek or Newhalem your home base for at least a few nights. 

Don't Miss a Workout While Camping or on the Road

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The Best Free Campsites at Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor

The Best Free Campsites at Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor

The Best Free Campsites at Acadia National Park

What You Need to Know

Who Is this Guide For?

This post is for travelers looking to enjoy Acadia and be as close to the park, and Bar Harbor, as possible. It isn’t for travelers who are passing through and want to stay for 10 days at a remote campsite in Wesley or Bangor. There are free campsites available, an hour or more away, that you can stay at for extended lengths. These sites aren’t near Acadia though and won’t give you access to the park without a good amount of driving.  

Is Car Camping Legal in Acadia National Park?

Like every National Park you will visit in the United States, you will see “No Overnight Parking” signs throughout. In our experience at Acadia, this rule is strictly enforced. You will have a hard time finding free sites or parking in any of the lots or areas of Acadia. We aren’t saying it can’t be done but you will have a hard time finding a consistent spot each night to settle down. This is even more unlikely if you are in a van or vehicle that makes it obvious that you are staying overnight. 

Is Car Camping Legal in Bar Harbor?

No, it is not legal to sleep in a vehicle overnight in Bar Harbor.

The town of Bar Harbor’s public places ordinance reads: “No person shall use or permit to be used any public thoroughfare, public street, beach … or any other public place in the town of Bar Harbor for the purpose of overnight accommodation or a temporary or permanent abode or habitation, except with the written permission of the Town Council.”

Where Can You Camp for Free in Acadia and Bar Harbor?

As you’ll see below, there are limited options for free campsites or boondocking in Acadia and Bar Harbor. We’ll give you a brief overview of your best bet along with the places we’ve tried, with varying amounts of success. Unfortunately, this post won’t have nearly as many options as some of the other free campsite posts we’ve written about. 

 

Our Favorite Hiking Shoes

 

The Best Free Campsites Near Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor

Acadia is the lone National Park in the Northeast and snuggled next to a quintessential New England harbor town called Bar Harbor. With that said, it’s a very popular destination for those on the Northeast as well as travelers from across the country. This has made it harder and harder to find campsites, not just free sites, in the vicinity of Acadia and Bar Harbor. 

1. Walmart in Ellsworth

Your number one option, and the only reliable site we’ve experienced, for a free “campsite” near Acadia is Walmart. Fortunately, this Walmart in Ellsworth, is only 25 minutes from Acadia and just 30 minutes from Bar Harbor. This makes for a very reasonable commute in and out of the park. 

Cell Service: Yes. 3 bars of LTE from Verizon

Bathrooms: Inside the Walmart

Picnic Tables, Fire Pits: No, it’s a Walmart.

Water: Inside the Walmart

Vehicle Access: All. Typical Walmart. This is perfect for RVs, buses and other large vehicles.

Where Else We’ve Tried

Walmart in Ellsworth? That’s all we’re giving you? Yes, seriously, that is your option to camp for free within an hour of Acadia National Park. Now obviously you can try your luck in other places in and around Bar Harbor, but you will run the risk of a warning or possible ticket. 

1. RV Parking in Bar Harbor at the Fields

You will most likely park here at some point when you are visiting Bar Harbor and think this is the perfect spot to set up overnight. There are still no “No Overnight Parking” signs in sight and it is super close to both Bar Harbor and Acadia. Trust me when I tell you though that you will get a knock right around midnight. I’ve had this happen on two different occasions on trips over 3 years apart. The police in town are very friendly and agreed when we told them that there should be a “No Overnight Parking” sign posted.

If you don’t receive a knock, you will probably wake up to a courtesy notice or warning on your windshield. Keep in mind that this isn’t a ticket but likely will be if your violate the ordinance again. This may have changed since we were last in Bar Harbor in the summer of 2022. You are taking your own chances on a ticket here. 

There is also a baseball field that the RV parking is adjacent to. You may be tempted to park alongside the field on the street but the same rules apply to these areas as well.

Coordinates: 44°22’55.7″N 68°12’17.5″W

Cell Service: Yes. 4 bars of LTE from Verizon. 3 bars of 5G or more from T-Mobile.

 

Vehicle Access: RV’s, Cars, Vans

2. Street Parking

There are side streets all over town in Bar Harbor. We have tried parking overnight on the streets of Bar Harbor on 3 different occasions. On one of these nights we woke up without incident and on the other two we received either a knock or a notice.

Don't Miss a Workout While Camping or on the Road

Our Recommendations

Home Base: Walmart in Ellsworth

 Like most Walmarts up to a 2 night stay is usually allowed in Ellsworth. We also come back on non consecutive nights later in the trip without issue. Individual usage may vary on this.

2-3 Night Stay: Pay for Blackwoods or Mt. Desert Island Campground

 If you have the money, and book far enough in advance, we can’t recommend enough to stay at Blackwoods campground in Acadia. It’s walking distance to a number of prominent hikes, including Cadillac and Gorham, and also offers a shuttle stop to access the rest of the park. They have tent and RV specific sites to allow room for most vehicles. 

Supplements for Hikers and Campers

 

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The Best Free Campsites in Morro Bay, CA

The Best Free Campsites in Morro Bay, CA

The Best Free Campsites in Morro Bay, CA

What You Need to Know

Is Car Camping Legal in Morro Bay?

Unfortunately camping in your car, van, or RV is illegal on the streets of Morro Bay and carries with it a $250 fine. Like most popular towns and cities, on the California coast, Morro Bay sees quite a few travelers coming through each year. As a nomadic lifestyle becomes more and more common Morro Bay and other coastal towns have had to put laws in place to make sure their beachfront and streets don’t become parking lots for vans and RV’s. It’s the line, of welcoming tourism while keeping residents happy, that each town has to straddle.

Fortunately, even though parking in your vehicle is illegal, you still have some very good options to “camp” for free near Morro Bay. In addition to your free camping options you can also pay to camp right on the beachfront. Morro Bay has embraced van lifers and nomads by creating designated spaces or “campsites” that we can access for a fee.

With that said you aren’t here for pay sites so let’s get into your best options for a few free nights of camping in Morro Bay.

Our Favorite Hiking Shoes

 

The Best Free Campsites Near Morro Bay

In our experience, the best free campsites in Morro Bay are the Old Creek Road Pullouts and 1st Street Dirt Lot. Others have had success on the Highway 41 Pullouts as well.

1. Old Creek Road Pullouts

There are pullouts here all along Old Creek Road. This was one of our favorite spots to stay based on the proximity to the beach and the town of Morro Bay. This location is a short 5 minute drive down the hill to the Morro Bay State Beach Day Area. This is a small free lot on the beach that is great to spend quiet days at. We would wake up with the sun and then drive down to this beach area and back into a spot right up to the sand. A perfect spot to set up for the day and then watch the sunset at night before heading back up the hill to the pullout. Not only is the day area only 5 minutes but the center of Morro Bay is only a 12 minute drive from this “campsite.”

During our 10 nights, or so, here we had 3-4 other vehicles spending the night along the pullouts. In the evening there would be some traffic, at times louder than we would like, but most nights were pretty quiet. We encountered no knocks or warnings from the police or locals.

Coordinates: 35°27’27.9″N 120°51’42.6″W

Cell Service: No. This site is just out of reach of great service even with an extender. If you drive a couple minutes toward the ocean, you should have close to 4 bars.

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: All. This is perfect for RVs, buses and other large vehicles.

2. 1st Street Dirt Lot

This is a lot that has unfortunately just made its way onto iOverlander. Before it did, we tried our luck and stayed here for one night without issue. It’s right in town and literally steps to the beach. It is an ideal spot if it wasn’t so nerve-racking to get a knock at night. There were no “No Overnight Parking” signs posted when we visited but that could’ve changed by now.

This is a day use lot and there are a number of locals around. If you do stay here, then make sure to get in late and leave early. Morro Bay seems more relaxed than other California beach towns but don’t push your luck and ruin it for everyone else!

Coordinates: 35°19’39.3″N 120°50’32.1″W

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: This is perfect for Vans and Cars.

Other Community Picks

These are sites you’ll find on the iOverlander’s of the world and have the least sketchiness to them. For us they were a little too far away, not needed or just didn’t give the same access as the Old Creek Road Pullout.

1. Highway 41 Pullouts

Highway 41 Pullouts seem to be a popular spot for overnight parking near Morro Bay. The vicinity of the “campsites” take you out of the Morro Bay fine, $250, range. The spacing seems similar to the Old Creek Road Pullouts and the access to town is actually a little closer. We drove by one night in the evening after dark and there were 2-3 vehicles already settled in for the night. As with all “campsites” in Morro Bay or elsewhere make sure you do your due diligence before the night sets in.

Coordinates: 35°23’08.0″N 120°50’50.2″W

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon.

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: From the reviews there is space for all types of vehicles here including RV’s

2. Street Parking

There are a number of success stories with scattered street parking in Morro Bay. You can take your chances and likely have success for a night or two. Keep in mind though the effect you’ll be having on others in the community. The more vehicles that the Morro Bay police have to knock on the more likely that they will become extremely strict in the future. This could result in a situation similar to San Diego where we have almost completely worn out our welcome.

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What We Would Do

Home Base: Old Creek Road Pullouts

This provides a very easy option that’s 5 minutes from a quiet beach and fairly quiet after 9pm. You also don’t have to worry as much about that dreaded knock as you are further from the action in Morro Bay. If you are looking for a quiet week at the beach and still want access to the downtown area, then this will provide the perfect spot to sleep.

1-2 Night Stay: 1st Street Dirt Lot

As mentioned this one has started to hit the interwebs as an almost too good to be true spot to spend the night. Do so knowing that 1-2 nights should be fine, but anything passed that will be pushing it.

Supplements for Hikers and Campers

 

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© 2021 – ChoosetheHorizon.com

The 9 Best Hikes in Bend Oregon for All Levels

The 9 Best Hikes in Bend Oregon for All Levels

The 9 Best Hikes in Bend, Oregon for All Levels

The Best Hikes in Bend

Bend is a hiker’s paradise with trails for all levels. Depending on the time of year, you can choose from alpine lakes, mountain summits, trail runs, waterfalls, and more. As the snow melts in the spring, you can go on a snow hike up to the Cascade Lake Byway or find a much warmer one closer to town.

With so many options to choose from, it’s hard to narrow down what the best hikes in Bend actually are. We think we’ve been able to do that. The best hikes in Bend are: Pilot Butte, Deschutes River South, Misery Ridge at Smith Park, Green Lakes Trail, Tumalo Falls, Tumalo Mountain, South Sister, Bend Glacier to No Name Lake, and Mt. Bachelor.

How To Make the Most of This Guide

This guide to hiking in Bend comprises a list of Easy, Moderate, and Hard hikes. You can pick based on your skill level or what you are looking for on that day. There is also an itinerary, 1-day, 3-day, and 7 Day time frames, at the end that shows how we would choose to hike Bend.

1. Green Lakes Trail

Green Lakes was one of our favorite trails in all of Bend. It’s on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and takes you up past a beautiful river with small waterfalls as you go. The payoff at the end is a view of both South Sister and Broken Top Mountain, with the two Green Lakes below. This is usually the most popular hike in the Deschutes National Forest, so be prepared for a busy hike in the warm months. It is a moderate 9 miles during the warm months, but it becomes moderate to hard when there is snow on the ground. We did this hike at the beginning of June; it was still packed with snow in most places, and the lakes were just thawing out. Lucky for us, we had the Green Lakes all to ourselves after 9 miles through the snow. Be prepared to wear spikes during the spring and fall, while snowshoes are a must when the snow starts again.

Distance: 9 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1187

Peak Elevation: 6571

How Long Will It Take: 3.5-5 Hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on leash or off, based on the area.

Resources:AllTrails,  Green Lakes Trail Official Site

2. South Sister

South Sister is a beast of a hike in the summer without snow on the ground. In the non-summer months, it becomes one of the hardest day hikes in the area. We had the pleasure of doing this as a snow hike in early June with only micro-spikes available. From start to finish, this was a slog and a true test, both physically and mentally. The day we were on the trail, there were 3 other groups spotted, and most had snowshoes and poles to get them by. If you decide to go in the winter, prepare with the minimum of spikes and poles, and ideally snowshoes. You will be rewarded with views of lakes, Broken Top, and obviously South Sister, as shown above.

Distance: 11.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 4986 feet

Peak Elevation: 10,349 feet

How Long Will It Take: 6-10 hours based on level and season. Give yourself more than the average 8 hours if this is a snow hike.

Difficulty: Hard to Very Hard. If there is still snow on the ground, into July, then you are looking at a snow hike. Come prepared with snowshoes, spikes, or both.

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on-leash or off-leash dogs, based on the area.

Resources: AllTrails

3. Bend Glacier and No Name Lake

Another one of the most epic hikes in the Bend area. Bend Glacier and No Name aren’t nearly as hard as South Sister, but they will still provide an enjoyable challenge for most during the summer. In the winter, it becomes a test of wills as it becomes another tough snow sludge. Your reward during the summer is sweeping views of Mt. Bachelor and a beautiful view of No Name Lake to finish. During the winter, you still have epic views, but the lake is likely frozen over and covered in snow. During our early June hike, there was one other couple on the hike. GPS is required if you want to find your way in the winter, as there is no actual trail in sight.

Distance: 13.3 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2687 Feet

Peak Elevation: 8220 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 6-9 Hours

Difficulty: Hard. If there is still snow on the ground, into July, then you are looking at a snow hike. Come prepared with snowshoes, spikes or both.

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on leash or off, based on the area.

Resources: AllTrails

4. Misery Ridge and Summit Trail at Smith Rock

Smith Rock State Park is a pleasant change in landscape from the mountains near Cascade Lakes. It features more of a rocky desert feel and does not disappoint with its sweeping views. From the top of Misery Ridge, you can see the peaks of the Cascade Mountains in the area and the river below. This is one you do not want to miss while in the Bend area. Start this hike clockwise to get the incline of Misery Ridge out of the way while you are fresh. We did this hike counterclockwise originally and definitely regretted it at the end. Also prepare during the late spring and summer for this to be a boiling hike, as you are exposed the entire time. There is water available down by the river before starting the hike.

Distance: 6 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1774 Feet

Peak Elevation: 3297 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 3 to 4.5 Hours

Difficulty: Hard to Moderate

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources: AllTrails

5. Tumalo Falls Via Tumalo Creek

Another one of the most popular hikes in Bend is to Tumalo Falls. The major attraction here is the waterfall, but the views and walk through nature really make this one a must do. Tumalo can get a little touristy as there is a bathroom and parking lot right in the falls area. You will obviously want to move past here as soon as you can and also get to the lot early to avoid parking issues. The well-maintained hike is best done counterclockwise and is also shared with mountain bikers.

Distance: 6.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 583 Feet

Peak Elevation: 5099 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 2.5-4 Hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources: AllTrails

6. Tumalo Mountain

Tumalo Mountain was another snow hike for us! This turned a moderate hike into a hard one, as the idea of a trail was a very loose one here. The views at the top of Tumalo are hard to beat, though. On one side, it feels like Mt. Bachelor is right on top of you, and at the finish, you get sweeping views of the Three Sisters and the valley below. This is one of the first hikes in the Cascade Lakes area to become doable and should be on every list of the best hikes in Bend.

Distance: 4 Miles

Elevation Gain: 779 Feet

Peak Elevation: 1423 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 2 to 3.5 Hours

Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources: AllTrails

7. Mt. Bachelor Trail

The last on the list of mountain hikes in the Cascades Lake area is Mt. Bachelor. Bachelor is a popular ski and snowboarding destination during the winter and a hiking destination during the summer. This trail doesn’t have the mileage of South Sister and Bend Glacier, but the elevation gain is still significant in nearly half the distance. This isn’t one you do in the snow but makes for a great warm weather challenge.

Distance: 6.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2742 Feet

Peak Elevation: 9070 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 4-5.5 Hours

Difficulty: Hard

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on leash or off, based on the area.

Resources: AllTrails

8. Pilot Butte

Pilot Butte is an extinct volcano in Bend, one of only four volcanoes located within the boundaries of a city, and is one of the most popular hikes you will find. The short but rewarding hike will lead you to a view of the Cascades and the entire city of Bend. Pilot is a great warm-up hike when you get into town.

Distance: 1.8 Miles

Elevation Gain: 452 Feet

Peak Elevation: 4130 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 40-90 Minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources: AllTrails

9. Deschutes River South

Deschutes River South is one of the quintessential things to do in Bend. This isn’t so much of a hike as it is a walk around the Deschutes River. The hike loops around the Deschutes, crossing a bridge at the halfway point, and features a view of the river. Depending on the season, you’ll see rafters and hikers on the river while sharing the trail with bikers.

Distance: 3.1 Miles

Elevation Gain: 137 Feet

Peak Elevation: 3685 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 40-90 Minutes

Difficulty: Very Easy

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources: All Trails

The Best Hikes in Bend for Beginners

Bend has hikes for all levels, including a variety of easier hikes for beginners. If you have little hiking experience or prefer to take it easy on your trip, you still have plenty of options. The best beginner hikes in the Bend area are Pilot Butte, Deschutes River South, and Tumalo Falls.

The Best Moderate Hikes in Bend

If you are looking to step things and take on more of a challenge you have even more to choose from. The best moderate hikes in the Bend area are Green Lakes Trail, Tumalo Falls, Tumalo Mountain, and Misery Ridge at Smith Rock State Park.

The Best Hard Hikes in Bend

For hard core hikers out there or those seeking a challenge, there is even more to choose from in Bend. Heading up toward the Cascade Lakes Byway presents several options.  The best hard hikes in the Bend area are South Sister Trail, Bend Glacier to No Name Lake, and Mt. Bachelor.

Bend Hiking Itineraries

1 Day: Beginner Hiking Itinerary for Bend

If there is one hike to be named, the best in Bend it would be Green Lakes Trail. Green Lakes is the sweet spot between the touristy hikes like Pilot Butte and the more difficult South Sister. It’s easy enough for kids but also has the beautiful alpine lakes for those who want to get away. While the hike itself is easy, be aware that the length may be a challenge for some. If you are looking for an easier hike, that’s shorter, check out Pilot Butte. You’ll see some superb views and have some time to spare.

1 Day: Challenging Hiking Itinerary for Bend

For the more serious hikers that want to bag a peak, South Sister is at the top of the list, followed by Bend Glacier to No Name Lake.

3 Day: Beginner Hiking Itinerary for Bend

Day 1: Green Lakes

Day 2: Pilot Butte

Day 3: Smith Rock

3 Day: Challenging Hiking Itinerary for Bend

Day 1: South Sister

Day 2: Green Lakes

Day 3: Bend Glacier to No Name Lake

7 Day: Beginner Hiking Itinerary for Bend

Day 1: Deschutes River South

Day 2: Green Lakes

Day 3: Pilot Butte

Day 4: Tumalo Mountain

Day 5: Drive the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway

Day 6: Tumalo Falls

Day 7: Smith Rock

7 Day: Challenging Hiking Itinerary for Bend

Day 1: Tumalo Mountain

Day 2: South Sister

Day 3: Tumalo Falls

Day 4: Bend Glacier to No Name Lake

Day 5: Green Lakes

Day 6: Misery Ridge at Smith Rock

Day 7: Mt. Bachelor

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The 9 Best Free Campsites in Bend, Oregon

The 9 Best Free Campsites in Bend, Oregon

The 9 Best Free Campsites in Bend, Oregon

What You Need to Know

Is It Legal to Camp in Your Car, Van or RV in Bend?

Bend is fast becoming one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the United States. With that comes expensive lodging and busy paid campsites. With the exploding popularity, more and more people are turning towards free campsites and car camping.

It is illegal to sleep overnight in your car on side streets or within the Bend city limits. Though you can park your car in the same location for up to 3 business days. If you decide to chance it and sleep in your car, prepare for a knock on your door. While Bend police don’t seek car campers, they will enforce the rule for any complaints.

Where Can You Camp for Free in Bend?

As you’ll see below, there are plenty of options for free camping near Bend. Free camping is available in National Forests, Sno-Parks, and on BLM(Bureau of Land Management) land.

A Note on Camping in Bend

The population of Bend has doubled in the last 20 years and its popularity among outdoor enthusiasts has exploded. Add to that a growing number of homeless and there are now overuse issues to consider.

Recently there was a petition to close camping access to, Phil's Trailhead, one of the best free campsites in the country. There have been many reports of campers not taking proper care of this public land. Including dumping grey water, defecating in the open or on private property, and leaving trash behind. Adding to the issues were "campers" staying well past the 14 days allowed.

Before arriving for our stay in Bend, the first time back in 2020, I was warned of the potential of squatters taking over campsites. Unfortunately this was absolutely the case then and i'm sure its still the case now. We can't control this problem ourselves but we can make sure, as a respectful community, not to contribute to it.

With that said we need to make sure that we follow the rules in place:

  • Keep your stay in the area to 14 days
  • Follow the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.
  • Pick up trash after others who aren't respecting the land.
  • Report any disrespect of the land to the forest service.
  • Respect private property in the area.

We 100% support public access to public lands and don't believe that they should be closed due to a few who ruin it for others. We can not give any reason to local's in Bend, or any area, to try to strip our right to use this land the way it was intended.

Van Life Coloring Book:

Inspired by Bend

 

The Best Free Campsites in Bend

As mentioned Bend is a popular destination for all outdoor activities, and one of the most popular is camping. Lucky for us there are not only plenty of paid options, but free camping options as well.

In our experience, the best free campsites in Bend are Phil’s Trailhead, the Sno-Parks on Cascade Lakes Byway, Badlands Rock and Harrington Loop Road Dispersed.

1. The Big Dirt Lot at Phils Trailhead

Dispersed Camping behind Phil’s Trailhead is one of my favorite free camping spots in the country. The vicinity to trails, Downtown, River West and Southern Crossing make this a perfect spot for a couple of nights. The road into Phil’s, off of Skyliner, is easy to access to access and doesn’t require 4 wheel drive. Dirt roads going in can get slightly bumpy, but this is one of the easier forest service roads to access for all vehicle types.

After you pass the bathrooms and parking lot of Phil’s Trailhead, you will start down the dirt road where the campsites are. On the right-hand side, you will see a big dirt parking lot that is open for camping. This lot is usually filled with RVs and larger vehicles soaking up the ample amounts of sun. This is a brilliant spot if you get in later in the evening and don’t want to chance driving further down the Forest Road. It is a big dirt lot though, so you won’t find much shade or privacy.

With that said do not stay here past a couple of nights! As mentioned in the note above there are rampant issues here with overuse and squatters taking advantage of the area. Please don’t contribute to the problem. After all this is just a big dirt lot and shouldn’t be somewhere you stay for very long.

If you see something that shouldn’t be happening flag down a forest service vehicle in the morning to let them know. Respect the locals and private property near it and pick up any trash, yours or not, in the area.

Coordinates: 44.03055079130083, -121.38676979396632

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon

Bathrooms: Parking lot of Phil’s Trailhead

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: All. This is perfect for RVs, buses and other large vehicles.

2. Forest Service Road 4604 at Phil’s Trailhead

As you continue past the big dirt lot, you will pass a right-hand turn that leads to dispersed sites. In our experience, these sites were all taken, but seemed like quality sites. Continue past this right-hand turn until you are given the option to take a left or continue straight around the curve. Continue straight and you will see 4-5 sites on your left and right. These were our favorite sites in this area and weren’t scarce for a 14 day stay in June. July or August might be another story. If these sites are taken, continue further down the road and there will be sites on both sides of the road. The road gets a little more narrow and rocky as you go further in, but you will be fine without 4 wheel drive.

Coordinates: 44.04669, -121.38448

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon. The further back you go the less service you have.

Bathrooms: Parking lot of Phil’s Trailhead

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: No

Vehicle Access: All. There are RV’s down this road, but the further you go the harder it is to turn around and the more narrow the road gets. Our suggestion would be not to go past the first few sites after the left turn option.

3. Meissner, Wanoga or Swampy Lake Sno-Parks

Sno-Parks in Oregon offer free camping from May 1st to October 31st. For the rest of the year, a permit is required. The Sno-Parks in Bend are all paved parking areas that allow car camping for many vehicles. They are at higher elevations on the road heading up to Mt. Bachelor and provide a nice drop in temperature during the hotter months. The vicinity to trails, hiking and the mountains makes these great choices for 2-3 days at a time. Our suggestion would be to spend your extended time closer to town and then short outings in the snow parks based on your activity. There are more than a few options available on the way up.

Coordinates: Check out Meissner Sno Park, Wanoga and Swampy Lake.

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon. The further back you go the less service you have.

Bathrooms: Yes

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: Yes, these are paved parking lots.

4. Harrington Loop Road Dispersed

If you are looking for a spot with access to Bend but slightly out of town, then this free camping area in Sisters, Oregon, is a splendid choice.  Harrington Loop is just 20-25 minutes from downtown Bend and provides a great option for those coming into town from Mt. Hood. We stopped and stayed here the first two nights before heading onto Forest Road 4604 afterwards. This a big dirt loop with a ton of spots and fire pits. It was busy during the end of May, but not so much were there wasn’t a spot available on a Thursday night.  

Coordinates: 44.2506, -121.4967

Cell Service: Yes. Full bars of LTE from Verizon. Cell service heaven! 

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: No

Vehicle Access: Yes, easy access for all types of vehicles.  This is a loop so no real turnaround issues.

5. Badlands Road Dispersed

Another site to stay, only 25 minutes, that provides convenient access to Bend. This is on land from the Bureau of Land Management and includes a big gravel lot for RVs, buses and other large vehicles. There are also several smaller roads with access for vans and other vehicles. This was only a one night stop, but it provided superb mountain views while we were there.

Coordinates: 43.9435, -121.0257

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars from Verizon. 

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: Yes, the roads are dirt and gravel, so there is easy access for all types of vehicles. No turnaround issues as there is a big gravel lot for parking.

Supplements for Hikers and Campers

 

Maps and Planning

Home Base: Forest Service Road 4604

This provides the most comfortable option, for up to 14 days, in a location that is closest to Bend. Not only are you steps away from running and mountain bike trails, but you are less than 15 minutes from Deschutes River and Downtown Bend. You are also in a prime location that’s 30 minutes from Mt. Bachelor and less than 45 minutes from Smith Rock. This is a location you will want to spend the full two weeks at.

2-3 Night Stay: The Sno-Parks

Depending on how long you are in Bend for, the Sno-Parks are a great option. We planned the big hikes at Mt. Bachelor, South Sister and Bend Glacier to No Name Lake around our stay at the Sno-Parks on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. These free parking lots provide camping that’s less than 15 minutes to the best hiking in the Bend area.

Our Favorite Hiking Shoes

 

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Van Life in Bend, OR

Van Life in Bend, OR

A Guide to Van Life in Bend, OR

Why Bend is a Top Destination for Van Life

Bend, Oregon is one of the most popular van life destinations due to its combination of hiking, bike trails, free camping, skiing, rafting and mountains. It also home to the most breweries per square foot of any town, great coffee shops and a vibrant downtown.

Bend has become known as an outdoor enthusiasts dream as there is something for everyone at all times of the year.

Add in all the shopping and conveniences imaginably for those living van life and you will quickly see why there are hundreds of promaster, sprinter and transit vans roaming the streets.

What This Guide Includes

This is not an exhaustive list but a solo van lifers experience in Bend.  It has a personal twist to it that mixes van life essentials, hiking and the best that Bend has to offer for coffee, beer, burgers and hangouts.

Like all the location reviews on this site this review is geared mainly towards visiting van lifers. With that said it can also be utilized by RV’s, van lifers living full time in Bend, visitors looking to camp, and those visiting Bend in a more traditional way.

Van Life Coloring Book:

Inspired by Bend

 

Where is Bend?

Bend is the largest city in Central Oregon located just over 3 hours from Portland, less than 4 hours to the Oregon coast and 5 hours from Boise, Idaho.

Getting Around

The more you know about the main sections of Bend the more simple it to get a grip on where to spend your time.  Luckily the main highway makes access to the best parts of town really simple.

Interstate 97

This is the main highway that goes through Bend and serves as a divide between downtown and the commercial areas of Bend. I-97 North will take you all the way up into Washington State, past Smith Rock State Park. Going south will lead you past Crater Lake National Park and eventually into California.

The areas covered in this guide will focus mainly on the activities, food and camping right alongside this highway. When you get a feel for whats west and east of 97 you will have an easier time getting around the city.

East of 97

Home to Planet Fitness, Safeway and other commercial mainstays that will be part of a nomad’s daily routine. West of 97 is home to the neighborhoods with tons of activities, food trucks and breweries.

West of I-97

Southern Crossing and River West

The fun doesn’t stop in downtown as the breweries, food trucks and shopping hug the river providing a sprawling feeling to the area.

River West, on the opposite of Drake Park, provides access to top recommendations like 10 Barrel Brewing, The Lot, Victorian Cafe, Megaphone Coffee and El Sancho’s.

Southern Crossing is another area you will spend quite a bit of time in.  It is home to Riverbend Park; a popular tube launching point. It is home to the Deschutes Brewing Company along with the popular Old Mill Shopping District.

Downtown and Old Bend

Downtown Bend is a vibrant but small area that provides a great walking area to shopping, eating and drink.  It is also located within walking distance to the river and a short drive to all activities. Drake Park, one of the best areas for a picnic and river access, is also located in Old Bend a short walk from downtown.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

One of the most scenic roads you will find in your journey’s is sure to be the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. This beautiful road leads up to Mt Bachelor and the Three Sisters mountains. It has trails, snow parks and free camping on the way up. As you get to Mt Bachelor a whole new world opens up, depending on the season, to skiing, alpine lakes, and some of the best hiking you can find in Oregon.

Community in Bend

Reception from Locals

This has long been one of the most van life friendly towns you could find. Parking is ample in and around shopping centers and other vans are so common you normally won’t get a second look. With that said there is more and more resistance to visitors as you’ll find with the recent petition on closing the gate at Phil’s Trailhead. 

Other Van Lifers

As mentioned there is a huge van life community in Bend.  You will see other van lifers on hikes, at Planet Fitness, working at coffee shops, on the trails, and obviously camping in the National Forests. The majority of van lifers and nomads in Bend are very friendly and will strike up a conversation or even join for a campfire(not in fire season). The great thing about the Deschutes National Forest and Bend area is that there are so many options for camping. You can join others in a more crowded section to make friends or you can seek out solitude in more private locations.

The Best Free Campsites in Bend

Bend is a popular destination for all outdoor activities and one of the most popular is camping. Lucky for us there are not only plenty of paid options, but free camping options as well. In our experience the best free campsites in Bend are Phil’s Trailhead, the Sno-Parks on Cascade Lakes Byway, Badlands Rock and Harrington Loop Road Dispersed.

 

Phils Trailhead

The Dispersed Camping behind Phil’s Trailhead is one of my favorite free camping spots in the country. The vicinity to trails, Downtown, River West and Southern Crossing make this a perfect spot for a couple weeks at a time. The road into Phil’s, off of Skyliner, is easy to access to access and doesn’t require 4 wheel drive. The dirt roads can get slightly bumpy but all in all this is one of the easier forest service roads to access for all vehicle types.

The Big Dirt Lot

After you pass the bathrooms and parking lot of Phil’s Trailhead you will start down the dirt road where the campsites are.  On the right hand side you will see a big dirt parking lot that is open for camping.  This lot is usually filled with RV’s and larger vehicles soaking up the ample amounts of sun. This is a great spot if you get in later in the evening and don’t want to chance driving further down the Forest Road.  It is a big dirt lot though so you want find much shade or privacy.

Coordinates: 44.03055079130083, -121.38676979396632

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon

Bathrooms: Parking lot of Phil’s Trailhead

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: All. This is perfect for RV’s, Buses and other large vehicles.

Forest Service Road 4604

As you continue past the big dirt lot you will pass a right hand turn that leads to dispersed sites. In our experience these sites were all taken, but seemed like quality sites. Continue past this right hand turn until you are give the option to take a left or continue straight around the curve. Continue straight and you will start to see 4-5 sites on your left and right.  These were our favorite sites in this area and weren’t hard to come by for a month stay in June. July or August might be another story. If these sites are taken continue further down the road and there will be sites on both sides of the road. The road does get a little more narrow and rocky as you go further in but you will be fine without 4 wheel drive.

Coordinates: 44.04669, -121.38448

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon. The further back you go the less service you have.

Bathrooms: Parking lot of Phil’s Trailhead

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: No

Vehicle Access: All. There are RV’s down this road, but the further you go the harder it is to turn around the more narrow the road gets. Our suggestion would be not to go past the first few sites after the left turn option.

Sno-Parks

Sno-Parks in Oregon offer free camping from May 1st to October 31st. The rest of the year a permit is required. The Sno-Parks in Bend are all paved parking areas that allow car camping for all types of vehicles. They are at higher elevations on the road heading up to Mt. Bachelor and provide a nice drop in temperature during the hotter months. The vicinity to trails, hiking and the mountains make these great choices for 2-3 days at a time. Our suggestion would be to spend your extended time closer to town and then short outings in the snow parks based on your activity. There are more than a few options available on the way up.

Coordinates: Check out Meissner Sno Park, Wanoga and Swampy Lake.

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars of LTE from Verizon. The further back you go the less service you have.

Bathrooms: Yes

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: Yes, these are paved parking lots.

Harrington Loop Road Dispersed

If you are looking for a spot with access to Bend but slightly out of town then this free camping are in Sisters, Oregon is a great choice.  Harrington Loop is just 20-25 minutes from downtown Bend and provides a great option for those coming into town from Mt. Hood.  We stopped and stayed here the first two nights before heading into Forest Road 4604 afterwards. This a big dirt loop with a ton of spots and fire pits. It was busy during the end of May but not so much were there wasn’t a spot available on a Thursday night.

Coordinates: 44.2506, -121.4967

Cell Service: Yes. Full bars of LTE from Verizon. Cell service heaven!

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: Yes

Water: No

Vehicle Access: Yes, easy access for all types of vehicles.  This is a loop so no real turnaround issues.

Badlands Road Dispersed

Another site to stay, only 25 minutes, that provides convenient access to Bend. This is on land from the Bureau of Land Management and includes a big gravel lot for RV’s, Buses and other large vehicles. There are also several smaller roads with access for vans and other vehicles.  This was only a one night stop but it provided great mountain views while we were there.

Coordinates: 43.9435, -121.0257

Cell Service: Yes. 2-3 bars from Verizon.

Bathrooms: No

Picnic Tables: No

Fire Pits: No

Water: No

Vehicle Access: Yes, the roads are dirt and gravel, so there is easy access for all types of vehicles. No turnaround issues as there is a big gravel lot for parking.

The Best Outdoor Activities in Bend

Bend is one of the best places for outdoor activity lovers in the world. Depending on the season you can choose from hiking, cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, rafting, camping and more.

During the spring thaw you can take on a snow hike up in the Cascade Lake area or find a much warmer one closer to town.

There are hikes for all levels with epic views to match.  In my experience the Cascade Lake Scenic Byway opened at the beginning of June. This road, with Mt Bachelor looming over it, allows access to one of the most scenic roads you will find in the country.  Even with the opening of the road you should still expect snow on most of the trails and a significant amount even into July.

The Sno Parks in Oregon offer free overnight parking from May through October making the hikes and other activities that much more accessible.

Hiking and Rock Climbing

There is a whole section on our favorite hikes in Bend below. Needless to say there is an adventure for everyone.

While we haven’t ventured into rock climbing just yet this is available, at Smith Rock State Park, a short drive away. Monkey Face seems to be the most well known.

Mountain Biking and Cycling

We have to mention Phil’s Trailhead to start as it is located on the same road as our favorite dispersed camping site in Bend. You will see mountain bikers starting here early in the morning until later in the evening. For more trails and rides outside Phils take a look at this resource from the MTB Project.

If mountain biking isn’t your thing there are also plenty of cyclists throughout Bend. One of the more popular routes taken, a moderate 37 miles, is the Sisters to Smith Rock Scenic Byway.

Rafting, Floating and Kayaking

The Deschutes River goes right through Bend and provides jumping off points, for the extremely popular floating among locals and tourists.

This popular river is also a favorite for kayaking and whitewater rafting. You can even take out stand up paddle boards.

To book any of these activities on the river you can visit Sun Country Tours who have been operating since 1978.

Snowshoeing and Winter Sports

Mt. Bachelor and Century Drive, the road leading up, provide a winter activity paradise.

The ride up to Bachelor has three Sno-Parks to choose from for those interested in snowshoeing. Options include Virginia Meissner, Swampy Lake, and Dutchman.

Mt. Bachelor Ski and Snowboard Resort, the 6th largest in the country, is the go to resort in the Pacific Northwest.

The Best Hikes in Bend for All Levels

As mentioned above Bend is a hikers paradise.  Depending on the time of year you can choose from alpine lakes, mountain summits, trail runs, waterfalls and more. During the spring thaw you can take on a snow hike up in the Cascade Lake area or find a much warmer one closer to town.

There are hikes for all levels with epic views to match.  In my experience the Cascade Lake Scenic Byway opened at the beginning of June. This road, with Mt Bachelor looming over it, allows access to one of the most scenic roads you will find in the country.  Even with the opening of the road you should still expect snow on most of the trails and a significant amount even into July.

The Best Easy Hikes in Bend

1. Pilot Butte

Pilot Butte is an extinct volcano located in Bend, one of only 4 volcanoes located in the boundaries of a city, and is one of the most popular hikes you will find in the city. The short but rewarding hike will lead you to a view of the Cascades as well as the entire city of Bend.  Pilot is a great warmup hike when you get into town.

Distance: 1.8 Miles

Elevation Gain: 452 Feet

Peak Elevation: 4130 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 40-90 Minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources:

AllTrails

2. Deschutes River South

Deschutes River South is one of the quintessential bend things to do in town. This isn’t so much of a hike as it is a walk around the Deschutes River. The hike loops around the Deschutes, crossing a bridge at the halfway point, and features a view of the river. Depending on the season you’ll see rafters and hikers on the river while sharing the trail with bikers.

Distance: 3.1 Miles

Elevation Gain: 137 Feet

Peak Elevation: 3685 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 40-90 Minutes

Difficulty: Very Easy

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources:

All Trails

The Best Moderate Hikes in Bend

 

 

1. Misery Ridge and Summit Trail at Smith Rock

Smith Rock State Park is a nice change in landscape from the mountains up near Cascade Lakes. It features more of a rocky desert feel and does not disappoint with its sweeping views.  From the top of Misery Ridge you can see the peaks of the Cascade Mountains in the area as well as the river below. This is one you do not want to miss while in the Bend area. Make sure to start this hike clockwise to get the incline of Misery Ridge out of the way while you are fresh. We did this hike counter clockwise originally and definitely regretted it at the end.  Also prepare during the late spring and summer for this to be a very hot hike. You are exposed nearly the entire time and it can get very hot out there. There is water available down by the river before starting the hike.

Distance: 6 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1774 Feet

Peak Elevation: 3297 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 3 to 4.5 Hours

Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources:

AllTrails

2. Green Lakes Trail

Green Lakes was one of our favorite trails in all of Bend.  It’s located on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway and takes you up past a beautiful river with small waterfalls as you go. The payoff at the end is a view of both South Sister and Broken Top Mountain with the two Green Lakes lakes below. This is usually the most popular hikes in the Deshcutes National Forest so be prepared in the warm months for a busy hike. It is a moderate 9 miles during the warm months, but becomes moderate to hard when there is snow on the ground.  We did this hike in the beginning of June, it was still packed with snow in most places, and the lakes were just starting to thaw out. Lucky for us we had the Green Lakes all to ourselves after 9 miles through the snow. Be prepared to wear spikes during the spring and fall while snowshoes are a must when the snow starts again.

Distance: 9 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1187

Peak Elevation: 6571

How Long Will It Take: 3.5-5 Hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on leash or off, based on the area.

Resources: Green Lakes Trail Official Site

 AllTrails

3. Tumalo Falls Via Tumalo Creek

Another one of the most popular hikes in Bend is to Tumalo Falls. The main attraction here is the water fall but the views and walk through nature is what really makes this one a must do. Tumalo can get a little touristy as there is a bathroom and parking lot right at the falls area. You will obviously want to move past here as soon as you can and also get to the lot early to avoid parking issues. The well maintained hike is best done counterclockwise and is also shared with mountain bikers.

Distance: 6.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 583 Feet

Peak Elevation: 5099 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 2.5-4 Hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources:

AllTrails

4. Tumalo Mountain

Tumalo Mountain was another snow hike for us! This turned a moderate hike into a hard one as the idea of a trail was a very loose one here. The views at the top of Tumalo are hard to beat though. On one side it feels like Mt. Bachelor is right on top of you and at the finish you get sweeping views of the Three Sisters and the valley below. This is one of the first hikes in the Cascade Lakes area to become doable and should be on every list of the best hikes in Bend.

Distance: 4 Miles

Elevation Gain: 779 Feet

Peak Elevation: 1423 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 2 to 3.5 Hours

Difficulty: Moderate to Hard

Pets Allowed: Yes

Resources:

AllTrails

The Best Hard Hikes in Bend

1. South Sister

South Sister is a beast of a hike in the summertime without snow on the ground. In the non summer months it becomes one of the hardest day hikes in the area. We had the pleasure of doing this as a snow hike in early June with only micro-spikes available.  From start to finish this made for a sludge and a true test physically and mentally. The day we were on the trail there were 3 other groups spotted and most had snowshoes and poles to get them by.  If you decide to go in the winter make sure you are prepared with the minimum of spikes and poles and ideally snowshoes. You will be rewarded with views of lakes, Broken Top and obviously South Sister as shown above.

Distance: 11.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 4986 feet

Peak Elevation: 10,349 feet

How Long Will It Take: 6-10 hours based on level and season. Give yourself more than the average 8 hours if this it’s a snow hike.

Difficulty: Hard to Very Hard. If there is still snow on the ground, into July, then you are looking at a snow hike. Come prepared with snowshoes, spikes or both.

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on leash or off, based on the area.

Resources:

AllTrails

2. Bend Glacier and No Name Lake

Another one of the most epic hikes in the Bend area. Bend Glacier and No Name isn’t nearly as hard as South Sister but will still provide a good challenge for most during the summer.  In the winter it becomes a test of wills as it becomes another tough snow sludge. Your reward during the summer are sweeping views of Mt. Bachelor and a beautiful view of No Name Lake to finish.  During the winter you still have epic views but the lake is likely frozen over and covered in snow. During our early June hike there was one other couple on the hike.  GPS is required if you want to find your way in the winter as there is no real trail in sight.

Distance: 13.3 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2687 Feet

Peak Elevation: 8220 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 6-9 Hours

Difficulty: Hard. If there is still snow on the ground, into July, then you are looking at a snow hike. Come prepared with snowshoes, spikes or both.

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on leash or off, based on the area.

Resources:

AllTrails

3. Mt. Bachelor Trail

The last on the list of mountain hikes in the Cascades Lake area is Mt. Bachelor.  Bachelor is the popular ski and snowboarding destination during the winter and a hiking destination during the summertime.  This trail doesn’t have the mileage of South Sister and Bend Glacier but the elevation gain is still significant in nearly half the distance.  This isn’t one you do in the snow but makes for a great warm weather challenge.

Distance: 6.5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 2742 Feet

Peak Elevation: 9070 Feet

How Long Will It Take: 4-5.5 Hours

Difficulty: Hard

Pets Allowed: Yes. There are seasonal restrictions, for on leash or off, based on the area.

Resources:

AllTrails

Van Life Resources in Bend

 

 

Showers/Gym

This comes down to your budget and preference of gym locations. We didn’t have to put much thought into this one as there is a Planet Fitness located in Bend.

Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness is a no brainer for van lifers in need of a workout and shower. For just over $20 you get access to any location in the country along with a guest pass for each visit. It doesn’t get much better than the ease of the Bend location. It is located in a commercial area with Back Porch Coffee Roasters and a laundromat within walking distance.

Dumping

Portable Toilets

If you are using a camping toilet or, gasp, water bottles and plastic bags then there are plenty of options.

The most accessible spots I found were at trailheads. Phil’s Trailhead, on the same road as one of the dispersed campsites listed above, was my go to spot. There are a couple of Restrooms attached to the parking lots and they are easily accessible during off hours.  This makes it easy to grab a restroom to yourself without too much attention called to your disposable.  Be aware that this is a popular mountain biking location and the parking lot will be busy or full from 9am-4pm.

Dumping for RV’s

If you are in an RV or rig there is a gas station in the Blockbuster parking lot that has dumping

The Best Coffee in Bend

The Pacific Northwest is known for its delicious roasts, Portland and Seattle aren’t far, and the town of Bend is no exception.

You have a number of options for coffee in Bend and you can’t go won’t go wrong with your morning or post adventure coffee. With that said the best places for coffee in Bend are Backporch Coffee Roasters, Megaphone Coffee, Lone Pine Coffee and Thump Coffee.

Lone Pine Coffee

Lone Pine was definitely a, best coffee in Bend, contender for us. Great spot to spend a day of work.

Thump Coffee

Thump’s downtown location was a once a week spot for us while in Bend. Good coffee and laid back vibe!

Backporch Coffee

My two favorite things to do in Bend were hike and go to coffee shops. Most of the days in coffee shops were here at Backporch Coffee. Specifically the location across from Planet Fitness. Some of the best coffee around combined with a clean atmosphere made for a great combination.  They also have a outdoor seating with a fire to heat things up on cold days.

Megaphone Coffee

Megaphone west was our preferred stop when we didn’t want to venture into downtown or east of I-97. It is attached to a brewery and has outdoor seating that is perfect post hike. The coffee is pretty great too.

The Best Spots for Wifi in Bend

Wifi is easy to come by in Bend. You have your choice of the usual spots like Starbucks in addition to the independent coffee shops like Lone Pine, Backporch, Thump and Megaphone. If coffee isn’t your thing the Deschutes Public Library is your best option.

Drake Park

The Deschutes River travels right through Bend and provides jumping off points for rafting and lounging.  Drake Park is one of the best spots to not only get on the water but also have a picnic or lie in the sun.  It is walking distance to downtown and right in the thick of things for food and beverage.  The only downside is the popularity and lack of parking.  Your best bet is to find a spot that runs parallel to the park when someone pulls out.  If you can get there earlier in the day, by 9am, you should have your choice of spots.

There is no wifi here but it is still one of our favorite spots to spend a lazy day in Bend.

Bend Library

Libraries on the road are no brainers for those looking for quality wifi and a quiet spot to do work. The Bend library has the added benefit of being a quick walk away from downtown.  If Backporch, Thump or Lone Pine are too busy then take it to go and sit inside.

Spoken Moto

Spoken Moto, powered by Megaphone Coffee, has hip motorcycle vibe to it.  It’s actually attached to a motorcycle repair store which gives it a very unique atmosphere.  This wasn’t a regular spot for us but definitely a fun one for a day.

The Best Spots for Beer and Food in Bend

Manzanita Grill

Manzanita may have been my favorite place to eat, not just in Bend, but in the entire first year I was on the road.  The tacos were among the best I had and the Nashville sliders were my favorite things I ate.  Did I mention the seasoned fries? Easily the best fries I had in van life. Pro tip: Get the fry sauce to go with it.

10 Barrel Brewery

10 Barrel is one of the most popular breweries in Bend and one of the easiest to find in stores around the Pacific Northwest. Add in food and a fun atmosphere and you have a top spot to hang out after a day of exploring. It has the added benefit of being a couple of miles from a great campsite at Phil’s Trailhead. 

Victorian Cafe

Another spot really close to Phil’s Trailhead is the Victorian Cafe which is my number one recommendation for breakfast.

Deschutes Brewery

Deschutes, taking the name of the local river, may be the most famous brewery in town. It is widely viewed as the one that put Bend on the map. They have the standard brewery fare and another fun spot to hang out.

El Sancho – Westside

Another great l spot on the way in to Phil’s Trailhead is El Sancho’s. They have a spacious outdoor patio to sit after you order food at the counter. Taco’s, bowls and margaritas are the highlights in a laid back environment.

The Lot

This is a collection of food trucks and carts that offers covered seating as well as entertainment during non covid times.  Burgz N Dogz was my go to spot here.  Make sure to go with tater tots over fries.

Ale Apothecary

The Apothecary is one of if not the most acclaimed microbreweries in Bend. It garners not just local but national recognition as well.  If you are a beer fan and in Bend then this is most likely your first stop.

Boneyard Beer

Boneyard is a subsidiary of Deschutes.

Groceries in Bend

I’m always a big fan of supporting local business on the road in van life, but groceries is usually where I stick to the big boys. Outside of an occasional farmers market stop, Bend is no different.