From rock climbing to pirate ship playgrounds: Bend, Oregon's 6 best parks

A female rock climber ascends a cliff at Smith Rock State Park.

One of the best parts of visiting Bend, Oregon, is touring the amazing parks within the city. Bend Park and Recreation District is one of the most supported parks organizations in the nation, and it shows in the level of expansion, improvements and maintenance it implements citywide.

With such an outdoor-focused demographic curating civic centers, it’s no surprise that you don’t have to travel far to find natural urban landscapes to renew your soul. Grassy knolls, sports fields, skate parks, monkey bars, fishing ponds, swimming spots and so much more are all at your fingertips in Bend public parks. 


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Deschutes River Trail

The Deschutes River Trail is a can’t-miss Bend experience. Divided into two reaches, the Old Mill District stretch (from Riverbend Park to Miller’s Landing Park) is an urban paved footpath that follows the Deschutes River through a shopping and cosmopolitan center where you can easily grab a cup of joe or sweet treat while exploring.

An extension or alternate reach, the South Canyon arm traverses the Deschutes River from Farewell Bend Park to Riverbend Park. This outstanding trail, in such close proximity to town, showcases the best riparian nature experiences the Deschutes has to offer. Bird-watching, springtime wildflower identification, serene riverscapes and powerful rapids are all viewable on foot or bike. Hikers, runners, anglers, families and picnicking pairs, all enjoy river access on this delightful stretch, which terminates with a loop back over a pedestrian bridge. 

A bicyclist rides across a walking and biking bridge in Bend, Oregon
A bicyclist rides across a walking and biking bridge over the Deschutes River at the Old Mill District in Bend in Central Oregon © HDDA Photography / Shutterstock

Shevlin Park

Below a stately lineup of ponderosa pines, the icy snow meltwaters of Tumalo Creek flow through Shevlin Park. Nearing the base of Three Sisters Wilderness, but still a stone's throw from town, this park has it all. From an extensive network of single-track mountain bike trails to miles of hiking and running paths for solo sojourns or family treks and tons of space for dog walks, the park offers plenty of adventure. 

A rentable venue for special occasions, Aspen Hall is located at the north end entrance to the park. Teepees, a small fishing pond and Aspen Meadow Picnic Shelter are additional attractions. 

Drake Park 

Take a morning stroll through Drake Park and enjoy its flowy footpath along the iconic Mirror Pond. Arguably the Venice Beach of Central Oregon, by day the park provides bird-watching, biking, picnicking and river access. Popular local events like Munch & Music (recurring weekly in the summer) are also hosted here.

Or, head to Drake Park after a dinner date downtown. In the evening, the park is serene and tranquil. Stretch your legs with a walk, and stop to peer into the waters of the Deschutes.  At its south end, looking upriver from The Commons, a view of the Cascade mountains showcases heavenly alpenglow, and at twilight, offers an excellent sherbert sunset. At dusk, head over the footbridge and walk out to the center for a view of the river on all sides. 

Westside honorable mention: Columbia Park is a small but mighty park on the west bank of the Deschutes River near the aforementioned Drake Park footbridge. Locals call it the pirate park – it has a unique play structure fashioned in the form of a pirate ship. 

A city view of Bend from Pilot Butte at night
See a spectacular view of Bend city lights from the top of Pilot Butte at night © JennarationX / Shutterstock

Larkspur Trail & Pilot Butte Nature Trail

On its south end, Larkspur Trail starts near Ponderosa Park and connects Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint and adjoining nature trails on its north end. This charming neighborhood trail is partially paved, but some sections consist of pavers, gravel and dirt. On your way, you'll cross pedestrian bridges, traverse pine forest, dry desert, backyards and an urban underpass. Take a hiking trail to the top of Pilot Butte (which is a cinder cone volcano) or drive your car or truck up the road during warmer months (it's open Aptil 15 to November 1) .  The trail is steep, dry and lined with cinder.  And while there are many benches and trees with shade to rest under, be sure to bring water. Look down on the city lights at twilight, or, during the day, indulge in the breathtaking 360-degree view of white-capped mountains in every direction. 

Eastside honorable mention: Alpenglow Park is the newest park to Bend’s roster. Enjoy walking, running and biking trails. A playground, picnic benches, splash pad, rock climbing wall, off-leash dog area and demonstration garden are slated to open in the summer of  2022.

Smith Rock State Park

Just a 45-minute drive from Bend outside Terrebonne, Smith Rock State Park is said to be the birthplace of American sport climbing. For wanderers without ropes, harnesses and other specialized gear, the park has breathtaking views of jagged welded ash tuff escarpments, columnar basalt and the meandering Crooked River. Watch climbers become the size of ants as they make upward progress on their routes of choice, or tackle a hiking trail yourself. Misery Ridge is both the the most iconic and difficult due to elevation gain. 

Stream through sheer cliffs in desert landscape, Smith Rock State Park, Oregon, United States
Smith Rock is a popular destination for rock climbers and outdoor enthusiasts in central Oregon Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Riley Ranch Nature Reserve 

Riley Ranch Nature Reserve connects to Shevlin Park, Sage Flat Loop Trail and Canyon Loop Trail and traverses the corridor adjacent to Tumalo Creek. These trails bring terrain that looks a lot like Shevlin Park, but provide more extensive hiking opportunities. Dogs are only allowed on certain stretches. We suggest checking regulations before you arrive.

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