Explore Central & Southeastern Oregon

Having lived in the beautiful and varied state of Oregon for 20 years, I have many favorite places. Here I talk about some of them in the McKENZIE RIVER area, CENTRAL OREGON, and SOUTHEASTERN OREGON. From where I lived in Eugene, I could drive up the McKenzie River, through Central Oregon and on into the southeastern corner of the state. It’s a fabulous trip, but any one of the areas on its own is worth a visit.

The photo here is of the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument area, an absolutely gorgeous place.

Up the McKenzie River & Into Central & Southeastern, Oregon

East out of Eugene, Oregon you can follow the McKenzie Highway along the beautiful McKenzie River and into the Cascade Mountains and Lava Beds.

If you take the “McKenzie Pass”, a turn-off to the right part-way up, you will find yourself splitting off onto a lush, very curving road with waterfall turn-offs and a spectacular view of the Lava Beds at the top. It will eventually rejoin the main road. You can only make this split after the snow has melted, usually sometime after June 30, depending on the weather. You cannot take a trailer on this road because of the turns.

McKenzie Pass
McKenzie Pass

No matter which fork of the road you take, it is a gorgeous drive. You will eventually go through Sisters, a charming little town, and then, if you wish, follow the road signs on into Bend, an increasingly popular mountain town.

This is what you will find along the way.

Heading Up McKenzie River Drive

Holiday Farm

About an hour on your the way up the McKenzie River Drive, you will find a turn-off to your right which will take you by Holiday Farm. This place is fabulous! A friend of mine drove me upriver one morning to surprise me with breakfast at Holiday Farm. On a deck overlooking the McKenzie River, we ate fresh trout cooked on a wood-fired stove and watched the river rafters glide by. The lodge will be on your left as you drive upriver and most of the cabins will be on your right. You may want to call first to make sure they are expecting you.

Check out the quaint and charming cabins. It is absolutely magical. You may even want to stay here for a few days, or more.

Black Butte Ranch

A beautiful place to stay about halfway to Bend and before Sisters. Many of the houses here are privately owned and in a gated section, but many you can rent and there are also condos. Call ahead. There are pretty trails, a pond, golf course and riding stable…and a very good restaurant.

Mckenzie Hot Springs Cottage vacation rental on the Mckenzie River, Oregon

A cozy, very private cottage for rent by the Mckenzie River between Eugene and Bend, Oregon. This site also gives you good suggestions for things to do while there. If you are adventurous, a white-water rafting trip on the McKenzie is a blast.

I visited this house when they were first building and sat in the natural, spring-fed hot tub late one night. It is a lovely spot.

Belknap Hot Springs

Belknap (Foley) Hot Springs is a commercial hot spring along the McKenzie River Drive. This privately owned spot has a large, outdoor, spring-fed pool with 2 sections: hot and hotter. You can stop in for a soak but call for their hours. It is especially fun at night when the stars are out. You may also rent a funky cabin or trailer/tent space there, but it is the pools that are the highlight.

Best Hot Springs and Trails of Oregon

This page will give you a well-arranged listing of the best public hot springs in Oregon with ratings. There are several of them on the McKenzie River Drive. Check them out here. You should know that some are popular for nude bathing and may be a bit of a walk, but quite the classic Oregon experience.

Sahalie Falls, McKenzie River, Oregon

Don’t miss Sahalie Falls which is very easily accessed when driving up the Mckenzie toward Bend. Look for it on your left. It is a short walk out of the parking lot to see the falls. Find the trail which leads downriver to another falls. It is a sweet and magical trail.

Central, Oregon

After heading up the McKenzie River Drive you will pass through Sisters, Oregon, and eventually reach Bend, in what is called Central Oregon. This is a good jumping-off place for many adventures.

Sisters, Oregon

Sisters, Oregon events, recreation, art galleries, dining, and accommodations. This has a very good listing of cabins, cottages, and resorts. Sisters is a fun, little, artsy community with quite a few events in the summer–all of them listed here.

Bend, Oregon

Bend is located in Central Oregon in what is called the high desert area. You will find very good winter skiing there, resorts and great restaurants. You can find Bend, Oregon lodging and food or events and activities at this official Visitors and Convention Bureau site.

Bend, OR Visitors Guide
Bend, OR Travel Guide

Smith Rock Park

A popular area for rock face climbing, Smith Rock is also a great place for an interesting hike. It is a beautiful area offering climbing, hiking, and mountaineering. This site is a great resource of information for outdoor recreation in the area with detailed rock climbing routes, weather and route conditions, photo gallery, climbing videos, state park and camping information, an online store, and chat area for rock climbers at Smith Rock, Oregon. You can reach Smith Rock Park from either Sisters or Bend.

The High Desert Museum

This relatively small but modern and delightful museum is just on the outskirts of Bend is well worth a visit.

The Three Sisters

These “mountains” which you will see in the distance on your way to Bend are semi-active volcanoes. Here is some information about them relating to their volcanic activity.

Sun River Resort

Not far at all from Bend is Sun River Resort where you can stay, eat, golf, and enjoy a number of outdoor adventures.

Warm Springs Nation

Warm Springs is a confederated tribal community of the Warm Springs, Wasco, and Palute. There is a resort with a casino–if you are into that kind of thing–a spa, shopping and they also have a very nice museum. It is about an hour and 30 minutes from Bend.

Crater Lake National Park

Not too far from Bend, really, or you could stop here on a swing back around to Eugene or on to another location. It is truly breathtaking. A stay here in the lodge is a delightful experience. See below.

Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake Lodge

When this lodge first re-opened in the 90″s, I stayed here in a room overlooking the lake. It is fantastic. The lake is so clear that the day before, a helicopter pilot hovering overhead had become disoriented and flew right into the lake thinking it was the sky.

Be sure to take the boat around the lake. It is a much different view than that from above on the rim: magical. It is a hike down to the lake edge and backs up, but it is worth it.

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

From Bend, you can head to the John Day Fossil Beds. I happened upon this park quite by accident, as it is not well known. There are several sections which are a good distance apart, but it is well worth a visit. In fact, I think it is stunning-especially the Painted Hills section, which is beautiful. It has always been empty of people every time I have been there, so it is peaceful and feels like you have stepped back in time to another world.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Located in the northern section of Southeastern Oregon, it is a bit isolated and the nearby towns are very small. One option, if you wanted to, would be to make a stop there on a trip between Portland and Bend, or you can spend several days driving around the area and camping.

John Day Fossil Beds

This is the official National Park Services site for the John Day Fossil Beds. Included in the park is a house with a small exhibit and information on the fossil formations. Each section of the park has a very unique feature or view. I have not even explored it all because it is so big.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

This site focuses on the fossils and the geology of the area and provides links to other sites, as well as providing an overall view of all formations in the US.

Steens Mountain & Malheur Wildlife Area

The least populated place in the US

Further out from Bend in Southeastern Oregon is Steens Mountain and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Just keep going. There is nothing for miles and you may feel sort of lost, but eventually, you reach French Glen. On your way there from Bend, check your map and watch for “Glass Butte”. You will find black and red obsidian just scattered about. It is easiest to find on a sunny day as it glistens in the light.

Malheur Wildlife Area
Malheur Wildlife Area

Frenchglen Hotel is a wonderful place to stay. It is a bed & breakfast style with shared bathrooms and family-style dinners which, when I was there, were really good. This corner of Oregon is the least populated in all the US and it shows. THE NIGHT SKY IS UNBELIEVABLE! I have never seen so many stars.

Steen Mountain at the right time of year is covered with wildflowers of every color and butterflies and bumblebees are dancing over the fields of blooms. The Malheur area is also well-known for fantastic birding.

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