It’s always important to eat a good doughnut before hiking.
When said with authority, almost anything can sound like sage advice. Lift with your back, carb load before swimming, go see Let’s Be Cops. And sure, eat a maple glazed old fashioned from Luvs Donuts mere moments after setting forth from our hotel in downtown Bend, trail shoes knotted up, backpack full and an eagerness to continue our Oregon hiking adventure.
But please, look at that picture. Go ahead. Contain the drool. The Oreos, the Butterfinger, the Maple Bacon if you’re so inclined. Cliff Bars be damned, Sarah’s advice at this particular moment seemed like the only sensible way to start our hike along the Deschutes River through Bend, its Old Mill District and onward south through multiple parks and however far the trail would take us.
If you’ve never heard of Bend, you’re certainly not alone. It was news to us when a colleague suggested we stay there after visiting Crater Lake. Yet, it’s not hyperbole when I write that I instantly fell in love with this town of 76,000 in Central Oregon when we emerged from the surprisingly lively downtown, the corner of our lips spackled in maple, to view Mirror Pond for the first time. This placid stretch of the dammed Deschutes River is reminiscent of the Cotswolds in England – a broad, grassy park on the near bank, meticulous but not ostentatious homes on the far bank, all draped in the weeping green of the trees above. It was like stepping into a painting.
Eventually, the trail that makes it way along Mirror Pond through Drake Park transitions into neighborhood streets before re-emerging along something far more river-like. There’s another meticulous park to make your way through with yet another on the opposing bank filled with families, and these are but a tip of the iceberg of this outdoor paradise for those loath to spend Bend’s 300 days of annual sunshine inside binge-watching Netflix.
As we made our way through the grassy lawn of Tumalo Creek Kayak and Canoe Rentals, a large, beige building loomed across the river and atop a hill. The unmistakable smell of beer being brewed carried in the wind. This would be the Deschutes Brewery, the biggest and most famous of 19 craft breweries that call Bend home. If you think that’s a lot, it’s because it is, and it makes this town an absolute must-visit for any beer-loving couple. (We count ourselves in that group, and having tried only five of those 19 during this trip, we certainly have unfinished business in Bend.)
Next along our river hike was the Old Mill District, an area once home to a sprawling lumber mill complex that has been taken over by an outdoor mall. Authentic it is not, but the locals deserve their own Banana Republic just as you and I do. Across the river is another large park and the Les Schwab Amphitheater where the annual Bend Brewfest takes place along with outdoor concerts, including those of Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson just days earlier (the wind those nights must have carried rather different aromas).
Adjacent to it is Riverbend Park, home to a sprawling dog park that includes a strip of riverfront devoted to letting your four-legged friends take a leap into the slowly flowing Deschutes and swim about after tossed tennis balls. This friendliness to the K9 persuasion is another Bend calling card, as Dog Fancy magazine named it DogTown USA back in 2012. Indeed, everywhere you go there are dogs – especially on the outdoor patios of the oh-so-many brewpubs and other restaurants.
As a recap, Bend has offered us doughnuts, unlimited beer, idyllic scenery, 300 days of sunshine, a mall and the perfect place for our Destination42 office assistants to visit for themselves. It’s a miracle we didn’t cancel our hike and head to the nearest real estate office.
The hike did continue, though, and we started to notice that walking isn’t the only means by which people make their way up the river. Besides kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding has become quite popular in Bend thanks to the easy flow of the Deschutes. We witnessed a pair of newbies learning the ropes (er, paddle?) almost instantly, while one veteran decided to bring a buddy along for the adventure. Dog friendly, indeed.
With a turn in the river, though, we left behind the final riverfront park (fittingly known as Farewell Bend Park) and the town itself for all intents and purposes, continuing along the Deschutes River Trail. This 1.2-mile dirt path makes its way along the river, meandering amongst trees and up onto bluffs that provide wonderful views of the gentle rapids below (the kayaking and paddle boarding essentially stops where the trail begins). Its proximity to town clearly makes it a favorite for locals when exercising, as we passed several joggers and vigorous walkers taking advantage of the trail. I can’t imagine the sale of treadmills is too robust in Bend.
Eventually, the trail comes to its conclusion at a footbridge across the Deschutes, where it meets up with a mirror trail on the west side of the river. From here, it was another four miles back from whence we came, making for a total hike of eight miles and a hard-earned round of ales at the popular Deschutes Brewery Public House in downtown Bend.
Now, we did briefly consider returning by way of a far easier route, while partaking in what is clearly a Bend past time – lazily floating in the Deschutes in an inner tube. Families or groups of friends drop themselves in the river upstream, and cling onto each just as they would at the lazy rivers of a water park or large resort pool. Except this is the ultimate lazy river, which apparently doesn’t stop folks from bringing along a beer or even texting friends elsewhere while floating solo (and not especially concerned with dropping their phone into the water). There is even a bus service that will cheaply drive you back to points upstream.
As appealing as that was, however, we are not the floatists. Perhaps another time. And there WILL be another time, for you don’t fall in love with a place and not return … and return quickly. Besides, that maple glazed old fashioned was just too damn good.
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