Central Oregon Deserts

Pack a picnic, and take your family to these hotspots during your 2021 spring break in Sunriver, Oregon

Spring can be an interesting time of year for mountain towns: Businesses and tourism slows down, the weather is variable, and a collective quiet settles over our little community. What many people don’t know is that spring is actually the perfect time to visit these places. Who wouldn’t want lower prices, shorter wait times, and empty trails?

However, we all know that spring can pack a winter punch in areas like ours (in fact, it’s about to snow as we’re writing this). If you happen to be one of those people not on the spring skiing bandwagon, you might be wondering what else there is to do in Sunriver. Turns out, there are quite a few interesting warmer desert destinations only a short distance away. We’ve compiled a list of our favorites to add to your agenda for those less cooperative “spring” days: 

Fort Rock

Fort Rock is a stunning natural landmark that rises out of the flat desert topography in awe-inspiring fashion. It’s shaped in almost a full circle, giving it the look of a fort. The landmark is only a short 55 minutes from Sunriver and is free to visit. Once you arrive, you can walk out to the rock and begin exploring. You and your family can either follow the unmarked trails or easily climb over the rocks for off-path exploring. You could spend half a day checking out the unique natural scenery.

Things to know: 

  • If you’re bringing the family pet, leashes are required.
  • Lunch: There is a delicious Mexican restaurant in La Pine called Cinco De Mayo, a perfect stop on the way home for a burrito and a margarita. Their homemade tortillas are the best in Central Oregon!
  • If you have any family members with a fascination for the Old West, check out the Homestead Village Museum nearby, a collection of old deserted buildings.


Smith Rock

Smith Rock, probably the most famous desert destination in Central Oregon, is also less than an hour’s drive from Sunriver. It’s well known for its world-class rock climbing and scenery that you just have to see for yourself. Unlike Fort Rock, Smith Rock charges a small parking fee of $5. (Pro tip: Their machines only take cards, not cash.)

At Smith Rock, it is recommended that your family stay on the trails, unless of course, they’re top-roping some rocks. For hiking, you can find a trail to suit any level of difficulty, from the seven-mile Summit Loop to the half-mile North Point Trail

Things to know: 

  • Leashes are required.
  • The closest nearby restaurant is Terrebonne Depot, or you can check out a number of breweries in Redmond, Oregon, another nearby town.
  • Prepare to be winded: The climb out of the state park is no easy feat. Make sure you move slow and stop for breaks if needed.


The Badlands

Perhaps a lesser-known desert destination is the Central Oregon Badlands Wilderness, a short 35-minute drive from Sunriver. This large Bureau of Land Management property consists of nearly 30,000 acres and countless activities. One of the most popular trails is the six-mile Flatiron Rock Trail, but don’t let that intimidate you — the total elevation gain is only 60 feet! 

There are several attractions to making the six-mile trek: The Cascade Mountain scenery is breathtaking, the caves are fascinating to explore, and perhaps the most interesting, the Native Americans left hints of their camps behind with old drawings and fire pits under the overhanging rocks. 

Things to know:

  • This area looks mountain-bike friendly but the trails are not.
  • There’s no fee to enter the area.
  • Leashes are not required. 
  • Pack a picnic; you’re likely to be gone longer if you decide to hit the Flat Iron Rock Trail, and there isn’t much civilization nearby.

The Painted Hills

The Painted Hills is a bit more of a trek than the others, but it’s more than worth the journey. According to Travel Oregon, the scenery is one-of-a-kind: 
“The hills get their name from the delicately colored stratifications in the soil and the yellows, golds, blacks and reds of the Painted Hills are best seen in the late afternoon. Tones and hue may appear to change from one visit to another, as the claystones differ with ever-changing light and moisture levels.”
There are several trails for you and your family to explore. Many opt to either do one long trail or a series of shorter ones that allow them to see more of the park. Spring is a great time to visit this area, as visitors are likely to spot growing wildflowers.

Don’t forget to stop and check out the fossilized leaves!

Things to know: 

  • You’ll want to fill up on gas before making the trip, as you won’t have a lot of opportunities to fill up on the way.
  • Pack a picnic; this one is an all-day journey.
  • There’s no fee to enter this area.
  • Pets must be on leashes at all times.

There you have it, our top desert destinations for your 2021 spring break vacation in Sunriver, Oregon. Don’t forget to visit our website when you’re ready to book your short-term rental!