Family Fun Around Sunriver on Any Budget

Sunriver, Oregon teems with outdoor adventures and educational enrichment for your family’s summer. The area has something for everyone, from high flyers to budget travellers. As you’re planning (and saving) for your Central Oregon vacation, why not start with the freebies and work your way down the list? That way you’re sure to get the most bang for your buck.


Freebies

Hikes abound around Sunriver, including easy ones for younger kids or non-hardcore hikers. Benham Falls is a scenic and easy destination (though it’s not exactly a soaring cascade). The trail largely follows the river, so it’s pretty flat and laid-back. There’s a cute footbridge and dogs can come along if kept on-leash. The hike is an out-and-back, at 6.4 miles total with only 190 feet of elevation change. Further north along the river are lots more easy trails—just search “hiking” and watch the various trailheads pop up on Google Maps.

South of town, Anne’s Butte offers steeper trails and mountain biking options. It’s recently been closed to motor vehicles, but allows dogs. You can catch some great vistas of Mt. Bachelor from the west side, and you can try to interest the kids in the historic, WWII-era telegraph poles to be found here and there.
Without leaving town, the kids can enjoy a laid-back afternoon free of charge at Fort Rock Park. Extensive playground equipment, basketball, tennis and pickleball courts and picnic areas make this a great option. The tennis courts, however, require a Sunriver Homeowners’ Association pass.


Deals

Without driving too far or spending a fortune, you can enrich your family’s Sunriver vacation with all sorts of educational programming. The famed High Desert Museum (40 minutes away near Bend) has live rescued raptors and conservation education programs, an elaborate series of recreated ecosystems indoors that let kids explore the various ecological niches of the region, and a vivid historical section that brings the area’s histories of both Indigenous folks and settlers to life.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Observatory boasts the nation’s largest selection of publically-accessible telescopes, and is open both day and night. You can “stare all you want” at the sun through one of their safety scopes. Sunspots the size of our planet and other amazing features of our home star stand out. At night, there’s more to see and the schedule of guided cosmic tours starts at 9:00. The adjacent Sunriver Nature Center have summer camps where kiddos can spend their days “playing nature-based games, meeting live animals, crafting masterpieces, and exploring the forest and pond.”


Splurges               

More activities include Sunriver Stables. Sunriver Stables lets kids seven and up take horseback rides with their folks on their trail network. The package comes with instruction and a guide, and helmets are available. You save significantly on a longer ride: half an hour costs $45, an hour just $65 (a 28% cut to the per-hour). On Saturdays from 10:00 to 2:00, the littles aged two to six can ride too, on the Shetland ponies.

The Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic and Recreation Center (SHARC) is a one-stop shop for fun, with pool, water slides, hot tub, toddler area and lots of non-aquatic options as well. It falls in the “splurge” category only if you don’t rent a place with passes included, as many units at Cascara Vacation Rentals have. There are also lots of upsells at SHARC, from mini golf to bumper cars, but there are also play areas kids can enjoy for no extra fee. For the grownups, SHARC also hosts a summer concert series with performers ranging from local acts to luminaries like Melissa Etheridge.

Finally, for a much more wild and wooly aquatic experience, consider guided white-water rafting with Sun Country Tours. The Big Eddy Thriller is their most popular ride, and suitable for first-timers. Not surprisingly, you’ll have to sign away your guarantee of not dying, but fill out the waiver online and check-in will be a breeze (plus you probably won’t die). In addition to the tour fee, guides take action shots with professional waterproof cameras. The link to your moments of intrepid splashing will cost you an extra $35. Guides are also good at drawing your attention to natural features on the calmer stretches. Beaver dams, osprey nests and more cool critters have been sighted.

After all that activity, you and the kids will have worked up an appetite. There are a couple of grocery stores in the village for thrifty travellers who are cooking at their rentals. There are also a few restaurants, though nearby Bend offers a good deal more variety on this front. Skip the drive and ditch the kids for a round or two at Sunriver Brewing, or a cocktail at the waterfront’s Twisted River Tavern. The Brewery is a better bet for craft beers, though the Tavern has a decent list too. Cocktail-wise, you can get classics like a Mai Tai renamed “Sunriver Sunset” or a Hemingway Daquiri re-christened “Summer Breeze” for some reason. You can get something ditzy with peach schnapps, or something with less alcohol and more hipster cred like the marionberry puree, rosemary simple and prosecco spritz. Then you can weave your way home along Sunriver’s already-wavy roads, cough up for the sitter, and crash before your next big day begins.