If there’s one thing to know about Bend, Ore., it’s that the city loves the outdoors. Hiking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, cycling and even windsurfing and kiteboarding — they’re all considered sports, and almost everybody does one.
I quickly learned this upon my arrival to the “outdoor playground of the West,” located in the heart of central Oregon. The friendly mountain town was my arrival city from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and just one stop during my food-, drink- and outdoor excursion-filled Pacific Northwest vacation. With warm and sunny summers that stretch well into September, the month of my visit, my destinations provided both outdoor adventure and luxurious restoration — and eventually, utter indulgence during the Feast Portland food and wine festival, a well-timed pit stop on the way home.
The Deschutes River flows through downtown Bend, and outdoor enthusiasts — runners, kayakers, cyclists and more — are always either in the water or alongside it, even at 10 a.m. on a Thursday. I was in town to partake in an outdoor excursion of my own via Wanderlust Tours, an outfitter that specializes in guided trips in Bend, Sunriver and Sisters, Ore. In the summer and fall, trip options include canoeing, kayaking, cave exploration and volcano sightseeing (the city is largely built on the remains of centuries-old volcanic activity), and in the winter and spring, guided snowshoeing.
A 45-minute drive from Bend along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway afforded postcard-perfect views of the Three Sisters mountains along with glassy waters that reflected a cloudless sky. Our shuttle arrived at hidden Hosmer Lake, one of several lakes in the vicinity, for a serene, exertion-free canoe trip. Crystal-clear water served as a giant mirror for the 9,000-foot Mount Bachelor — an ancient, snow-capped volcano that’s the youngest in the Three Sisters mountain region.
I paddled through turquoise water that looked like that of a tropical sea yet was completely still, cool and refreshing to the touch. Native trout swam at least 10 feet below, and several fly fishermen floated on rafts that resembled recliners. Others waded in shallower areas. The peaceful jaunt was invigorating, almost as much as my spa experience at Sunriver Resort the afternoon before.
Located at the base of the Cascade Mountains and about 15 miles south of Bend, Sunriver Resort offers 3,300 acres of beautiful land that winds along the eastern side of the Deschutes River. The area was once the site of Camp Abbot, a World War II training facility. Guests can stay in 212 recently refreshed rooms and suites that feature fireplaces and private decks, along with 33 spacious luxury guestrooms and nearly 300 vacation homes and condos available for rent or purchase. The community has a population of 1,700, but that number can swell to 20,000 during peak vacation season in the summer.
When I arrived to my guestroom, a bicycle, helmet and property map awaited just outside my door. I used them all to make my way to Sage Springs Spa, the resort’s luxurious wellness facility, which offers therapeutic treatments using healing botanicals. My detoxifying body scrub and wrap, like all of the spa’s body treatments, began with a vigorous dry-brush exfoliation to remove dead skin cells, increase circulation and assist the lymphatic system in detoxification. I was then rubbed with oil, herbs and Moroccan clay before experiencing a heavenly scalp massage while my body was tightly cocooned in linens. The treatment ended with a firming warm oil massage.
While guests can enjoy guided horseback rides, paddleboarding, tennis, golf on four courses, cycling on more than 40 miles of winding trails, and a new swimming and outdoor recreation facility, I only had interest in finding a taste of local fare at Carson’s American Kitchen, the resort’s seasonally-driven restaurant concept overlooking the pine forests of Sunriver. Menu highlights included forest-foraged mushrooms, local ale beer-battered halibut and pan-seared Muscovy duck. Wine enthusiasts know Oregon is renowned for pinot noir, and several estates, including many from the state’s prestigious Willamette Valley, are represented on the restaurant’s extensive wine list. So is craft beer, including those from the popular Deschutes Brewery in Bend. And craft cocktails are mixed with local fruit, such as tangy marionberries and huckleberries.
Thanks to Sunriver’s remote location, stargazing is ideal. Even without a telescope, shooting stars and floating satellites were visible in the inky black sky. An expert from the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory led an exploratory session under the stars, resulting in identification of nebulae, galaxies and even planets — including Saturn, which was recognizable by its characteristic rings.
Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Wash., is just minutes from the steel-truss Bridge of the Gods made famous by the 2014 Reese Witherspoon film Wild. Rooms here come with a view of the lush forests of the Cascade Mountains or the Columbia River Gorge, where Lewis and Clark once trekked on their Pacific Northwest exploration two centuries ago. The Cascadian-style lodge is modern yet majestic and offers a rare front-row seat to one of the nation’s most beautiful natural wonders in the Gorge, where locals and guests fly-fish for sturgeon, salmon and steelhead, as well as windsurf, kiteboard, kayak, climb, hike, bike and whitewater raft.
During my stay, I opted for waterfall-hopping along the nearby Historic Columbia River Highway, where I traveled the winding road with a tour guide to navigate five different falls cascading over the walls of the Gorge. While Multnomah Falls, the second-highest year-round waterfall in the nation, plummeting more than 600 feet, is the most popular with tourists, my favorite was Latourell Falls for its soft flow, misty conditions and bright green lichen-covered basalt formations at the base. The waterfall is barely visible from the highway but worth the short, fairly steep hike. Listening to its gentle gush and tranquil atmosphere was one my vacation’s most memorable moments.
So was my Pacific Northwest-inspired dinner at the Cascade Dining Room, Skamania’s main restaurant, which offers floor-to-ceiling window views of the Gorge and sources the majority of its produce and proteins from within 50 miles of the property. The region is home to the Hood River County Fruit Loop, a 35-mile scenic drive offering orchards, farmlands, produce stands and markets rich with local bounty.
I drank Oregon pinot noir and indulged on seared Columbia River steelhead finished with lemon and high-quality sea salt from Portland-based Jacobsen Salt Co. The dish was a close tie to the hearth oven-roasted wild forest mushrooms, which were tossed with shallots, garlic and fresh thyme and served in a skillet as an appetizer. Dessert was enjoyed by Skamania’s popular outdoor fire pit, where I roasted ready-made s’mores, packaged and sold at the lodge complete with graham cracker-sandwiched marshmallows, a Hershey’s chocolate bar and a long skewer.
Guests can also dine off-property at the nearby Walking Man Brewing, a brewpub and beer garden popular with locals and Columbia River Gorge travelers. The brewery’s black cherry stout, big with chocolate and coffee notes, helped wash down my savory, wood-fired Thai peanut chicken pizza, which came doused in house-made peanut sauce.
Multiple marked trails amid lush Douglas fir trees surround the Skamania property, which provided for perfect morning hikes to walk off all of the satisfying cuisine. On-site zip-lining is also available along with a challenging 18-hole, par-70 golf course tucked in the resort’s 175 wooded acres. There is rarely snowfall at Skamania, which means outdoor activity is prevalent year-round.
A Pacific Northwest vacation shouldn’t end without dining and imbibing through Portland, widely recognized as a top food city in the country. And if time is limited, there’s no better way to taste the town than at Feast Portland (officially titled Bon Appétit Presents Feast Portland: A Celebration of Oregon Bounty), the Pacific Northwest’s four-day flagship food and drink festival held in September. Events are numerous and range from the Sandwich Invitational kickoff party to the Night Market at Portland’s Zidell Yards, where festival-goers can watch the sun set over the Willamette River while tasting some the country’s best Thai and Vietnamese street food along with urban fare from Myanmar to Mexico. At the event’s Grand Tasting, I sipped local wine and beer and nibbled on salmon cakes, marionberry tartlets, butter-brushed crostinis with local tomatoes and pistachio-topped local ice cream.
Before my departure back to DFW, I somehow managed to squeeze in stops at Andy Ricker’s nationally-acclaimed Thai restaurant Pok Pok for his famous caramelized chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar; Olympia Provisions for Spanish charcuterie, fried almonds and ricotta-topped spaetzle; and heavenly handmade pasta at Lincoln Restaurant, where I tucked into tallow spaccatini, saffron gnocchi and buckwheat fettuccine by Portland standout chef Jenn Louis.
Portland is also famous for Voodoo Doughnut, an independent shop known for unusual flavors, iconic pink boxes and very long lines. But I found Blue Star Donuts, made with cage-free eggs and European-style butter, to be superior in taste, quality and varieties, which included raspberry pistachio, Meyer lemon and Key lime curd.
Even in the bustling metropolis of downtown Portland, outdoor action was prevalent. Bike lanes are painted green for high visibility and are well-used by cycling enthusiasts and business folk alike. The Willamette River is alive with water sport activities, and joggers and walkers pack the urban streets and sidewalks.
Oftentimes, vacationing can result in miserable overindulgence, but in the Pacific Northwest, the beautiful surroundings and opportunities for outdoor activity help counterbalance any gluttony. And a refreshed feeling upon return is a priceless souvenir.
Where to Stay
Where to Eat
Walking Man Brewing, 240 S.W. First St., Stevenson, Wash., 509-427-5520, www.walkingmanbeer.com. Pok Pok, 3326 S.E. Division St., Portland, 503-232-1387, www.pokpokpdx.com. Olympia Provisions, 1632 N.W. Thurman St., Portland, 503-894-8136, and 107 S.E. Washington St., Portland, 503-954-3663, www.olympiaprovisions.com. Lincoln Restaurant, 3808 N. Williams Ave., Portland, 503-288-6200, www.lincolnpdx.com. Blue Star Donuts, Multiple locations throughout Portland, www.bluestardonuts.com.
What to Do
Wanderlust Tours, 61535 S. Oregon 97, Bend, 541-389-8359, www.wanderlusttours.com. Martin’s Gorge Tours, Columbia River Gorge Waterfall Walking Tours, 503-349-1323, http://www.martinsgorgetours.com. Feast Portland, Sept. 15-18, Tickets on sale in May, http://www.feastportland.com.