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Family Activities in Sunriver & Bend, Oregon

This is the second of three posts about our recent Family Vacation in Sunriver & Bend, Oregon. Sarah and her family were guests of the Central Oregon Visitors Bureau. Please read the first in the series, which is a detailed review of Sunriver Resort and the area around Bend, and stay tuned for the third one, coming next week, which will be a review of the dining and drinking options we found in Bend, Oregon.

Bend Oregon Family Vacation

Family Time on Vacation

There is nothing like a vacation for being able to play together as a family. No work deadlines or school homework to get in the way, this is a time when families can all have the same agenda and experience life at the same pace. Our trip to Central Oregon was an amazing opportunity to learn and play as a family and we loved it. Here’s a rundown of all the activities we experienced there.

High Desert Museum

High Desert Museum Bend, Oregon

This is a gem of a place, filled with helpful, informative people who are there to explain the natural history of the area, as well as dioramas and exhibits designed to enlighten. Turns out the Oregon High Desert gets less rain annually than Los Angeles, on average (although of course they get much more snow than we do). I can personally attest to the dryness, since I felt the need to moisturize quite often while we were there. Since we’ve been home, by comparison, Los Angeles has felt almost humid.

The Museum hires docents dressed up as people who would have lived in the area at the time when the area was first settled by loggers. We met a certain village doctor, who “examined” my husband in the log cabin that was milled on site at the working mill that still exists.

High Desert Museum collage - Bend, Oregon
raptor collage at High Desert Museum Bend, Oregon

And the daily raptor show is not to be missed: we saw owls, vultures and a falcon right up close, and they swooped right by us. We were all pretty impressed, even my teenager.


Biking is huge in Central Oregon, and you will see serious cyclists all along the roadways wherever you go. But it’s a family affair as well and the Deschutes river provides many scenic vistas to bike along, as well as protected paths so even the least experienced rider will feel safe.

We rented bikes at the Sunriver resort and rode around beside the gorgeous river for about an hour, which was a great start to our day one morning. The bikes were available for longer rentals, even to those not staying at the resort – and of course if you’ve brought your own, which many people driving in have done, you’ll save a few dollars there.

biking sunriver collage

Kayaking in Cascade Lakes with Wanderlust Tours

We were treated to an afternoon pretty far outside our comfort zone when we joined Wanderlust Tours and followed our earnest and knowledgable guide Jared up to Sparks Lake and into a couple of 2-person kayaks.

We were complete novices, having never been in a kayaks before, and we were possibly unreasonably nervous about capsizing. But Jared assured us we would be not only safe from falling into the lake but also that it would be very easy to get the hang of paddling, and I have to say we did pick up pretty quickly. No unanticipated swimming for us that day.

And it’s a major ab workout, by the way. Who knew? The way you sit in the kayak and have to hold yourself up, as well as the side-to-side paddling required got us at least an inch closer to those six-pack abs we are all working on.

On top of everything else, the setting was amazing. Just take a look at the snow-capped mountains in the background, and take my word that that water was crystal clear, apparently being fed by a glacier. Just about as far away from Los Angeles as we could get as a family, literally as well as figuratively.

kayaking with Wanderlust Tours in Bend, Oregon


Central Oregon is located along the Pacific Rim Ring of Fire, the volcanoes and tectonic plates/faults ringing the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Alaska and into Oregon. Mt Bachelor, Broken Top, North, South and Middle sister are all part of the Cascade mountain range, and are all (luckily dormant) volcanoes. Near Sunriver there’s a National Volcanic Monument called Lava Lands built around a cinder cone known as Lava Butte. There are hiking trails all through the lava, and just a few miles down the road there are hiking trails to waterfalls on the Deschutes River. We hiked to Benham Falls, which was just a ½ miler and all flat, right up our alley.

There are longer trails as well, so if your family is up for more, you can hit those as well or instead. Bonus? Plenty of rock skipping potential along this river.

panorama view from lava butte, sunriver, Oregon

SHARC Water Park

As soon as it’s warm enough, people in Sunriver and Bend head to SHARC water park. It’s a beautiful facility with a lazy river (my favorite pool invention ever), two water slides (one for inflatables and one for swimmers only), a family pool only 1 foot deep, and a large pool for everyone with a beach entry, perfect for the little ones. There’s also a hot tub, an indoor pool, a snack bar and swim shop to round out the facility, with a park & seating area next door, making it a place families could come and spend all day.

My only complaint about SHARC is there was not enough shade available, which would really help on a hot day, not to mention it would help protect everyone from sunburns.

SHARC collage - Sunriver Oregon


Golf has become a family affair, and after the kids and I took our first lesson at the Lakes in El Segundo a few weeks ago, we’ve been hooked and ready to try a round of the real thing. So when they said we could play at Caldera Links, we jumped at the chance. I will say this: we had tons of fun playing on this very reasonably-sized course, because this is what we did not do: play well. Which is fine, of course, since we are still learning. But boy are we amateurs! If any real golfers were watching us, I apologize for how we butchered your sport. But like I said, we had fun.

golfing sunriver, oregon

Other activities

Other options in the area include horseback riding and pony riding, white water rafting along the Deschutes, rock climbing, flying lessons and glider flying, and, like any tourist town, there’s also shopping to do at either the factory store Outlet Mall or at the many boutiques in Bend – both in downtown and in the Old Mill District, which is a super cute upscale shopping and dining destination.

Sunriver and Bend, Oregon offer many family activities, virtually ensuring that you’ll be able to spend time as a family doing something other than looking at the same TV screen. We all enjoyed ourselves and we highly recommend visiting.

Sarah Auerswald is the co-Founder of She and her family traveled as guests of the Central Oregon Visitors Bureau; the lodging, some activities and some meals were comped and the rest they paid for themselves.

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julie strobeck

Saturday 28th of May 2022

Hello I'm visiting sunriver in August can anyone visit sharc

Sarah Auerswald

Sunday 29th of May 2022

Have a great trip! It looks like they have General Admission tickets for sale:

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