Top 8 Free (or nearly!) Summertime Activities

Ah, summertime in Central Oregon: there’s a ton of things to do, but not everything comes cheap. So I got to thinking about what does come cheap, and compiled a list: The Top 8 Free Activities. Or Nearly Free. Basically, I’m listing things that you can do in or around Bend with a minimum of expense and driving, and without requiring any special equipment and gear.

In no particular order:

  1. Climb Pilot Butte. Do it for the exercise and the scenery! The trailhead access is on the east side of the Butte, and there are two trails to choose from: the nature trail and the paved road. From the top of Pilot Butte the view of Bend and the surrounding area is spectacular.
  2. Float the river. Put in the water at just below the Bill Healy Bridge (Reed Market Road) at Farewell Bend Park and enjoy a leisurely trip through the Old Mill District and towards downtown. Be sure to avoid going under the Colorado Street bridge—there were several drownings there last year.
    • The Bulletin has a short article about this, including a "Plan your Float" list and a map of the floatable area that shows stops for the "Ride the River" bus.
    • This isn’t entirely free—you’ll need to shell out for an inner tube or other type of flotation device (if you don’t already have one). However, various flotation toys can be had at the box stores for relatively cheap, and Les Schwab sells a heavier-duty inner tube for $17.50. On the plus side, you can use this over and over throughout the summer, so it’s money well spent if you get out on the river a lot. You’ll still have to provide the air—or cough up a quarter or two at a gas station for it.
  3. Munch and Music. Every Thursday evening from mid-July through mid-August, head down to Drake Park to listen to free music. There’s also arts and craft vendors to check out and plenty of food booths (but ya gotta pay for that).
  4. Munch and Movies. Just like Munch and Music—only you see a free movie, it’s on Friday nights, and located in McKay Park. These run from mid-August through mid-September, picking up after Munch and Music winds down.
  5. Bicycling/mountain biking. C’mon, everyone has a bike, right? Bend is a really bike-friendly town: not only is it nice to ride around the town itself (downtown, "old town," and the westside in particular), but there’s a multitude of choices for trails and bike routes if you have a mountain bike. The Deschutes River Trail ($5 Day Pass), Phil’s Trail (free), and the Swampy Lakes Loop (free) are just a few examples. Want more local biking resources? Check out
  6. Go caving. Whether it’s the caves off of China Hat Road or the Lava River Cave, there will be a bit of driving for this activity.
    • Lava River Cave: $5 for the Day Pass. Bring your own light (or pay an additional $3 to rent one). Perfect way to beat the summer heat—in fact, bring a jacket! It’s a constant 40-45 degrees inside the cave, which runs for over a mile underground. It’s located 12.5 miles south of Bend on Highway 97 (one mile past Lava Lands Visitor Center).
    • China Hat Road Caves: These are closer to Bend than the Lava River Cave, and don’t require a Day Pass (ie, free). But they are harder to find and you absolutely have to bring your own light. The caves are Arnold Ice Cave, Skeleton Cave, Boyd Cave, and Wind Cave, all located off China Hat/Forest Road 18 approximately six miles southeast of town. Skeleton Cave may be inaccessible, however; in 2005 the Forest Service removed the staircase due to vandalism. Also be aware that these caves are bat habitats.
  7. Take the Heritage Walk. Ever been wandering around downtown and noticed the historical marker plaques for certain buildings and houses? Well, the Deschutes County Historical Society has a booklet they’ve published that lays out a self-guided walking tour of these historical sites. Each of the more than 40 historic sites is detailed in the booklet along with a map of their locations—plenty to space this out over several days or weeks, and enjoy seeing a fair amount of older Bend. The Heritage Walk booklet is available from the Society for $3, or you can try to check out the Library’s copy for free.
  8. Free Summer Sundays Concerts at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. Every Sunday from June through August, the Les Schwab Amphitheater hosts free concerts. Shows start at 2:30, gates open at 1:00. Their website sums it up nicely:

    Bring your sweetheart, kids, puppies (on leashes), friends or just yourself and enjoy a sunny afternoon of world-class music. Bring your own picnic or stop by one of our great food vendors, or the Sidelines Sports Bar family-friendly beer garden for a cold cerveza. Kids must be accompanied by a parent or guardian to enter.

Is this an ultimate list? Not hardly! I was originally shooting for 10 things, but ran into blogger’s block coming up with two more and wanted have this posted before summer was over. Other cool things I missed, or comments on what I’ve picked? Discuss below.

6 thoughts on “Top 8 Free (or nearly!) Summertime Activities

  1. Two indoor suggestions, when it’s too hot outside and you don’t have A/C at home.

    9. The movie theater at the Old Mill has free "Family" movies on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (

    10. Go to the library! It’s air conditioned and relatively quiet. There organized activities for the kids and lots of windows so you can curl up with a book and enjoy the sunshine but not the heat.

  2. Thanks Jen, I was going to say he left off the FREE MOVIES! (too bad for a few weeks we have swimming and can’t be in 2 places at once)

  3. Swim at the local pool. Juniper pool is not free but it’s cheap and the new digs are super fun for little kids.

    Swim in the river(s). Kids also like ‘swimming’ in the Deschutes at any of a number of local parks, but watch out for goose dung in the grassy areas. I hear Tumalo State Park is a good place to swim, too, but I haven’t been there yet. If it’s really hot, Shevlin Park is a great place because Tumalo Creek is excrutiatingly cold there.

    You could also: hunt for petroglyphs; climb a mountain; or visit the High Desert Museum (get a season pass before they raise prices!)

  4. One drowning. There was one drowning because of the Colorado Street spillway last year.

    Not several.

  5. Just one drowning last year? I could’ve sworn there were two or three, unless I’m thinking of alcohol-related (and not bridge-related) drownings, or I’m going across several previous years…

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