The first time I came “through” Bend was in 2015 after my friend’s wedding in Washington. I stopped at Walmart (obviously), didn’t see much beyond your standard large American town and kept driving towards Madras. Apparently this was a mistake…but a mistake made up for by giving me the chance to spend a few days in the town.
I follow a handful of vloggers on YouTube, and one of them “Keep Your Daydream” (well worth watching their videos, they are a lot of fun) raved about Bend when they visited last year. Apparently I had completely missed something on my last trip through.
So, with their love of the town and their raves reviews in my head I had decided to give Bend a few days all to itself on this trip. And I’m glad I did.
I arrived in Bend Wednesday morning after getting a shower in Redmond and immediately followed the signs to the downtown area. I was amazed that I had missed such an amazing place last time, even though I could not then have given it the time it deserved.
My first stop (a must) was to the visitor center where I was given pamphlets for all the off-leash locations around town for dogs, sheets for several recommended hikes and the Bend Ale Trail guide. So much to do, so little time.
Bend, Oregon is famous for its prevalence of great craft breweries and as such the tourism board has put together the Bend Ale Trail that highlights 16 of the microbreweries in the area. The aim is to visit each one and get them to stamp your Ale Trail guide in order to receive a prize at the end. You don’t have to drink at each one, but what is the point of doing an ale trail if you don’t sample the wares?
I wandered downtown briefly with an armful of papers, sheets and pamphlets but not everything was open and I headed back to the truck. With my stomach grumbling and an hour left on my free 2-hour parking I decided I would pause for an early lunch at McMenamins Old St Francis School Restaurant and Brew Pub. A decent plate of ravioli and a really good red ale is what got me started on the Bend Ale Trail with my first stamp.
With my belly full I went to check out the Old Mill District which is now a large outdoor shopping mall along the Deschutes River. It still retains much of its character and reminded me more of English downtown shopping areas than a US mall. Of course, being me, I had to check out REI…always a bad move if you have a credit card…and I walked out with two dog bowls and some extra tent stakes. (I realized I had bought the same dog bowls already and returned them later). From there we headed to one of the recommended dog parks which was unfortunately closed…we still went in anyway so the dogs could relieve themselves.
The day I arrived was also the first day of the summer’s Farmer’s Market and I wandered for a bit. It wasn’t large although I suspect it gets bigger as the summer goes on. I did find some raw frozen marrow bones for the dogs which were inexpensive and I got them one each.
By that time it was pretty warm and I did a little research online to find out which of the brew pubs on the ale trail had dog-friendly patios or gardens. So with a couple in mind, and bearing in mind where our chosen campsite for the night would be we checked out Crux Fermentation Project followed by 10 Barrel Brewing. Both beers were good but not as good as the red from the Old St Francis School.
Bend’s city limits reach almost to the edge of the national forest so it isn’t much of a drive to find a decent camping location. I took a chance on the first right turn I came to and found a decent, albeit slightly busy parking spot that I would use for the rest of my time in Bend. It had limited cell service but with as busy as I had been on my first day in the city I knew it wouldn’t be an issue.
I took the dogs for a long walk down to the creek where we ran into a few cyclists (Bend is very popular with mountain and road cyclists alike) and then headed back to the truck as dusk started to settle in.
My aim the following morning had been to hike Tumalo Falls, one of the recommended hikes I had been given, but I wasn’t loving the cold and most of the trails were closed to dogs…and the upper falls viewing platform was also closed due to a maintenance issue. So I enjoyed the view of the waterfall from the parking lot and then we headed back into town
We headed for Walmart to get some groceries, killed more time at one of the dog parks until it reached a decent hour to check out any one of the numerous brew pubs I still had to check out.
I started at Sunriver Brewing Co with a red ale that was one of their award winners…and it was pretty damn good. There was enough shade for the dogs, and the wait staff provided water for the dogs. Sitting in the shade was slightly chilly with the breeze…but better to tolerate that than to overheat, or worse yet drink hot beer.
From Sunriver I had no particular plan in mind but we paused at the river to let Kye and Cody have a little wander off-leash. Sadly it was pretty busy and I had to keep them close and under tight supervision. We didn’t stay long.
I had seen a used outdoor gear store earlier in the day and wanted to check it out. I pulled into the parking lot and inadvertently pulled into the same parking lot as another pub on the list, Immersion Brewing. It also had a patio and filled bowls of cold water for the dogs. I briefly checked out the outdoor gear store which didn’t have anything I needed, or wanted, and then grabbed the dogs to go have a beer. I loved that so many of these brew pubs were dog friendly.
By this time it had been a tough decision about which beer to order since I was only trying one per brewery and I had started to ask about the award winners at each place…can’t go wrong if you order the beer that has won awards. At Immersion I ordered their Little Fawn and it was definitely the best tasting beer I had had in a LOOONG time. It truly was amazing. I chatted with an older guy who also had his dog with him and who recommended which places he liked and which places to steer clear from.
From Immersion I headed to Good Life Brewing Company. It had a beer garden very reminiscent of English pub gardens but I had to go inside, without the dogs, to order a beer. A very kind older gentleman offered to hold them for me while I went an got a brew. As always they got lots of compliments when I got back.
I sat at one of the picnic tables while the dogs dozed and watched a game of cornhole being played by some middle-aged men. By this time a young kid had wandered over, with the normal inquisitiveness of a 2 year old, to pet the dogs. I nodded my consent to the worried parents and told them both Kye and Cody loved kids. It was a great evening spent chatting with the couple and watching the boy feed Kye and Cody with very bland Cheerio-wannabes (I asked the dad to check the ingredients for the dogs’ sake). It was a much needed social evening in the otherwise lonely life I lead on the road.
Farewells were made, the last few sips of warm beer were downed and I headed back to camp.
The next couple of days were spent doing much the same thing. On Friday I started at Monkless Brewing, a brew pub that specializes in Belgian-style ales only, and enjoyed the company of a very cute 10 week old puppy by the name of Meg. The beer was decent but not as good as I had tried at Sunriver and Immersion. We went to the dog park again (it was open this time) and wandered the massive 14 acres which was huge for a dog park.
A trip to Boneyard Beer was next although they only have a tasting room and serve only 4oz tasters. The first is free and they are a $ each after the first, or you can try all nine for $8. I tried four for $3. They were good but so far not the best, despite everyone telling me how good they were…maybe I just chose the wrong beer.
Boneyard was followed by Silver Moon Brewing who sadly had a cooling-system malfunction and the only beer available was one of two they had canned. The beer was good and the conversation with the very cute bartender was enjoyable, but sadly not my favorite place.
I paused in at Deschutes Brewing to get a stamp but did not stop for a beer as I was already familiar with their offering. I had already picked up their mixed 12-pack in stores when I was looking for beer to take to camp (and good beer tastes better warm than other cheap beer). The last stop of the day was Bend Brewing Company where another beer garden played host to myself, the dogs…and their apparent appeal…and I spent the evening talking with four lovely ladies from San Francisco who had come up for the weekend. At this point I was feeling the slight effects from the beer and took a short walk before driving back to camp.
The last day in Bend was spent buying a couple of pairs of new backpacking trail runners and returning the pair I had bought from REI. I like bright colors on my shoes and the REI pair just weren’t cutting it…too bland. I also checked out Dillon Falls, a rapids-like section of the Deshcutes River off the Cacades Lakes National Scenic Byway.
I had finished the Bend Ale Trail the day before and headed to the visitor center to claim my prize; a silicone beer mug and Bend Ale Trail window sticker (now in my windshield).
With not needing to fill the trail guide any more (I wouldn’t make the 16 for the “extra” prize) I decided to return to Immersion Brewing for another Little Fawn. Again it did not disappoint and I still think that it is one of my favorite beers of all time. I could have bought a case of the stuff. Another stop at another dog park and then onward to check out a couple of the breweries on the ale trail I hadn’t tried. I started at Worthy Brewing but wasn’t impressed; the beer was cold but nothing to rave about and the atmosphere just didn’t feel right for a craft brewery. The food looked decent though and they did permit dogs on the patio, and there were certainly a lot of them.
The last place I stopped was at the place that the guy with the dog at Immersion Brewing had said was “shit”. Well I’m glad I didn’t listen as the beer at Cacades Lakes Brewing Company was really good and I caved on my healthy-eating road-trip diet and ordered a fabulous cheeseburger. I also ordered a 6-pack of beer to go which sadly wasn’t as good as the beer I had ordered that was on tap.
And that, in all its alcoholic glory, is Bend. Beautiful scenery, wonderful and friendly people, great trails and outdoors possibilities, and most importantly SO MUCH GOOD BEER.
While the Bend Ale Trail was fun to follow there are many more craft brew pubs and micro breweries in Bend that I didn’t get the chance to check out, but several of the locals certainly recommended others in town that were better than those on the list. For atmosphere and beer gardens I loved Bend Brewing Company and Good Life Brewing the most. As far as beer went my preferences were for Immersion’s “Little Fawn”, Sunriver’s Award-Winning Red and Cascade Lakes IPA (of which I can’t remember the name).
There is so much more to Bend than beer of course but with only so much time and money to spare I made certain decisions about my priorities. I loved Bend and the people and it felt like a small town vs a large-ish city (90,000) since I focused on the downtown and Old Mill districts.