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Best Vacation Spots In Central Oregon SunRiver

Vacation Destination: Sunriver in Central Oregon

Going on vacation means going to a place where you can totally relax. Preferably, vacationing means that you have everything you need right there. 

Some of the best vacations I've ever had are the ones where you don't have to run here and there but you can actually just stay put.  You can go out if you want to but you don't have to go from point A to point B to enjoy yourself or find things to do. Vacation destination Sunriver in Central Oregon is one of these places. 

From the first time I read about this 'resort' and decided to spend our family vacation there in 1995 to the present time, I would recommend this self-contained community which is located in the heart of Central Oregon to anyone from 2 to 92. 

You can't find a better place for things to do, sights to see and overall peace and quiet.  It doesn't hurt that it is set in some of the most beautiful country in the United States.  

All photos by Audrey Kirchner

All photos by Audrey Kirchner

About Sunriver Oregon

Sunriver, Oregon consists of roughly 3,300 acres set in and around the Deschutes National Forest of Central Oregon.  This is a private planned resort community about 15 minutes south of Bend and on the eastern side of the Deschutes River

Sunriver proper consists of residential areas combined with recreational facilities such as the Sunriver Resort and a commercial town square known as Sunriver Village Mall. 

Within the Sunriver Village Mall, one can find realty companies, restaurants and a bakery, various businesses and retail shops.  There are at least a dozen vacation home rental agencies within Sunriver. 

There is also a recreation center called Mavericks where you can find a café, rock climbing wall, cardio and weight gym, a 4-lane swimming pool and flowrider, kids pool and splash fountains. 

There is also a spa associated with Sunriver Resort called Sage Springs. 

Sunriver Resort and Mavericks also have meeting facilities and are known statewide for their great convention facilities. 

The permanent population is roughly 1700 (with over 4200 single homes and condos)  but many of the homes in Sunriver are rentals and at any given time, especially during peak vacation times of the year, the population is much greater.

Sunriver boasts 33+ miles of paved bike trails, a business park, an observatory, a marina, a small airport, stables and the mall.  It also is home to 2 swimming pools (North and South), 26 tennis courts, a sledding hill and amphitheater area, Fort Rock Park and Mary McCallum Park. 

The Mt. Bachelor ski area is 20-30 minutes from Sunriver. 

Sunriver also has three 18-hole golf courses and one 9-hole course.


Sunriver's History

Camp Abbot was a World War II training facility for combat engineers simulating a combat environment.  Present day Sunriver is located on ground that was originally Camp Abbot.  The US Army camp opened in 1942 but by June 1944, it was abandoned as a military base. 

The Great Hall was preserved and renovated from its previous state, that of the Camp Abbot Officers’ Club. 

The first condos were built in 1968 along with the Sunriver Lodge.  In 1969, developers began selling lots under the guidance of John Gray and Donald V. McCallum who named the area Sunriver.

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We vacationed in Sunriver for 9 years and have seen Sunriver in winter, spring, summer and fall.  I can honestly say that every season is wonderful there and we always found more than enough to do.

We rented through realtors.  There are at least a dozen vacation home rental agencies in Sunriver as well as being able to rent through Sunriver Resort.  Many of the homes in Sunriver are specifically designated by their owners as rental properties and many homes are actually second homes for their owners.

One might think that you would have to spend a fortune for a well maintained, clean home but in fact, we rented what were termed 'executive quality' homes because we had special needs like Internet access or large groups of people for reunions. 

These homes were quite reasonable and if you happen to be going with a group of people, a 5-bedroom 4-bath immaculate house renting for $250-300 per night is not that bad when you divide it into 5 equal parts for instance. 

The homes that we rented always came with bicycles free of charge and were fully decked out in terms of furniture, cooking utensils, bed and bath linens, etc. 

All have decks and deck furniture so you can soak up the beautiful Central Oregon sunshine and every one of them always had an outdoor hot tub.  One even had an indoor sauna. 

We have also rented condos at the golf course and they are likewise more than adequate for any occasion.  

The thing to remember is that you can get as fancy or upscale as you want in Sunriver or you can rent something on the low end and still end up with a beautiful place!

You can rent a room at the Sunriver Resort, any number of private homes, condos, and private cabins.  Or you can rent from any of the dozen plus realty listings for Sunriver that are easily found on the Internet. 

I have yet to know of anyone who had bad accommodations!  There are even many that are pet friendly and are immaculate.

Always ask about specials as many realty companies run them.  Sunriver is a very popular destination vacation spot any time of the year but there are also slow times and during those slow times, you can get some great bargains.  For instance one year, we ended up with 2 free nights of accommodation just because of the special that was running. 

Most accommodations also have free passes for the swimming pools and other perks that are thrown in.  Renting through Sunriver Resort will also get you onto the golf courses for a reduced rate and they always have specials that target golfing and their wonderful spa. 

Many Sunriver homeowners advertise their homes on youtube and elsewhere and you can take a virtual tour of the homes on-line.  Whatever your budget is, you can always find something you can afford in terms of Sunriver lodging.


Activities Within Sunriver

To list the activities at Sunriver takes a while!  There are 2 pools in Sunriver (the North and the South pools).  Everyone we have ever rented through in Sunriver has provided us with free passes to the pools.  This is a great activity for all ages and the weather in Sunriver except in winter is pretty great for swimming.  Pool closures are different depending on the weather but there is also an indoor swimming facility at Mavericks located within the community. 

Mavericks also boasts the wave rider which is a great surfing outing for kids and adults.  They also have a full gym and lots to do for the athletically inclined such as their wall climbing wall and the kids pool.

Biking is a huge favorite in Sunriver because of the 30+ miles of bike trails.  You can go forever in Sunriver and not see everything.  You can start out at one part of the community and end up out at the airport in relatively little time.  All the bike paths are paved and well marked.  There are even stopping points that have map pamphlets in them for your convenience.  There are trail marker signs every so often so you know which way to the village and which way to the airport for example.  The trails are well marked with regard to their traffic pattern which consists of circles.  For instance, you can go from circle 4 to circle 10 if you follow the map.

In winter months, if there is snow, you can use the paths and even some of the golf courses for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.  You can rent equipment in the village and this is a great way to stay put and just enjoy your surroundings without traveling far.  Snowshoeing or cross-country skiing within Sunriver is a great way to see the area.  We snowshoed one year down by the Deschutes River.  It was breathtaking with over 12 inches of new powder and a picture perfect landscape with freshly fallen snow and warm sun.

The stables at Sunriver are especially fun in the summertime where you can take group rides or schedule day trips up into the high country with a guide.  There are all levels of riding activities available at the stable from pony rides to overnight trips.  In the wintertime, they leave back some of their bigger work horses and you can go on sleigh rides.  Nothing is more beautiful than a sleigh ride through the snow! 

Sunriver Resort at the lodge puts on activities throughout the year from day camps for kids to tennis camps to special events throughout the holidays.  You can enjoy special seasonal dinners at the lodge without staying through the resort and just need to call for reservations.  The decorations at the lodge are worth a trip in at the holidays to see the beautiful light displays outside the lodge and the huge Christmas trees in the lobby!

You can catch a bus from Sunriver Resort and from other referral spots in town to Mt. Bachelor in winter so you don't have to drive up to the mountain.  Check with Sunriver Resort for times but it is a great way to go skiing without ever taking your car out of the parking lot!  Mt. Bachelor is famous for its great alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowboarding opportunities.  You can even go on a dogsled excursion through Trail of Dreams and they are available both in winter and summer.

In the summer and fall, there are raft trips galore; from nice-and-easy several hour trips down the Deschutes to more arduous trips such as the Big Eddy Thriller which takes on a Class 3 rapids.  You can check with companies like Sun Country Tours for more info on the river trips available but they are all highly praised and so much fun that you find yourself going back again even if you've done one.  They have overnight trips as well down other rivers and my sister and my daughter went on one several years ago and had the time of their life.

Central Oregon is a fly fishing heaven.  You can sign up for classes right in Sunriver and learn all that you need to know and more about fly fishing.  They provide equipment and transportation if you need it and can set up group lessons or individual lessons. Just regular fishing is great on the Deschutes River right in Sunriver and you can find ample good fishing spots all along the river.  Or you can just drift in your boat, raft or canoe and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the moment. 

Wildlife viewing and bird watching are 2 free activities that you can do in Sunriver to your heart's content.  From the deer that freely roam through the streets of Sunriver to the coyotes pouncing on voles for food out in the meadows to the bluebirds in all their glory landing on fence posts as you pedal by in summer to osprey and turkey vultures lining the Deschutes - it is a photo op waiting to happen every minute. 

The most spectacular views are the coyote pups playing with their mama or papa in the dead of winter on the snow or the bristly porcupine crossing the road, the only dark spot on the pure white terrain.  Or the horses from the stable running across the meadows in the early morning or late evening towards dusk in summertime.  It's a great pastime to just tour Sunriver in your car or on bike or foot looking for wildlife.  

In summertime, the Paulina Plunge is well worth the outing.  The tour company provides a bus ride to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument where you are tricked out with helmets and mountain bikes.  Then you cruise down the mountain roads and hike to 6 different waterfalls where you can play on the natural water slides and enjoy the day.  A boxed lunch is even provided if you order it. 

You can go on innumerable tours through a great company called Wanderlust Tours from snowshoeing under a full moon in the snow to Crater Lake tours to Newberry Volcanic National Monument. 

Golfing is synonymous with Sunriver and the Central Oregon area.  There are so many great golf courses in the area that it would take you weeks to play them all.  From the seasoned golfer to the novice, you won’t be disappointed with courses of all skill levels and all types of topography.  In Sunriver alone, you can golf at 4 different courses and never leave the community!  People actually fly in or drive to Sunriver for the weekend from Portland just for the golfing.  Golf lessons are also available through the resort for any level golfer.

There are also 2 parks within Sunriver that have loads of playground toys and ample picnicking facilities for families or large groups of people.  We have played baseball, soccer and basketball at the parks and also at the nearby school. 

In wintertime, the sledding hill is a very popular spot for kids of all ages and is a great way to spend a snowy day followed by a cup of hot chocolate in the village and a good soak in the hot tub afterwards.

Sunriver has its own observatory and also its own Nature Center located within the heart of the community.  Star gazing opportunities abound and it is a great place for kids to go and learn more about astronomy.  Likewise, the Nature Center is a great place to gather information about the Central Oregon area. 

For boating opportunities from row boats to rafts to stand-up paddle boards, check in at the marina and enjoy an outing on the beautiful Deschutes River.  You can also float the Deschutes or rent some of the other floating options and get a return trip to the marina by activity bus.  There is a point that you turn at along the Deschutes which takes you to a spot on the river where you are helped out of your raft or boat and then driven back to the marina. It doesn't get much easier than that!

Also in winter, there is an ice skating rink open in the Sunriver Village Mall.  This is a great way to have a family outing and enjoy the beautiful setting as well. 

Tennis anyone? With 26 tennis courts, you can always find some place to play tennis in Sunriver.  The courts are all in excellent condition and you can sign up for lessons as well.

If relaxation is what you are seeking, you've come to the right place at Sage Springs Spa.  Here, you can get everything from a hot stone massage to a pedicure and manicure.  Or try one of their body wraps. 

Sunriver is famous for its Music Festival each summer and throughout the year, there are many different goings on hosted at Sunriver.  Be sure to check out all the great opportunities for seeing programs or participating in such events as their car show.

Sunriver Oregon


Activities Outside Sunriver

About 15 minutes from Sunriver, you can drive south to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and see a live volcano. You can also climb to the top of the Paulina Volcano which is Paulina Peak where the view is unparalleled. You can see 3 states and innumerable topographic landmarks from California to Washington.

You can also visit the beautiful Paulina Lake or East Lake and fish for world-class trout or salmon. You can also visit the Lava River Cave and Lava Lands which are also part of the Newberry Monument. Don't miss the Paulina Lodge for breakfast, lunch, or dinner or just a piece of homemade pie!

Near the Lava River Cave is the famous High Desert Museum, which is a wonderful place for all ages to observe wildlife indigenous to Central Oregon. There are many animals and birds here that are on display and many interpretative presentations daily. Most of the animals in the 'museum' are rescued animals that could not survive if released back into the wild. It's a fascinating place with its own little café.

Traveling a bit north of Sunriver, in under 25 minutes, you can be in Bend which is the hub of Central Oregon. Here, you can enjoy fine dining, excellent shopping, outlet stores, theater, movies, art galleries, beautiful riverside walking areas and just about anything you can think of under the sun. There are many chain stores and restaurants such as Olive Garden, Red Robin, Lowes, Old Navy, etc. But then there are totally unique and fascinating restaurants special to the area such as Jackalope Grill or Blacksmith. There are many places in Bend and environs that are dog friendly as well and weather permitting, you can sit outside and enjoy a wonderful meal and then a walk in some of the most beautiful parks in the state.

A few hours away is the natural wonder called Crater Lake. We’ve done it several times from Sunriver as a day trip and it is well worth the drive. You won’t see more spectacular scenery or views anywhere except perhaps the Grand Canyon.

You can even take in a minor league baseball game in Bend depending on the time of year that you visit. The Bend Elks have some of the best college players in the country and you can attend one of their games for a nominal charge while enjoying the atmosphere of an old-fashioned wooden baseball stadium.

Take the Cascade Loop Highway for another day trip and visit the many beautiful lakes along the way. There are all kinds of fishing opportunities at all of these lakes and some of the best fishing in the state if not the country. There is also lodging available at many and camping sites available at all.

Smith Rock State Park is only about an hour north of Sunriver and is another great day trip. It is also a spectacular place to watch (or participate) in rock climbing and people come from all over the world to scale its beautiful rockery. Well worth the drive and the hike, you can do just about any level of hike at Smith Rock though getting down and back up is the arduous part!

On another day, take a drive east and visit the Painted Hills of Central Oregon. This is another national monument with 3 different parts. There are the Painted Hills of Central Oregon, the Clarno Unit and the Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. All 3 are wonderful geological treasures that you won’t want to miss.

Driving north and west, you can take in the picturesque city of Sisters, Oregon and if you happen to hit the right week in July, you'll see the world famous Outside Quilt Show. Here, hundreds of quilters submit their quilts for judging. They are hung from the outside of buildings and businesses for all to see on a walking tour. You would be surprised what you can do with a quilt! It simply will leave you speechless viewing some of these works of art.

There are annual events in Bend, Sunriver and other cities throughout Central Oregon and you can always check websites for goings on. The Deschutes Fairgrounds always has things of interest going on from rodeos to truck shows to home shows to musical groups performing.

The Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend likewise has concerts going on throughout the year and tickets are available on line. Willie Nelson performed recently in Bend just to give an example of the level of talent that comes to Central Oregon.

There are numerous small and large town rodeos and celebrations that go on year round throughout this area and again, look on-line to determine which ones would suit your needs. The Sisters Rodeo is quite the event here in Central Oregon.

Art exhibits and galleries are everywhere throughout the area and you don’t have to travel far to find one. Theater, music and the performing arts are also part of what Central Oregon is known for. There are always shows and events going on at the famous Tower Theater in Bend or one of the many playhouses. Check local listings and on-line for times and venues.

Movie going is a great pastime throughout the area as well and there are several movie theaters located within Bend, Redmond, Sisters, and Prineville. Check for local listings and times.

Breweries and pubs abound in Central Oregon. There are 7 alone located within Bend! There is one in Sisters and another in Redmond.

There are also any number of fine dining, casual and anything in between restaurants throughout the area that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as appetizers and happy hour menus or snacks that are fantastic deals. You won't go hungry while in Central Oregon or find the number of available eateries lacking!

Scenic highways are also another great way to spend time in the Sunriver area. Take a traveling tour up Santiam Pass in the fall and you will see some of the most magnificent scenery ever. Coupled with the lava flows and the Dee Wright Observatory, you won’t be sorry you went!

A trip to Mt. Bachelor in winter or summer is a wonderful way to spend the day. Ride up on the chairlift in summer and then hike the trails finishing off the day with a great lunch in the restaurant atop Mt. Bachelor. In winter, the skiing is world class and you won't find a better place for cross-country or alpine skiing or snowboarding. You can also participate in a dog sled ride and occasionally there have been dog sled races put on at Mt. Bachelor which is a great activity to attend.

There are also incredible trails throughout Central Oregon for hiking in spring, summer or fall and then for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in winter along with many sno-parks. There are also many trails for skijoring or snowshoeing. Make sure you check to see which sno-parks are pet friendly.

Not that far away is Mt. Hood which is another heavenly place for skiing and snow opportunities.

Lake Billy Chinook is about an hour and a half north of Sunriver and offers wonderful boating and swimming activities. The size of the lake and its surrounding carved out hillsides are stunning. There are many parks and recreational pull-outs throughout this vast state park and a trip to Lake Billy Chinook is something to remember.

Bend Oregon


Shopping and Services

Going on vacation wouldn’t be complete without knowing where to shop! In Sunriver alone, there are 2 grocery stores. One is in the town square and the other on the back side of Sunriver on the north side. The north side also has gas pumps. If you bike to the store, walk or drive over, you’ll find just about anything and everything you could possibly need. They may have small spaces but they pack these stores with everything you’d need on vacation!

There are also many shops in the Sunriver mall area. There is also a post office and several great restaurants in case you’re hungry and need to stop in for a bite! Most of the shops in Sunriver are unique and interesting to browse through. I’ve brought home many souvenirs from our visits to the area from these shops and treasure them to this day.

There is a pro shop at the golf courses and you can find all kinds of unique clubs and golfing equipment. You can also find great clothes and shoes in the pro shops as well as more unique gifts in the Sunriver Resort Gift Shop.

The Sunriver Village Mall is currently being remodeled and is it ever gorgeous! The mall has been there forever and it is nice to see it getting a facelift. It is a wonderful place to walk or bike to in spring, summer or fall and a great place to snowshoe to during the winter months for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate!

If you need to do serious food shopping, Bend is your best bet. Of course, there is a multitude of grocery stores to choose from in the greater Bend area from natural food markets such as Whole Foods, Newport Market, and Trader Joe’s along with the major chains such as Fred Meyer, Walmart, Safeway, Erickson’s, Albertsons and Ray’s.

If you are shopping for sports equipment, there is a beautiful REI store in the Old Mill District. There are also many sports stores throughout the Central Oregon area including a bike and ski shop right in Sunriver itself where you can buy or rent for the day or week. You can also rent bikes, surreys and other types of bikes such as stroller bikes in Bend down in the Old Mill District.

For clothing shopping, in the Old Mill District, you will find great stores like Chico’s, The Gap, Gap For Kids, American Eagle, Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic, Bath and Body Works, and Coldwater Creek. Don’t miss the Oregon Store either for all your sports paraphernalia.

In town out in East Bend, you’ll find Old Navy, Big Lots and Costco with a myriad of smaller stores in the east end of Bend. Barnes and Noble also has a great little store and café there and there is also an Office Max.

Going into the heart of Bend, you’ll find great shoe stores, camera stores, galleries, and men’s and women’s stores. You’ll also find a couple of fantastic home furnishing stores and you can find some incredible treasures there that might even fit in your suitcase or can be shipped back home!

Macy’s has a beautiful store in Bend along with a Kohl’s that just opened in 2010. There is also a TJ Maxx and further up the road a Ross store for those looking for bargains.

For anyone needing hardware items, you’ll find an Ace Hardware store in Sunriver and if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, head on up to Bend where you’ll find a Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ace Hardware stores.

Car repairs sometimes need to be done and several times on vacation, we were in need of auto repair services. We have used Subaru, Ford, and the Chevy dealerships for repairs as well as a couple of private mechanics in the area that have been great in solving the problem or getting what was broken fixed in a timely fashion. The Les Schwab stores in the area are some of the most helpful auto places around and usually they don’t even charge you to take a look or fix a flat! Unbelievable! They truly believe in service.

There is no end it seems to the stores in Sunriver and the surrounding area so check on-line for more details. For computer needs, there is Bestbuy in Bend. There also several other chain stores such as Staples, JC Penney, Michaels, Dollar Stores and many more.


Spa Services

If you are vacationing in Sunriver, you have the best spa services available right at your fingertips – literally. Sage Springs Spa offers a full menu of services from body wraps to manicures and pedicures to massage. They have packages available and also specials if you stay through Sunriver Resort. You couldn’t ask for a more top quality spa.

If you are in the Bend area, there are numerous spas available there as well as in Redmond. The Spa W in Bend is very popular as are Anjou Spa and Jinsei Spa. Try out the Eagle Crest Day Spa if you are in the Redmond area.

If you’re looking for a bargain, try Phagan’s Beauty College in Bend. You can’t beat the prices on their services which range from facials to hair to manicures and pedicures.


Worship Services

Within Sunriver itself, you can attend church services at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church, the Community Bible Church or the Sunriver Christian Fellowship Church.  Check on-line for mass and service times.

In Bend, you can attend Catholic masses, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Christian church services along with the added benefit of being inside some of the most gorgeous churches you'll ever see.  They have a lot of old churches in the area and many make stunning photos.


Pet Services

Central Oregon is an extremely pet friendly area so don’t hesitate to bring your pet on vacation. There are plenty of pet friendly lodging choices in Sunriver and there are likewise many pet friendly restaurants and pubs throughout the area.

Exercising your dogs in Sunriver is never a problem with the many miles and miles of bike paths and trails as well as parks within the community.