Portland, Oregon had almost 9 million overnight visitors in 2015 according to travelportland.com. On the other hand, in central Oregon, Bend had roughly 2-2.5 million visitors that same year. While I couldn’t find an estimate for annual visitors to Eugene, I would guess it’s even lower than for Bend. When I was planning a trip to Oregon, I chose the less-traveled areas of Eugene and Bend for the majority of our time in the state. Although we would be flying into Portland, I left zero time there for exploring that area, and we picked up our rental car and drove promptly to Eugene. I was going to run my 36th half marathon (leaving only 14 more to go for all 50 states) in Eugene so we were going to spend a few days in Eugene then drive to Bend to spend a week there. Nothing against Portland but there’s only so much you can see in 10 days.
Eugene, Oregon is famous for being the birthplace of Nike and is nicknamed “Track Town, USA.” They were the hosts for the Olympic Track and Field Trials for 2016 and many other years. If you’re a runner, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of Steve Prefontaine. While in the peak of his running career, he was killed at the young age of 24 in a car accident. “Pre,” as he was called, helped spark the city’s running boom in the 1970’s. Ask just about any Eugene resident about Steve Prefontaine, and they’ll tell you an earful. Running is in these people’s blood. I was seriously nervous about running a half marathon here (I might be dead-last running against all of these die-hard runners) but I somehow managed to win third place in my age group.
If you’re a runner, a must-do in Eugene is to run on Pre’s Trail, a nice loop on chipped wood in Alton Baker Park. You can run past many water formations including a pond, creeks, and river as well as the famous University of Oregon stadium. There are also many wineries in Eugene with not only tasty wine but also great people working there as well. Everyone we spoke with at the wineries were all very friendly, down-to-earth, and not at all snobby like you find at wineries in other parts of the country. Cascades Raptor Center is also a fun place to visit, even in the rain (Eugene experiences an average rainfall of 46 inches per year). The Raptor Center is a working rehabilitation center and the birds on display could not be returned to the wild. Birds with the right disposition are used for educational exhibits.
When our time was up in Eugene, we drove to Bend and saw the landscape change from lush and green to dry, high desert. The contrast was stark. While Eugene is often rainy and overcast, Bend has an average of 158 clear days and 105 more that are mostly sunny, making it the city with the highest average sunny days in the state. Bend has many places to hike and bike in warmer months and ski in the winter. The largest beer trail in the West is also here, the Bend Ale Trail. This is my kind of place!
For something other than the aforementioned activities in Bend, check out the High Desert Museum. It’s like a zoo, history museum, and science exhibits all rolled into one place. I always like checking out local history when I’m traveling and this was a good place for history of the Pacific Northwest. There are temporary as well as permanent exhibits, some indoor and some outdoor. Some favorites include the Miller Family Ranch, Autzen Otter Exhibit, Desertarium, and the Birds of Prey Center.
For some hiking, it’s hard to beat Smith Rock State Park and Tumalo Falls. Smith Rock State Park is near Terrebonne and Redmond, Oregon and is a popular climbing spot. One of the best trails here is Misery Ridge which takes you over Smith Rock, with a view of Monkey Face and views of the canyon and Crooked River. To reach the viewpoint for Tumalo Falls you can walk 5 minutes from the parking lot and then there are multiple trails from here if you so desire. The Tumalo Mountain trail is classified as moderate/difficult and is 1.75 miles one way. It is a steep climb from 6400 feet to 7775 feet with a beautiful view at the top. The trail starts at the Dutchman Sno-park on the Cascade Lakes Highway.
It’s easy to spend a week in Bend, but 2-3 days in Eugene is plenty. It seems that so many people overlook these areas when planning a vacation in Oregon and just go straight to the ever-popular Portland. They would be missing out on some unique scenery and fun things to do for the whole family in by-passing these areas.