Oregon is one of my absolute favorite states. Especially for road tripping. It’s so diverse in scenery and it has always left me wanting more. I don’t think I’ll ever feel “done” exploring it. In another post I laid out the perfect Pacific Northwest vacation of Road Tripping Down The Oregon Coast.
This post brings attention to Central Oregon, an area chocked full of outdoor adventures and landscapes that make you feel like you’re in the wild wild west! It has a totally different vibe than road tripping the coast. I found ample opportunity to do this trip with a Cowboys & Indians theme for my boyfriends birthday. Here’s why you should wholly consider not only a Central Oregon road trip, but adding this theme along with it!
Most people would start this trip by driving through or flying into Oregon’s largest city, Portland. Portland sits on two rivers and is near the snow-capped Mount Hood. It’s most known for its coffeehouses, microbreweries, eco-friendliness, and weirdness. Arts, theater, and music are its main attractions. To keep with the Cowboys & Indians theme, head to The Country Cat for an excellent brunch. If you’re in Portland during the evening, head to the #1 Country Bar in the NW — Duke’s Country Bar & Grill.
If you’d rather leave the theme to another day and enjoy Portland for Portland, I’ll soon be posting about my favorite spots in this city and linking it here. For now, I’ll keep it simple and suggest a visit to the Japanese Gardens, devouring ice cream from Salt & Straw, and picking up Blue Star Donuts for the ride.
Portland to Madras : About 2 ½ hours
Located in Madras is the Richardson Rock Ranch, a family-owned and operated working cattle ranch. On this ranch, you can find world famous agate beds and go rockhounding! A large rock shop is onsite and is open from 7am to 5pm, March to October. Park at the rock shop and head inside to rent rockhounding tools and to get a few pointers. Drive through the ranch until you reach the agate beds, labeled with signs, and start digging!
An agate is a colorful translucent variety of microcrystalline quartz and is considered a semi-precious stone. Thundereggs are agate-filled rocks similar to geodes, formed within volcanic ash layers. No two are alike in color, pattern, or design on the inside. If you’re hoping to have your agates and thundereggs cut open or tumbled to see the pretty interiors, you’ll need to arrive back at the rock shop at least an hour before closing time.
Fun fact : Thundereggs were named by the Native Americans of Central Oregon. They believed that these strange stones were missiles hurled by angry fighting “Thunder Spirits” or “Thunder Gods” who dwelt on the two mountains in the area. They thought that the rocks were furiously thrown between the two rival “Gods” during thunderstorms.
Smith Rock State Park
Madras to Smith Rock : About 48 minutes
Smith Rock State Park is one of Oregon’s most jaw-dropping parks. It’s famous for bouldering and rock climbing, due to its sheer cliffs of tuff and basalt. In fact, it’s noted to be the birthplace of US sport climbing! Excellent hiking trails are also available and each route promises a rockin’ view (HA! See what I did there?). Picnic by the Crooked River or camp in the tent-only site nearby.
For the ultimate hike around Smith Rock, take the switchbacks of Misery Ridge Trail which leads behind Monkey Face — an iconic rock pillar containing some of the most difficult climbs in the world. This trail connects with the Mesa Verde Trail heading south, where it picks up on the River Trail and brings you back to where you started.
Smith Rock to Redmond : About 25 minutes
Just southwest of Smith Rock is the town of Redmond, where you can take a guided horseback riding tour at the Eagle Crest Resort! You’ll get to meet the horses and be paired with one for a scenic trail ride through the High Desert. Views of the Cascade Mountains are just one of the perks to choosing a horseback riding tour here!
For another epic outdoor adventure, check out the Redmond Caves! Hidden in plain sight near the Fairgrounds and the Airport are five public cave entrances to old lava tubes. These caves are part of the Horse Lava Tube System, first discovered by cowboys in search of their lost cattle. Though judging by archaeological artifacts found here, prehistoric Native Americans had been using the caves long before the cowboys showed up! View the cave map here and make sure you bring a headlamp or flashlight with you!
Redmond to Bend : About 20 minutes
Bend has a reputation for being a gateway to countless outdoor sports and adventures. In 2015, Men’s Journal ranked it as one of The 10 Best Places To Live. Other magazines have also named it as the top mountain biking city and the best trail running city. If sticking with the Cowboys & Indians theme, try a quick archery lesson at Central Cascades Archery.
The outdoor activities were what initially drew me to Bend, but the reason we stopped this time was for the BBQ. Wubba’s BBQ Shack in particular. We feasted on fried okra, ribs, pulled pork, smoked sausage, seasoned fries, fried mushrooms, and a sweet tea with raspberry vodka served in a mason jar. Now that’s BBQ!
Bend to Sisters : About 30 minutes
To give you an idea on what Sisters, Oregon is like, its biggest events include a rodeo, a quilt show, and a folk festival. As fun as these sound (okay, the rodeo might actually be cool) a better reason to visit Sisters on your road trip is for this neat Airbnb option. You can stay in a cute and cozy Vintage Basque Sheep Wagon! It sleeps 2 and has a private bath, an outdoor shower, and a pool open in the summer! And yes, it has wifi included. Sign up with Airbnb here to get up to $30 off your first stay!
Sisters to Burns : About 3 hours
Located near Burns is my favorite stop of this entire road trip — the Crystal Crane Hot Springs. The natural hot spring pond is open a full 24 hours a day to soak in. Overnight accommodation is also available here. Book ahead to stay in the teepee, which has its own private washbasin tub inside that fills with the hot springs water! The teepee also has lighting, heated floors, a hanging changing cloth, and patio chairs. The one thing it lacks is a bed, so bring an air mattress or a foam pad and blankets for comfort. If the teepee is already booked, you can opt for a cabin, bunkhouse, RV or tent spot, etc.
The drive out here is pretty desolate and the closest town is Burns, a nearly 30 minute drive away. Therefore, I’d recommend stopping in Burns for a meal or to pick up a pizza at Glory Days.
** If the drive out to Burns is a little too far for some R&R in a hot spring, but you’d still like to experience sleeping in a teepee, I recommend the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and Spa in Warm Springs, Oregon — north of Madras, the first stop on this list outside of Portland. **
A road trip through Central Oregon doesn’t have to have a Cowboys & Indians theme, of course. It could still clearly be enjoyed with no particular theme, adding or subtracting different activities and attractions from this list.
For more US road trip inspiration, see The Daily Adventures Of Me.
So tell me, does this Cowboys & Indians themed road trip look fun? Which stop through Central Oregon would you be the most excited for?
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