smith rock state park

Road Tripping Through Central Oregon : Cowboys & Indians Style

In Oregon, Hiking, Blog, United States, Activities, Road tripping, Parks, Sweet Stays, North America, Soaking, Series, Destinations by ajauntwithjoy@gmail.com30 Comments

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.

Road Tripping Through Central Oregon : Cowboys & Indians Style


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.

richardson rock ranch

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.

boyfriend at smith rock
smith rock state park
hiking in smith rock state park
smith rock state park


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!

horseback riding


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!

wubba's bbq shack


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!

central oregon airbnb


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. **

crystal crane teepee
crystal crane teepee
crystal crane hot springs

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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  1. Love it! I first visited Oregon when I was 22 and stayed with a friend in Prineville. Been to almost all the places you have mentioned, it has been nice to ‘revisit’ them through your post! My friend now lives in Bend.

    1. Author

      That’s awesome! I haven’t met too many other people who have been to these parts of Oregon! I’d love to go back to Bend and spend a much more significant amount of time there. Truly an outdoor adventurers heaven!

  2. Smith Rock State Park for me please! Would love to go to Oregon. I never realized that it isn’t just “forests” and “rain”! xx Hannah & The Sunny Side of Things

  3. I love how you highlighted places that people don’t really know exist in Oregon. Most people always associate the state with its trees and mountains, but there is so much to explore in the desert areas too! Smith Rock is fantastic and the Sisters Wilderness near bend has endless opportunities for exploration. I’m so glad you mentioned Crystal Crane though! One of the coolest places that nobody knows about. I really wish that I’d been able to book a teepee when I went a few years back. Next time for sure!

    1. Author

      SO neat that you’ve also been to Crystal Crane! Anytime I mention that place nobody knows about it and it’s so surprising to me, because I think it’s absolutely wonderful!

  4. I like this post because it shows a different side of road trippin’ in the USA that I have not seen before! Those bends look amazing and I’d love to explore myself

  5. I’ve never been but should I visit I’d have to dress up & have some fun lol. Even your picture edits have the vibe. Nice one!

  6. Love the tones of your pictures! Going to save this post of yours! I hope I will manage to do another massive road trip through the States soon! :)

  7. I have never been to Oregon, but you make it sound so amazing that now I want to go! :) I especially love the idea of visiting Madras and Redmond… Madras brings back memories of when I was little, going to Pennsylvania caves and rivers with my parents, where they would often have tools for you to search for gems. (Never really found anything… but it was a ton of fun!) And Redmond – I LOVE caves! Seriously. And you make the Redmond caves sound so interesting!

    1. Author

      Yes! I hope you get to go to Oregon some day soon! It’s one of my favorite states! I used to live in upstate NY by a lot of caves and my parents would often take us gem mining too!

  8. Oh man, I love this. You had me sold from the first time you mentioned adventure. While I probably wouldn’t be too keen on the rock climbing (unless they’re easy ones), everything else sounds amaaaazing. You’ve even included a little R&R to recover from everything!

    1. Author

      Oh good! I write a lot of adventure posts! They do have beginner rock climbing routes at Smith Rock, but I admit a lot of it did look pretty intense haha. We stuck with just a short hike there before moving on. Glad you liked the itinerary! :D

  9. I´m all over the Sweet tea with Raspberry Vodka
    I have visited lots of different locations in USA, and plenty of N.P´s too.
    This area has been added to my list, it looks such a gret place to explore.

  10. All of these trips sound awsome! It would be so fun to dress up western style, go exploring, ride some horses and take lots of pictures! I’ve heard Portland is beautiful and a great place to live. I want to check it out someday!

    1. Author

      Don’t even get me started on Portland! I love Oregon in general but Portland is where it’s at! SUCHHH great food and atmosphere! I really hope you get to check it out one day soon!

  11. I’ve never been to Oregon but it looks like a lovely place to visit. I love your photos and Smith Rock State Park sound awesome! Thanks for sharing :-)

  12. this was soon helpful! thank you. will definitely be stopping by a few of these on our trip to Oregon net month. The trails look beautiful and That bbq oh so delicious.

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