There’s no better activity during summertime in the high desert than one that involves cooling down in the water.  Whether you like to swim, boat, tube, or just dip your toes in the pool's shallow end, here’s a list of the best ways to make a splash when you get to Bend, Oregon

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Feel the rush of a 20ft cliff jump 

Ready for a freefall? The expansive 20- to 30-ft pool drop adjacent to Steelhead Falls allows for one of the most exhilarating cliff jumps in the high desert. Just be prepared. The short half-mile hike in requires visitors to navigate a brief, yet steep section. Bring the fishing rod, picnic supplies, blanket, chairs and sunscreen, and spend the whole day watching for golden eagles, identifying wildflowers, catching fish and psyching yourself up to jump. 

Feel the waterfall kisses

There are so many first-class cascades in Central Oregon, and there’s nothing quite as inspiring as standing below one and feeling its misty spray land on your skin while the flood of descending water rumbles against the earth. The feeling is invigorating, comparable to a million pixies laying micro-kisses on your face. Near Bend, fan-favorite waterfalls include Sahalie Falls (Mckenzie Pass), Paulina Falls (Newberry Caldera National Volcanic Monument) and Tumalo Falls (Skyliner Road). 

Tumalo Falls in Central Oregon
Head to Tumalo Falls, and feel the water splash your face ©Gary Alvis/Getty Images

Kayak or paddleboard in town or in the wilderness

There’s no shortage of nearby alpine lakes to paddle across. For a short trip, head up to Devils, Elk or Sparks lakes on the Cascade Highway loop.

Elk Lake Resort has a lodge that rents kayaks and paddleboards for day excursions off its private dock and marina. After your paddle exploration, drop in the lodge for a full dining menu, beverage options and maybe even some live music.

If you're looking for more of a challenge, try Paulina Lake or East Lake in Newberry Caldera, and, post-paddle, check out the Paulina Lake Lodge.

Pop into Bend’s quintessential paddle shop, Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, and rent a paddleboard or kayak for something in town. Then launch on the Deschutes River off its back porch. There are several miles of river to explore, tons of wildlife to watch and sunshine to soak in. Bon Voyage! 

Hang out beachside 

For an in-town accessible beachside experience, Riverbend Park is the spot. You’ll know it for the giant, towering kayak sculpture at the entrance. Go early to find your spot on the perfectly manicured green grass. Lay your blanket, set up your chairs and cooler, then spend the entire day enjoying the sunshine, occasionally dipping in the water and playing bocce ball or croquet. Riverbend Park hosts tons of events, including the Bend Paddleboard Challenge, the Pole Pedal Paddle and Spring Paddlefest.

Upriver, Farewell Bend Park is another option for swimming. Both of these locations are family-friendly, and visitors can toggle between the two with a short half-mile walk. Along the walk, there are artifacts from Bend’s Old Mill days, a quaint footbridge and a kids' play structure equipped with all the bells and whistles. 

Surf the river wave

You simply can’t tour Bend in the summertime without a trip to the Bend Whitewater Park, where the Deschutes River is the outdoor equivalent of an indoor water amusement park. A top attraction for locals and tourists, this now through-passage in the river used to be an impassable, somewhat dangerous spillway. Today, after years of construction, there are plenty of options for river surfers, whitewater kayakers, boogie boarders and tubers.

Across the river, McKay Park or Miller’s Landing Park are great base camps to set up a blanket and camp chair and enjoy watching the Whitewater Park fun. McKay Park has a great beach for little ones to play and dip their toes in the water. For an all-encompassing view, walk over to the footbridge above the park and look down on all the action. 

Play at the pool

Central Oregon offers access to some epic outdoor amusement-like waterpark pools. Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic Recreation Center, or SHARC, is the biggest and the best. It's about a 20-minute drive from Bend, in nearby Sunriver. Everything from serene lap swimming to water slides, a lazy river simulation to wave pools and shallow play spaces for kids welcome water lovers. If you want to stay closer to Bend, check out Juniper Swim and Fitness Center, which boasts an outdoor pool center with a waterslide. It offers a ton for families on hot summer days for a better price point and access within the city limits. 

A woman paddles while white water rafting.
The Big Eddy Thriller is best seen with a trained guide to help you along the way ©Strahil Dimitrov/Shutterstock

Raft Bend’s epic whitewater

There isn’t a better activity than whitewater rafting when seeking a jolt of adrenaline, especially in Bend. Not more than a 10-minute car ride from Century Drive in Bend, Sun Country Tours and Seventh Mountain River Company offer rides on the Big Eddy Thriller stretch of the Deschutes River. As Bend’s local river rollercoaster ride, it’s popular with bachelor/bachelorette parties, family reunions and honeymooners. Though some locals paddle this stretch in their free time, going with professionals is highly recommended. Along with the experience of the trained guide, you'll benefit from the personal flotation device, raft and paddles provided for all participants. 

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Bend, Oregon - 6/12/2009: group of people white water rafting in a rubber raft on the Deschutes River at Big Eddy rapid - a class 4 rapid - near Bend.


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