Top 6 Things to Do in the Deschutes National Forest

Chris Smith | 07.15.21

Nestled along the eastern slopes of the iconic Cascade Mountains, the Deschutes National Forest is a prime destination for those seeking amazing outdoor adventure. It’s 1.6 million acres span across a wide variety of lush Oregon landscapes, from placid alpine lakes to soaring mountain peaks to ancient lava lands and more. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities among these stunning scenes, packing a lifetime of memories into a few fun-filled days.  

While you can find plenty of excitement simply exploring the trails, a few forest highlights can help you make the most of your trip. When planning your next central Oregon vacation, be sure to try one (or all) of the top six things to do in the Deschutes National Forest. 


Hiking is one of the most popular activities in the Deschutes National Forest. The area stretches across five wild and wonderful wildernesses, each offering a unique blend of craggy mountain peaks, alpine lakes, old-world forests, and more. 

Of course, all that space lends itself to hundreds of diverse hiking trails, and there are really no bad choices. You can trek along the winding Deschutes River Trail, scale to the summit of South Sister, mosey around the pleasing Park Meadow, or grab a map and make your own path. 

Mountain Biking

9,000 feet of elevation change makes Deschutes National Forest a mountain biker’s dream. While most of the nature trails in the park are accessible to cyclists, some trails – like the iconic Phil’s Trail system – are made for mountain biking. There are trails for every level of rider – you’ll find easy paths that wind through pristine meadows, scenic trails that wrap around placid lake shores, and challenging routes that climb up steep slopes before diving into a dramatic descent.

Drive a Scenic Byway

If you’re not in the mood for hiking or biking, you can still explore some of the most scenic spots in the area from the comfort of your car. There are three National Scenic Byways on the Deschutes National Forest: Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, which takes you on a 66-mile drive through the Cascade Mountains; McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway, which starts in Sisters and winds 82 miles along mountain passes and monumental peaks; and Outback Scenic Byway, a 170-mile journey through the rugged Oregon outback.

Visit the Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Get a unique look at the Lava Lands of Central Oregon by exploring more than 54,000 acres of wild volcanic area. The vast area includes an array of stunning geological features, from ancient lava flows and scenic lakes to soaring peaks and rushing waterfalls. Visitors can traverse over 110 miles of trails, explore the longest underground Lava Tube in the state, ascend Paulina Peak for panoramic views of the area, and more. To get started, stop by the Lava Land Visitor Center to enjoy a guided orientation and take the shuttle to Lava Butte, a 7,000-year old Cinder Cone. 

Visit Mount Bachelor

Deep in the heart of the Deschutes National Forest stands Mount Bachelor, a popular peak that boasts wild winter recreation. The Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort sits at the summit, offering visitors a variety of fun ways to shred the slopes. Winter brings skiing, snowboarding, and snowtubing, while the summer months mean mountain biking, zipline tours, chairlift rides, and more. 

Wildlife Watching

Of course, people aren’t the only ones that love the lush, vibrant wilderness of the Deschutes National Forest. A wealth of native wildlife makes their home in the park’s varied wilderness areas, including elk, deer, bears, cougars, foxes, and many species of birds. The park has several dedicated wildlife viewing areas where sightings are common (and safe). 

Book your Sisters stay today!

Sisters is a spectacular home base for your trip through the forest. The town is nestled on the park’s eastern edge, offering a variety of convenient rentals that keep you in the heart of the action. For a modern home with a marvelous view of the Three Sisters mountains, book a stay at our new construction guest house just outside of the city. 

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