Hands-On Fun at The High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon

Chris Smith | 07.29.22

Just a short drive from Sisters in nearby Bend, one museum is proving that education really can be an exciting and vacation-worthy adventure. We’re talking, of course, about the High Desert Museum.

Built in 1982, the High Desert Museum seeks to reveal the life and culture of the West’s High Desert region through “artful exhibits, alluring animals, engaging programs and meaningful history”. But don’t let those museum-ish words fool you – with 135 acres of land and over 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, there are plenty of exciting things to do, see, and experience on your visit. 

Exhibits. The museum’s vast exhibit space includes indoor and outdoor exhibitions that highlight the region’s wildlife, history, culture, and landscapes. There are both permanent and rotating exhibits that include multiple indoor galleries, outdoor interpretive paths, historic recreations, wildlife centers and more. Some of the most popular exhibits include:

  • The Desertarium. Get up-close and personal with some native desert creatures like turtles, snakes, and lizards. Schedule a seasonal encounter for some hands-on fun. 
  • Spirit of the West. Take a walk through time as you explore the history of the West, from the early Native Americans to the iconic Oregon Trail and all the way to the boomtown of Silver City. 
  • 1904 High Desert Ranch and Sawmill. History comes to life as you explore a live and interactive recreation of a pioneer homestead ranch. Chat with historic characters, assist with daily chores, and play fun pioneer games.
  • Donald M Kerr Birds of Prey Center. Get a birds-eye view of the desert’s most spectacular high-flying predators. Be sure to stop by the live flight program if possible. 
  • Lazinska Sawmill. See an authentic 20th century sawmill in-action during a live demonstration. 

Daily Programs. Dive deeper into the museum’s best exhibits by attending one (or more) of their daily programs. These fun hands-on tours include cool guided activities like a live raptor flight, a natural history walk, an immersive history lesson, wildlife encounters, and more. Program tickets range from $5 to $7 and can be purchased at admissions.

Backpack Explorers. On Tuesday mornings, tiny explorers (ages 3-5) and their caregivers can don backpacks filled with exciting objects and journey through the museum’s exhibits and nature trails on an exciting hands-on adventure. Tickets are $15 per child. 

Museum Info. The High Desert Museum is located just 35 miles south of Sisters, Oregon on Highway 97. The museum is open seven days per week, with seasonal operating hours for the peak and shoulder seasons. Admission prices are also seasonal, and tickets can be purchased online or on-site.

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