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The Deschutes River and Drake Park in Bend, OR: Gorgeous!

Water and green-space are the foundations of a great town, and few towns combine them as well as Bend: a paradise tucked in the mountains of central Oregon. Let’s tour the Deschutes River as it winds through Bend, flanked by emerald-bright Drake Park.

Deschutes River, Bend, Oregon
Purple flowers on the Deschutes River in Bend, Oregon.

I spent three glorious days in Bend — my first flight destination in 1.5 years — and though the food and sights of the center of town delighted, it was Drake Park which kept drawing my feet every time I wandered. What better summertime relaxation than to sit under a towering tree, watching happy people float by on inner tubes?

Floating on inner-tubes in the Deschutes River.
Floating on the Deschutes in Bend, OR.

Drake Park Overview and History

Bend’s centerpiece, Drake Park, was named after Alexander M. Drake: the man who founded the town of Bend in 1900. (No, it’s NOT “Drake’s Park” with a possessive apostrophe — just “Drake.” I’m not really sure why they made that call, but I’ve had to fix the “s” I reflexively typed about 15 times now!) The park sprawls 13 stunning acres, including a full half a mile along the wide section of the Deschutes River known as Mirror Pond.

Wooden pedestrian footbridge Drake Park, Mirror Pond
The lovely wooden pedestrian footbridge in Drake Park at Mirror Pond.

What is Mirror Pond?

Mirror Pond is actually a human-created bulge in the river that was formed in 1909 when the Deschutes River was dammed by the Deschutes Water, Light, and Power Company to support the growing town of Bend. The term “mirror” is apt, as the glassy surface reflects the many kayaks, inner tubes, and stand-up paddleboards frolicking upon it! For context, the full Deschutes River stretches 252 miles long, and connects with the famed Columbia River.

Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) on the Deschutes River.
Stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP) on the Deschutes River.

An Accessible Park in Bend, OR

When exploring parks (from the Emerald Necklace in Boston, to Bash Bish Falls State Park, to the California Redwoods near Santa Cruz, and Laurel Highlands, PA hikes), I always monitor for accessibility — having had to push stroller many times in my life. Happily, Drake Park has lots of options for both walking and rolling. Below, behold the smooth, paved path which runs the length of the park.

There is a nice, accessible paved path through Drake Park.
The paved walkway through Drake Park makes it accessible.

Riverfront Paths by Mirror Pond

Want another walking option? Right along the shore of the river is the tranquil gravel path pictured below. There are benches, picnic tables, and ledges to sit upon along the way — not to mention the lush yet well-manicured expanses of grass which positively call out for picnic blankets and lazy summer get-togethers.

Oregon tubing is the best.
Oregon tubing is the best.

Drake Park Upgrades and Amenities:

All of these upgrades in Drake Park are thanks to a major remodeling effort completed in 2003 which also improved the restroom facilities, lighting, and bike racks. Keeping a town in tip-top shape is an expensive and weighty endeavor, but ooh, the benefits of renovations are wonderful and much appreciated! (For more examples of epic restorations see these photos from Curacao and Puerto Rico.)

There's a gravel path by the Deschutes River.
There’s a gravel path by the Deschutes River.

The Wooden Footbridge of Drake Park and Mirror Pond

What’s even better than a scenic river? A scenic river with a charming footbridge atop it! The artful wooden bridge that borders Mirror Pond is the stuff that dreams are made of: romantic proposals (a la “Music Man”), star-gazing, and simply strolling to contemplate life and the glory of our world.

Wooden pedestrian footbridge in Drake Park Deschutes
The wooden bridge over the Deschutes River.

Tubing in Bend, OR

Time for a confession, for which I may be hurled into the river: I did not go tubing whilst in Bend. WHAT?! I stayed for three days in the floating capital, and wasn’t lured into drifting from one end of that luscious river to the other?! I give you a sheepish “sorry” — but in all honesty, I am much more relaxed by watching tubers than being one. (I mean “tuber” in the “inner tube user” sense, not the potato one — as fun as it is to watch spuds.)

Getting ready to go tubing in Mirror Lake.
Getting ready to go tubing in Mirror Pond.

How to Do a Deschutes River Float

Despite my lack of personal splashing, allow me to still provide information for how to float yourself down the Deschutes River in Bend, as there are several ways to do it. First, you can bring your own tubes and provide your own transportation. The only issue with that plan is that it takes some coordination to figure out how to get yourself the 1.7 miles back, once you’ve done the float down. The good news: there are shuttles to help!

So relaxing to float down the river in a tube!
So relaxing to float down the river in a tube!

Tubing Shuttles and Rentals in Bend

For a more relaxing and efficient experience than figuring out your own tubing transport, there are several very affordable and convenient Deschutes River shuttle services in Bend, as well as inner tube, kayak, and stand-up paddle-board (SUP) rentals. Excellent resources, advice, and links are available on this official Visit Bend page, as well as the Bend Park & Recreation site. The latter site has useful diagrams and maps of the three tubing route options around Bend.

Sitting down on a Stand-Up Paddleboard.
Sitting down on a Stand-Up Paddleboard.

Where to Stay in Bend, OR

Convinced that Bend is worth a visit? Let’s look at logistics. Flying into Portland, OR makes the most sense, then driving the 3.5 hours. More on that stupendous scenic route later. For hotels (these are affiliate links, FYI), I loved the Campfire Hotel: a welcoming and friendly spot with a giant… campfire for all guests to use. The only issue is that Campfire is a few blocks outside of downtown, which was walkable for someone with long and strong legs like me, but not smack-dab next to the river. For a full list of other Bend hotel rankings and options, click here.

Another view of the pedestrian footbridge on the Deschutes.
Another view of the pedestrian footbridge on the Deschutes.

Like Drake Park and the Deschutes River in Bend?

Now that we’ve toured the juxtaposition of green Drake Park against the sapphire of the Mirror Pond part of the Deschutes River, what do you think? If Bend, Oregon is somewhere you’ve been, yourself, how was the experience for you, and what do you recommend that readers know about it or do there? If you haven’t been to Bend yet, does it seem like your kind of place? Do share!

Look at that dappled light on the Drake Park picnic bench!
Look at that dappled light on the Drake Park picnic bench!

Want more of the great outdoors? Learn about Mount Greylock in the Berkshires, MA, and Boulder, CO hikes!

 

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Dave M.

Wednesday 21st of July 2021

Gorgeous photos - and so glad you can travel again now!

Lillie Marshall

Thursday 22nd of July 2021

Thanks, Dave! I'm glad, too!!!

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