Ever since we bought our van, Jules and I have been daydreaming about taking a road trip up the Pacific Northwest. From all our research this magical region seemed like the perfect destination to expand our adventure and sustainable travels in the United States! Of course Oregon was on our radar, with its scenic landscapes, fun cities and thriving beer scene. But as the pieces of our road trip began to fall into place, it seemed that our dream of cruising up Highway 1 would have to be put on the hold until another time. Thankfully something possibly even more exciting was in our future: Central Oregon!
Central Oregon may not sound as sexy as hitting the coast, but this route has plenty to see and do. With its gorgeous natural surroundings, Central Oregon is an outdoor lover’s dream. There’s really no ‘typical day’ for a traveler in this region; you could find yourself hiking scenic trails, rafting down rapids or belaying down a cliff face. At night, you’ll most likely fill up on a delicious meal made from local ingredients and polish it off with a beer brewed just down the street.
What made our road trip even more exciting was partnering with one of our most favorite brands: Kettle Brand Chips. Jules and I have been addicted to those tasty chips for as long as we can remember. I know what you’re thinking, what do Kettle Brand Chips have to do with road tripping through Oregon? Well besides being the tastiest road trip snack imaginable, Kettle Brand was actually conceptualized in a van in Oregon in 1982! That van became Kettle Food’s first delivery truck.
Now Kettle has expanded their operations just a hair, by working with farmers all over the States and selling their delicious chips all over the world! They’ve stayed true to their roots, though, and never compromise on keeping their manufacturing as sustainable as possible. From using biodiesel in their delivery vans and to solar power on the roof of their plant, to sustainable packaging, Kettle walks the environmental walk. They even partner with local nonprofits to help the communities they operate in. Can you say #brandcrush?
To inspire your own Oregon vanlife road trip, here was our Central Oregon road trip itinerary:
If you’re coming up to Oregon from California along the Hwy 97, Crater Lake will likely be one of your first stops. Crater Lake is super easy to get to from the highway and makes for a fantastic afternoon detour for a picnic and a break from driving. The lake is located in its own national park (Crater Lake National Park) and is actually the deepest lake in the entire US.
The lake is extremely clean, which is visible in the water’s clarity and deep blue color. Crater Lake is considered one of the “7 Wonders of Oregon,” which is pretty impressive considering the state is filled with many natural attractions. Besides being an incredible backdrop for photography, you can also hike around the park or bicycle the lake’s rim.
Bend isn’t nearly as well known as other Portland cities, and it seems that locals are happy to keep it that way. Although rising in popularity with tourists, Bend still might be the best kept secret of Oregon. This little town is teeming with personality, from its quaint downtown to its hip restaurants and cafes. And we can’t write about Bend without mentioning one of its best attractions: beer.
Bend has a thriving micro-brewery scene that started in the late 80’s with the “grandaddy” of breweries, Deschutes. Now there’s almost two dozen local breweries, each with really different personalities. Want to spend the afternoon with the family outside, playing cornhole and drinking cold IPAs? Definitely check out Crux. Want something a little edgier, with a biker feel? Boneyard is your spot.
We hopped on the the Bend Brew Bus and got a tour (and taste) of some breweries to get our bearings the first day. One of our favorites was Bend Brewing Company where you can enjoy your beer in their outdoor area overlooking the Deschutes River. We recommend getting a beer sampler (six 2 oz glasses of whatever beer you want to try) and pairing with Kettle Brand chips of course! Just another perk of winning the grand prize van road trip: you can visit all the delicious breweries Oregon has to offer!
Just a 45 minute drive from Bend is Smith Rock, a beautiful state park perfect for just about any outdoor activity you can think of. From rock climbing to stand up paddle boarding to, of course, hiking, it’s an outdoor lover’s paradise. Hell, we even saw a guy riding up and down the trails on a unicycle, getting pulled by his dog! Smith Rock is also a perfect spot for wildlife watching, with otters cruising down the Crooked River and golden eagles soaring overhead. Sunrise and sunset are particularly good times to visit Smith Rock, especially for photographers looking to capture the light pouring through the canyon’s rock faces.
After spending the day at Smith Rock, you can head to the nearby town of Sisters. Another gem of a city in Central Oregon, Sisters is an artsy little town that is named for the nearby Three Sisters mountain range. Like neighboring Bend, Sisters has plenty to offer for outdoorsy types, with a variety of hikes to waterfalls, lakes and mountains. The town is home to several art and culture festivals and shops where you can purchase local handicrafts. If you’re looking for a bit of self-pampering, the town has several upscale lodges, spas and golf courses.
No, we don’t suggest tubing down a river of liquid hot magma. The Lava Tubes near Bend are actually a series of underground caves created by lava from the Newberry volcanic eruption. From ground level you’d never know that such an intricate maze of tunnels exists underneath. Not until you descend the stairs will you see how massive these cave systems are.
We explored the Boyd Lava Tube, which was easy to access and explore without a guide, but there are several other access points in the area. Definitely take a headlamp and a sweater, because it’s dark and chilly down there. At some point in your exploration, we recommend turning off all your headlamps to experience just how pitch black and eerie it is in the caves. These caves are unique to Central Oregon and are just another reason to explore the region.
If your Central Oregon road trip is taking you over to the coast, a great first stop is Coos Bay. This fun city has a diverse landscape for all types of nature lovers. Hikers will love the waterfalls and viewpoints in the area. Those that prefer to spend a relaxing afternoon on the beach will enjoy the sand at Sunset Bay State Park. Thrill seekers can enjoy ATVing and other motorsport activities on the sand dunes. Local free concerts and farmer’s markets just add to the community feel of Coos Bay. This city is a great jumping off point to continue your road trip up north along the beautiful Oregon coast.
Whether you choose to travel through Central Oregon like we did, or you’d rather explore a different region of the state, Oregon is a perfect spot for a road trip.