Student's Day Off, Part 2: Five Memorable Daytrips in Central Oregon

Last week I wrote about the many epic day trips available to students at our Hillsboro and Troutdale campuses in Northwest Oregon. Students at our Redmond campus in Central Oregon need not feel left out: there are every bit as many scenic wonders available within a 1-2 hour drive of Redmond too. And if your definition of a day trip involves skipping some sleep, you could hit most of these destinations from Hillsboro or Troutdale as well.

Smith Rock

A massive rock formation rising improbably from the surrounding scrubland north of Redmond, Smith Rock isn’t just for climbers. It offers miles of trails alongside the Crooked River and in the shadow of towering basalt cliffs created by ancient lava flows. A picnic lunch and a quick hike make an ideal half-day trip, but if you’re slightly more ambitious, the dawn light sets the entire formation ablaze in brilliant orange.

Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway

Starting from Bend, just south of Redmond, the 66-mile Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway offers the best mile-for-mile drive-by scenery in Oregon, but it would be a shame if you only drove it. Stop at any dozen or so high mountain lakes or stroll through mountain meadows awash in wildflowers. Marvel at the snow-capped Cascade peaks surrounding you, and if you’ve been good about hitting leg day at the gym, considering hiking up the South Sister, one of the few non-technical climbs in the Cascade range.

Newberry Volcanic Monument

Newberry is actually four separate destinations clustered in the forested region south of Bend, and each one gives you a unique perspective on this raw volcanic land. My favorite spot, Newberry Caldera, is a collapsed volcano that is now a deep lake surrounded by high peaks. But be sure to also check out the Lava River Cave, the Lava Cast Forest, where trees cast their shapes into molten lava, and Lava Butte, whose craggy surface served as training ground for the Apollo lunar astronauts.

Crater Lake

This is the furthest-flung destination from Redmond, but it’s worth it. The only national park in the state of Oregon, Crater Lake is also a caldera, memorable for its striking blueness. It’s also the deepest lake in the Western Hemisphere, and yes, you can actually swim in it! But given that there can be snow at Crater Lake into July, most people opt for the boat tour to mystical Wizard Island. Hiking up the surrounding ridges for an even more breathtaking view of the lake should also be on the menu.

Painted Hills

My personal favorite among Central Oregon destinations, Painted Hills is surprisingly the least-visited among the spots listed here. Perhaps it’s because Wikipedia refers to it as “a geologic site in Wheeler County,” which is a bit like calling the Empire State Building “an office tower in Manhattan.” It’s a series of astonishingly smooth rolling hills made of ancient soils, striated with every color in the visible spectrum. The hills are wonderful in every season, but are especially vibrant in the spring. You will see plenty of other lakes, other rock formations, and other mountains in your lifetime, but you will never see anything quite like the Painted Hills. What are you waiting for?