When I first moved to Portland many years ago as a single woman, I would hear about this magical land where families would take their annual trip—Sunriver. I wondered, what is so special about this place? What exactly do you do there? As a city dweller and a total foodie, I simply didn’t understand the appeal of a place four hours away where you go to ride bikes, float along the river, and go hiking, or go sledding and skiing in the winter. Can’t you do that at Mt. Hood? Or somewhere closer?
Then I had two kids, and vacation looks different than it used to. Our active boys aren’t that interested in trying the top 10 places to grab ramen, or spending the whole afternoon perusing art at a museum. And while I am not giving up on that urban vacation forever, I realize Sunriver is actually a perfect getaway, our vitamin-D escape in late winter. I get it now.
Here are five tips to make the most out of your next Sunriver vacation:
Book a rental with SHARC access.
Stay in a rental, ideally with access to SHARC, the Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center. Sunriver is a resort community, with safe bike trails for young kids that connect homes to everything you need: two playgrounds, the “village” with coffee shops, restaurants, an ice skating rink in the winter, and the popular SHARC, which boasts a heated indoor pool open year round, and a heated outdoor aquatics area with slides and a lazy river during summer months. We got a rental across the street from SHARC, and only a 1/2 mile away from the village.
Enjoy indoor fun when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
There are two great options for indoor fun if the weather isn’t cooperating (or if the air quality from wildfires is an issue, like it was for us two summers ago): High Desert Museum and Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory. High Desert Museum is a hands on experience of art, history and wildlife. It features a cool birds of prey exhibit and wonderful exhibits on the Native American communities around the area. Sunriver Nature Center is smaller, but if you are a member at OMSI, you can get in for free through the reciprocal program. They also have a cool observatory, where you can pay $22 per person for an hour-long session viewing the night sky with telescopes and staff astronomers, meteorite displays, and an educational presentation. It’s a cool option for kids 6 and over.
Rent gear in Sunriver.
If you want to try out some skiing or mountain biking, I suggest renting your equipment in Sunriver. We went to Sunriver Sports to rent our skis for a fraction of the price at Mt. Bachelor. They were quick, great with my kids, and super nice. If you want to rent bikes or try mountain biking on the numerous trails around Sunriver and Bend, they suggest reserving it online, because in peak season, their bikes are in high demand. Bikes are so great to have in Sunriver. My older son was not super comfortable riding since we don’t live in a bike friendly neighborhood, but after a couple of days in Sunriver he was riding confidently on his own.
Ski the free beginner area at Mt. Bachelor.
My 6 year old has been begging to try skiing, so we thought this trip would be a good start for him. Rentals ran us around $25 per kid, but lift tickets and lessons can be costly, especially for a fickle 6-year-old who might decide that he hates skiing as soon as we get out of the car. Mt. Bachelor has a beginner area, complete with two magic carpets and a beginner lift leading to Green Circles (beginner runs) for free. If you find that your kids (or you) love skiing, then you can buy a reduced price lift ticket for the remainder of the day. My 6-year-old didn’t love it, so we went to Wanoga Sno-Park for some incredible sledding.
As you can imagine, Sunriver is a popular destination, both over winter holidays and in the summer. If you can, going off season is cheaper and more manageable. But if you can’t, go where the locals go when they want to play in the water. There are beautiful lakes around the area, some perfect for motorized water sports. What could be cooler than checking out a lake located within the caldera of a volcano? Go to Paulina Lake at the Newbury Volcano in the summer. Not only is it cooler by 10°, you will most likely miss the crowds at SHARC or the river. Because Sunriver’s dining options are limited and crowded, I stop by Trader Joe’s in Bend to stock up on meals and snacks.
As it turns out, Sunriver is more than worth our vacation time, even without 10 places to try ramen.
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