The Ultimate Guide to Planning an Awesome Adventure Elopement in Central Oregon – Part 2
When I set out to write The Ultimate Guide to Eloping in Central Oregon, I found that the article would just be too long… I didn’t think anyone would read the whole thing. Have you ever opened up a blog post, saw that it was about 6000 words and half a mile long, then immediately navigated away from that page? Well, I have…
So I’ve broken it up into 3 chunks. You’ll find a little map of where to find what information at the bottom of the article.
Elopement Location Recommendations
The actual city of Bend is in itself beautiful. And one of the things I absolutely love about this town is the integration of nature into the city scape. While there’s certainly room for improvements, you can see things like native plant landscaping, bird houses, owl boxes, and even interpretive signs all over.
But the best part of Bend is its proximity to some really amazing elopement possibilities. Here’s a few ideas.
The Cascade Lakes Highway
Sparks Lake is an iconic stop along this famous highway. And for a good reason. Surrounded by several breathtaking peaks of the Central Cascades, it usually occupies a top spot on people’s To Do List when visiting Central Oregon.
Sparks Lake is a spring fed lake at the base of South Sister and Broken Top (two of the peaks visible from the shore). Folks choose to elope here because of the many pros, some of which include: easy permitting (none needed if you have a small group), dramatic views, camping spots, diversity & variety in setting, and close proximity to Bend (about a 35 minutes drive from downtown).
With restrooms and ADA trails, it is an excellent option if someone in your party has mobility considerations. And the boat launch opens the door to some fun paddling opportunities. There are some islands you can wade or paddle out to, depending on the water levels (which vary dramatically throughout the year).
Farther along on the Cascade Lakes Highway, there are other amazing bodies of water for your adventure elopement. As you drive out of town, you’ll see a sign, informing you of just how many options you have!
One of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen was at Hosmer Lake. Just a short paddle from the campground, you emerge from the thick reeds of tule (yay!) and cat tail, to a wide open panorama of three huge volcanoes. The colors in the sky more than compensated for the several mosquito bites I got that night… plus I saw river otters!
This picturesque area features a stunning waterfall and scenic hiking trails along the Deschutes River, making it an ideal spot for an adventure elopement.
For those who love to kayak, paddleboard or float, there is a calm, lazy stretch of river just upstream of Dillon Falls. You’ll need to exit the river before the falls… but there is plenty of warning and it is not a difficult task.
And for those who prefer to stay on land, the hiking trails offer breathtaking views of the falls and the surrounding area. The position of the trail along the shore makes photographing a float event easily possible. Plus, there’s a fun rope swing into the river for other fun photo ops.
Skylight Caves in Sisters
This little known cave is a great photo opportunity. You do need to be in the cave at the right time of day to get the stunning light rays coming in through the roof. While gorgeous, it’s more of a cool pitstop on a larger adventure. Great for vows or portraits on the way up to an awesome hike by Three-Fingered Jack or somewhere else in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.
The Newberry Volcanic National Monument is a really fun place to explore for your adventure elopement. There’s giant obsidian flows, lakes, caves, waterfalls, hotsprings, boat launches, campsites, snow parks, and other fun ways to fill the day. Plus you can drive to the very top of Paulina Peak and catch an epic sunrise (or sunset).
Fort Rock & Christmas Valley
A bit farther afield from Bend, in Lake County, there are some seriously amazing and untapped landscapes to explore. Fort Rock is an impressive castle-like formation of stone, very remote, but easy to get to. Fun to climb around on the rocks and inspect the cracks and crevices for signs of wildlife.
The Christmas Valley Sand Dunes are a truly wild place. They are spectacularly remote and, if it’s not a 3-day weekend, you’ll likely have the place to yourself most of the time. With so little light pollution, it’s an amazing spot for stargazing (or UFO spotting, if that’s your thing…). If you have access to off-road vehicles, they are allowed on the dunes, which could be a super fun thing to add to your adventure elopement itinerary.
The desert of Central Oregon has a type of beauty that sneaks up on you. This region is full of miles and miles of sagebrush, punctuated by cool features. Like Green Mountain Campground, Crack in the Ground, or Derrick Cave.
Three Sisters Wilderness
Really… how can I even tap the vast ocean of opportunity when it comes to the Three Sisters Wilderness? There are miles and miles of trails leading to amazing spots. And the volcanic history provides really unique landscapes to explore. Below are a few ideas for your mountain adventure elopement, but I encourage you to get your hands on a trail guide!
An important note for this wilderness area, if you choose to have your adventure elopement here: the permitting system changed in the past few years. Since the area has grown in popularity, the forest service has implemented a new system which requires a permit to hike in from popular trailheads. Permit registration opens in the springtime, dates can be checked here.
There are a few permits set aside for each trailhead where registration opens 7 days before. So if you miss the springtime opening, there’s still hope! Alternatively, there are still many trailheads where no special permit is needed. Here is a reference map!
This one is the obvious option. It is an incredibly popular and iconic hike in Central Oregon. South Sister is the tallest of the three, but it is the easiest to summit. There is a trail leading to the top, and you can get there without any technical mountaineering skills after much of the snow melts.
That being said, it is not an easy hike. It’s 12 miles round trip, and the last couple miles are quite brutal. It’s a steep slog up through course red lava rock… but, damn, is the view worth it. The caldera at the top has a wide field of snow and the adorable Teardrop Lake sits in the middle.
Moraine Lake is a much less intense hike than South Sister. It is a small alpine lake set in the rolling waves of volcanic deposits. It is an excellent option for a mellow day hiking elopement. Or a great base camp for a backpacking elopement. Like if you want to summit South Sister in a couple of days.
Green Lakes Trail
A very popular hike for a very good reason. With beautiful views of Broken Top and a jewel of a lake, this is a wonderful option for folks wanting a bit of a longer hike. It’s about 9 miles, roundtrip. Excellent for an overnight elopement, or an extended day romping around the mountains. We’ll be sure to bring PLENTY of snacks!
Tam McArthur Rim
A short, but rewarding hike, offering views of the desert valley, and high peaks of the Cascades. Look all the way north, to Mt. Jefferson, and roam around in the alpine forests. It’s about 5.5 miles round trip.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness
Located just northwest of Sisters, Oregon, the Mount Jefferson Wilderness area offers over 100 miles of stunning hiking trails, making it a perfect destination for adventurers of all levels.
Some popular trailheads include the Pacific Crest Trail at Santiam Pass and the Jefferson Park Trailhead. For a moderate day hike, the Jefferson Park Loop trail offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and alpine meadows.
Or hike Canyon Creek meadows for an up close and personal view of the 7,844’ Three Fingered Jack. Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats!
Good to keep in mind: this is an area where camping AND day-use permits are required at many of the trailheads. (See above for details)
With its deep blue water and picturesque Wizard Island, Crater Lake is one of the most iconic locations in Central Oregon. This stunning lake is located in a caldera created by an extremely cataclysmic volcanic eruption… which is pretty cool.
Crater Lake is also Oregon’s only National Park (which I think is nuts… considering how many phenomenal places there are in the state). As a general rule, eloping in national parks takes more permitting logistics than a State Park, County Park, or BLM land. And national parks feature many ADA trail options and facilities, in case accessibility is a consideration.
Located in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills are a unique and colorful destination for an elopement. The hills are composed of layers of volcanic ash and clay, which have been eroded over time to create a stunning array of colors.
There are some extremely photogenic spots in the Painted Hills, and some really cool spots to camp & play not too far away.
There are other areas to explore in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, if you’re willing to take a drive. And the Tom Condon Visitor’s Center is one the best I’ve ever been to, and I LOVE visitor’s centers… It’s full of crazy beautiful fossils that paint a really cool picture of Ancient Oregon. Perfect for biology/ecology/paleontology/geology nerds.
Known as the birthplace of American sport climbing, Smith Rock State Park is a breathtaking location for an elopement. The park features towering cliffs, deep canyons, and stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Smith Rock is extremely popular for a very good reason. Even though it is a small park, there are many levels of adventure to be had here. If you are concerned about accessibility (maybe Grandma is one of your few guests), there are stunning views only feet from the parking lot.
And then, there’s Misery Ridge… so named for the very short, but brutal uphill climb. You can hike to the top of the cliffs on this trail, or head out a little farther along a loop trail that gives you sweeping views of the whole park.
And then there’s rock climbing… you could strap in and scale the cliff to the top of Monkey Face if that’s your thing.
Suttle Lake is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts in Central Oregon, located just west of Sisters. The lake itself is a beautiful, serene setting for swimming, fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. It’s also surrounded by hiking and biking trails, making it a great spot for a day trip or an overnight elopement.
At Suttle Lake, visitors can take a leisurely walk around the lake, rent a boat, paddleboard from the lodge, or hike the nearby trails through the Deschutes National Forest. The area is known for its stunning mountain views and crystal-clear waters. The lodge also offers cabins, campsites, and a restaurant, making it a great option for those looking to stay a few days.
Cove Palisades State Park is a popular destination in Central Oregon known for its stunning views and a variety of recreational activities. The park is situated on Lake Billy Chinook, a reservoir created by the Round Butte Dam. The lake spans over 3,000 acres and is surrounded by towering cliffs of columnar basalt, making it a scenic location for camping, boating, fishing, picnicking, and swimming.
Visitors to Cove Palisades State Park can enjoy several hiking trails, including the Tam-a-lau Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding landscape. History enthusiasts will enjoy the nearby petroglyphs.
Black Butte is a beautiful and iconic landmark in Central Oregon. With its conical peak and surrounding forest, it’s the perfect location for a nature-loving couple looking for a unique and intimate wedding ceremony. Couples can exchange vows at the top, with panoramic views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains.
Located in the Deschutes National Forest, Odell Lake is a serene destination with crystal-clear waters and peaceful evergreen forests. Odell Lake provides a stunning backdrop for outdoor activities such as fishing, hiking, camping, and wildlife watching. The lake is home to a variety of fish species, including lake trout, kokanee, and rainbow trout, making it a popular destination for anglers.
For adventure elopements, Odell Lake offers an intimate setting for couples looking to exchange vows in the midst of nature. With a variety of campsites and cabins available for rent, you can make a weekend out of it and explore the surrounding wilderness before and after your ceremony. And with opportunities for boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding, there are plenty of ways to create lasting memories together.
Mount Bachelor is a popular ski resort in Central Oregon, located about 22 miles southwest of Bend. However, it’s also a fantastic location for adventurous couples looking to elope in an impressive setting. With stunning views of the surrounding Cascade Mountains, there are plenty of opportunities for breathtaking photos.
You can choose from a range of activities at Mount Bachelor, including hiking, mountain biking, ziplining, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Activity possibilities vary depending on the season.
McKenzie River Highway
The McKenzie River is a stunningly beautiful body of water. It flows west from the youngest lava flow in Oregon. All this volcanic geology makes for crystal clear springs, giant waterfalls and beautiful alpine lakes.
A few spots along the McKenzie River worth exploring are:
- Blue Pool – A very popular hike, made famous by social media. Blue Pool is about 4 miles round trip, and worth the effort. It is also definitely worth it to go EARLY in the morning, or even on a weekday. Because all the viral content has made for a very tricky parking situation.
- Koosah and Sahalie Falls – Also a pretty popular spot, but people typically don’t spend too much time there, so it’s less crowded than Blue Pool. It’s a great spot for an adventure elopement because there’s accessible spots for a ceremony, and several hiking route options. The waterfall loop is about 2.5 miles, but you can hike up to the next location, Clear Lake.
- Clear Lake – Aptly named, this is some of the clearest water in the state. There’s gorgeous flows of dark lava rock, dotted with vine maples and huckleberry shrubs that turn verdant green in the summer and brilliant red in the autumn. You can rent a row boat from the resort for extra romance.
Ready to Start Planning?
So, basically, there are a lot of really great options to choose from if you’re making your way to Bend for your adventure elopement. Whatever your vibe, whether it’s boho desert-y, classic but rugged, or wet and windswept, you can find the perfect place to celebrate your commitment.
If you want general information about eloping in the region, check out Part 1.
And if you’re ready to start planning, send me a message here!