Though mainly known for its breweries and trails, you may find the museums in Bend, Oregon to be an entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
There are only a few museums in the Bend, but there is another half a dozen in the surrounding area that offer a wide range of experiences.
From geological exhibits to human history, you’ll be able to find something you’re interested in. There is even one just for the kids, so you can keep them entertained on a rainy day as well.
If you’re looking for some interesting things to do in Bend, Oregon, any of these museums are a great spot to spend an afternoon. And if you have time between biking the trails and enjoying the meals this city has to offer, stop in at one of them to see what’s on display.
- 1 Must See Museums in Bend, Oregon
- 2 More Great Nature Centers & Museums to Visit in Central Oregon
Must See Museums in Bend, Oregon
There are only three museums in Bend, Oregon, offering different types of exhibits to educate and entertain you and your family. Not only have we put in where to find them and the hours you can visit, but we’ve also added in what you can expect when you visit each one.
High Desert Museum
In 1982, the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon opened its doors with the mission of connecting visitors to the museum with the amazing history, culture, and landscape the Oregon high desert. It educates on the past while also teaching about the effects we have on the environment presently.
The huge 135-acre campus, with over 100,000 square feet designated for exhibits, gives you plenty of room to explore the museum, so be sure you’ve got a few hours free to check out everything on display.
Some of the permanent exhibits are the Desertarium, which lets you see many of the creatures that live in the High Desert up close, The Spirit of the West exhibit, where you can stroll through a fur trappers camp, the Hudson’s Bay Company Fort, and a hard rock mine, so you can see for yourself what it was like to live during that time. You can also get near a bobcat and a porcupine with no fear with the museums wonderful wildlife exhibits.
There are also many exhibits that change each year, giving you a new experience each time you visit. The curators and volunteers are knowledgeable about the exhibits they are responsible for, so they can help you explore the area and find the exhibits you’re interested in. There is also a gift shop in the building, so you can commemorate your visit with a souvenir.
59800 US-97 Bend, Oregon
April 1 – October 31
9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
November 1 – March 31
10:00 AM to 4:00 PM
Senior (65 plus) $10
College Student (with I.D.) $10
Children (ages 3-12) $7
Toddler (2 and younger) Free
Deschutes Historical Museum
The Deschutes Historical Museum is another must-see museum in Bend, Oregon. It is located in the Reid School, built in 1914, though the museum itself only opened in 1975. Their goal is to gather local historical material that shows the history of Central Oregon, most of which was donated by local families and businesses in the area.
This museum gives you a look at the history of the area, with exhibits showcasing a schoolroom from 1910, pioneer life, a 1907 Holsman Car, some early Native American artifacts, and even the role the forests of the area played during the lumber days.
There is also a photography exhibition, where there are 60 photographs printed from their original large-format glass-plate negatives. These photos date back to the early 1900s, showing some unique local views of the area. You can join a guided tour, or do a self-guided one, whichever you prefer. And the helpful staff can assist you in either option.
You can also attend the events put on at the Deschutes Historical Museum, like the History Pub, where you can be part of a discussion on the local history while enjoying a brew. A small gift shop is also located in the building. For such a low priced admission, this museum is well worth the visit while exploring downtown Bend.
129 NW Idaho Avenue, Bend, Oregon
Tuesday – Saturday
10 AM to 4:30 PM
Youth (ages 13 – 17) $2
Children (under 12) Free –
when accompanied by an adult
Children’s Museum of Central Oregon
As museums go, the Children’s Museum of Central Oregon is a unique one, as it doesn’t actually have a physical location just yet. There are plans for one in the future, but until then, they host a few events designed strictly for the younger members of the family who won’t necessarily enjoy what a historical or art museum has to offer.
Children learn differently, through interaction, so this great museum for kids has designed their programs strictly for them. Most of the events are meant for kids aged 3 to 11, though everyone in the family may find something of interest.
This museum offers a Pop-up Museum Series, which lets kids enjoy some science experiments, hands-on arts and crafts, and much more. Currently, these include Human Powered, which lets kids learn how the body runs and how to make themselves even more powerful using simple physics. The Up, Up, and Away pop-up exhibit lets them explore air travel and flight, teaching them how heavy things are able to get in the air and stay there.
There are also art and science camp programs available, which combine the two to help children learn to experiment with different materials and methods while using their own creativity at the same time. There are music camps, energy camps, stop motion and storytelling camps, and many more, all of which educate children in a fun and entertaining way.
Varies with program and camp
Varies with program and camp
Varies with program and camp
More Great Nature Centers & Museums to Visit in Central Oregon
Whether you’ve already checked out all the museums in Bend, Oregon or are just looking for something different, you can head out of the city to keep up with the historical and nature-loving exhibits in the surrounding area. Each one has its own unique displays that can educate and entertain your family at the same time.
Sunriver Nature Center
Unlike some other museums of this type, the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory is more than just a nature museum. It’s located on Spring River Road, only a mile from Sunriver. It offers a variety of activities and exhibits that can entertain all members of the family, educating them at the same time.
The Sunriver Nature Center has live animal exhibits, hands-on discovery areas, and even has talks on various birds of prey, where you can actually see the raptor being discussed up close.
You can also head outside to explore many of the trails around the center. You can guide yourself or join a bird walk, where a local expert will help you spot different species. There are picnic tables and benches where you can enjoy a snack while observing birds at the various feeders or other wonders of nature. These trails are not bike-accessible, though, so be prepared to walk.
The Oregon Observatory is adjacent to the Sunriver Nature Center, allowing you to check out the beauty of the sky during the day and at night. There is a range of telescopes there for you to use, so you can check out any celestial body you like, no matter how close or far away it is.
57245 River Rd, Sunriver, Oregon
Winter 10 AM – 3 PM
Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Children (ages 4 – 12) $5
Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum
In 1984, The Fort Rock Valley Historical Society was formed to help preserve the history of the homestead era of Oregon. Four years later, they opened the Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum, moving early 1900s homestead-era buildings to their site west of Fort Rock. These buildings were then restored, with authentic furnishings of that period added in to create a replica of homestead village of the past.
If you visit the Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum, there is a small museum building to explore, but the village is what really draws visitors. There are various structures to explore, including a church, a school, a doctor’s office, a blacksmith shop, a general store, and a few homes.
There is also some vintage farm equipment on display. You can see firsthand the way people of this time lived, worked, and survived. Many of the artifacts are even hands-on accessible. The staff is also quite knowledgeable, offering guided tours for those who want to learn about the history as they explore.
If you want to commemorate your visit, a gift store is also on site, selling books about the history of the homesteaders, the wildlife, and more. You can also buy some t-shirts and souvenirs.
County Rd 5 – 10,
West of Fort Rock
Summer 11 AM to 5 PM
Thursday – Sunday
Children (6 – 12) $3
Children (5 and under) Free
The Museum At Warm Springs
The Museum at Warm Springs isn’t just a place to house artifacts, it was built to keep the history of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs from disappearing forever, so their young people would always know where they come from. It preserves their culture, history, and their traditions, plus offers a look into the past for all its visitors.
The building was designed with a specific purpose, as well. The outside area, including the exterior of the building, looks like a traditional encampment, located next to Shitike Creek and surrounded by cottonwood trees.
Even the materials used for the construction of the museum and its decorative landmarks reflect the traditions of the three Tribes, including the outdoor stream that continues into a water-like polished slate floor inside the museum. Huge columns resemble tall native trees.
Inside the museum, there is a Permanent Exhibit, plus a gallery with changing exhibits. A small amphitheater outside is used for many outdoor performances and demonstrations put on by Tribal Members, showing off their history, culture, and art.
As well as the amazing artifact collections, there is a fantastic Gift Shop, selling a variety of beadwork, art, jewelry, books, and Native American Music.
2189 Highway 26, Warm Springs, Oregon
Tuesday – Saturday
9 AM to 5 PM
Seniors (60+) $6
Students (13 – 18 with Student Body card) $4.50
Children (ages 5 – 12) $3.50
Children (4 and under) Free
Lava Lands Visitor Center
Though the building that houses the Lava Lands Visitor Center is not very big, it is beautifully designed, fitting in perfectly with the surrounding area. It is considered to be the “interpretive hub of Newberry National Volcanic Monument” and has a fantastic exhibit showing the geological and cultural history of the area.
There are daily films, a Discover Your Forest Bookstore, ranger talks, and gorgeous grounds where you can sit and enjoy a picnic with your family while taking in the beauty of nature.
If you prefer to get out and explore some trails, the Lava Lands Visitor Center is the starting point for quite a few of them, including the Trail of Molten Land, Trail of the Whispering Pines, or the Sun-Lava paved path. You can also jump on a shuttle and head to the summit of Lava Butte.
If you prefer to stay closer to the Visitor Center, you can explore Lava Lands, including the Lava River Cave, though you’ll need to bring a good flashlight for this adventure. There are friendly rangers to help you find whatever trail or landmark you wish to see, using 3D topographical maps to show you every detail of the area.
58201 S. Hwy. 97, Bend, Oregon
Summer 9 AM to 5 PM daily
(hours may vary in the beginning
and end of the summer season)
Vehicle pass $5 per day
Shuttle fee $2 per person (round trip)
Erickson Aircraft Collection
Those who are interested in planes from around the world should be sure to visit the Erickson Aircraft Collection. It features 27 different planes, most of which are from the WW2 era. Not only is every piece in this collection restored and in near-perfect condition, all but 2 of them are actually still in working condition.
The huge museum has all of these planes spaced out so you can get up close and see every detail, though they do ask you to refrain from touching them. There is also a detailed history for every piece in the museum, so you can see where and when each plane was used.
Another reason to visit the Erickson Aircraft Collection is that they offer a Soaring with the Warbirds program, which allows you to jump in the PT-17 Stearman, AT-6 Texan, or the DC-3 planes and take a ride with one of their pilots. Coming soon is the PBY Catalina, adding in a fourth option for your 20-minute trip.
As well as the planes, there are also fire engines, cars, motorcycles, bikes, and much more on display. The receptionist who greets you upon entering the museum is friendly and knowledgeable, as are the mechanics, pilots, and other members of the staff. You can also visit the gift shop on your way out to commemorate your visit.
2408 NW Berg Drive, Madras, Oregon
Tuesday – Sunday
10 AM to 5 PM
Youth (ages 6 – 17) $5
Children (5 and under) Free
Paulina Visitor Center
Despite being located outside of the city, the Paulina Visitor Center is still considered to be one of the Bend, Oregon attractions. It began as a Forest Service Guard Station, built in 1938, and still retains its rustic look despite its new role. In 1986, it was even listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside the museum, you’ll find a Discover Your Forest bookstore, which has many books, maps, and souvenirs that you can purchase. There are also friendly Forest Service rangers, who can give you information about the area.
Though the Paulina Visitor Center is small, it is more than just a little museum and information center. It is located near the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, so it is the starting point for those who want to check out this area. You can explore the Newberry Caldera to see how volcanos and lava flows have shaped the land.
Paulina Falls is also nearby, so you can check out this fantastic 80-foot double waterfall. You can also visit Paulina Lake and stop in at the lodge for a bite to eat or to rent some watercraft. Keep in mind that the Paulina Visitor Center is free to visit, but the surrounding areas will require a pass or recreational fees.
21 Forest Service Road,
Deschutes National Forest,
May – September
10 AM to 5 PM