For years the Green Lakes Trail held an unbreakable spell on my psyche. I’d seen countless photos of the hike on social media, where South Sister and Broken Top seemed to rise directly above the trail — their peaks reflected in the emerald-hued reservoirs that give the trail its name. So on a balmy July morning in 2021, Central Cascades Wilderness Permit in hand, I finally hit the trail.
The forecast called for high temperatures, and the warm weather tailed me as I passed the rushing Fall Creek Falls, walked alongside a lava flow and enjoyed a few granola bars next to one of the basin’s namesake lakes.
I returned to the trailhead after a long walk with my water bottle empty. Just a few steps from my car, I passed a handful of young retirees relaxing in camp chairs, celebrating their hike with craft beers and sparkling water. Recognizing me from the trail, one of the group members invited me over and offered a sparkling water. I plopped into an open chair, toasted my new friends and guzzled the whole can — all before introducing myself. As I began to feel human again, we talked about the trail, the charms of Central Oregon and our plans for the coming days.
If I’d gone with a friend, the group would have likely paid us no mind. But I hiked solo that Wednesday morning and had built a rapport with those kind souls at viewpoints along the way. My solitude made me more approachable, less insulated from the world around me, and that opened me up to new experiences and new connections.
Having experienced much of what Central Oregon has to offer — first as an adoring visitor and later as a Bend resident — I’ve noticed the region seems well suited to these encounters as a solo traveler. Smiling service workers are stoked to share their beautiful region with the wider world, community-minded lodgings host crackling fire pits, and conversations come easy while waiting for meals at the region’s myriad food-cart pods.
Any time of year is a good time to enjoy that cheer, but in spring especially, skiers and snowboarders can typically hit the slopes at Hoodoo Ski Area until mid- to late April and Mt. Bachelor until late May. And with fewer visitors than in summer, it’s easier to mingle with locals over après-ski drinks at The Dogwood Cocktail Cabin in Bend and around the fire pits at the new Wild Ride Brewing taproom in Prineville.
Here’s a roundup of fun gathering places and group outings that might make solo travel even better in Central Oregon.
Foster Connections at Hotels and Hostels
If you’re looking for hotels or hostels where you can make friends, find adventure buddies or enjoy good conversation, you’ll find plenty of hip hotels and hostels around Central Oregon.
The welcoming vibe is clear from the name of SCP Redmond, a downtown hotel whose initials stand for ‘soul,’ ‘community’ and ‘planet.’ The hotel supports those sentiments with a gym, a relaxed restaurant and Redmond’s only rooftop bar. If you’re an introvert who needs quiet time to rest and recharge, book a night in one of the hotel’s “peaceful” rooms, all devoid of digital distractions (such as radios, clocks and televisions).
Just outside Bend’s downtown core, the outdoors-themed Campfire Hotel brings guests together with a seasonal heated saltwater pool (complete with a bar pouring local beer, wine and spirits), an outdoor fire pit in the courtyard and a cocktail bar that occasionally hosts live music.
The lively Bunk+Brew Historic Lucas House sits at the edge of downtown Bend and features a busy backyard that hosts a beer garden, fire pits, hammocks, on-site food carts, a stage for local musicians and a pool table. A free beer is offered at check-in for guests 21 and over.
Experience Community Gathering Spaces
When I started taking solo trips, most friends and loved ones reacted as if I’d announced I was piloting a shuttle to the moon. Many don’t understand that traveling solo may mean traveling on my own, but it’s never really traveling alone.
It’s easy to have serendipitous moments and make unexpected connections at gathering spots across Central Oregon. At craft breweries, food-cart pods and other shared spaces, you can meet residents and chat with fellow travelers.
Central Oregon is synonymous with good beer, and not just because Bend’s Boss Rambler Beer Club makes a great IPA or because Funky Fauna Artisan Ales crafts a lineup of excellent farmhouse ales in Sisters. More often than not, Central Oregon breweries are staffed by friendly beertenders eager to share your enthusiasm for quality ales and lagers — all in jovial tasting rooms with spacious seating, cheery soundtracks and cozy fire pits.
Food-cart pods cover nearly every community in Central Oregon, each offering communal seating that makes it easy to strike up conversations over fried-chicken sandwiches and just-tapped craft beers. In Prineville Corral Tap Room & Food Carts pairs a couple of carts with indoor and outdoor seating; The Barn in Sisters brings together a chic taphouse, four food carts and plenty of outdoor seating in its namesake community; and The Podski, one of many food-cart pods in Bend, features roughly 10 carts, an on-site beer bar, a fire pit and an airy patio between downtown and the Old Mill District.
Food halls have grown in popularity in recent years, a trend that arrived in Central Oregon in 2021 with the launch of The Grove Market Hall on Bend’s west side. The Grove’s vendors include an outpost from Thump Coffee, a beer bar from Bend Brewing Company, an ice cream shop scooping Elly’s Ice Cream and a few eateries, all with indoor and outdoor seating.
Group Activities Get Solo Travelers Outdoors
There’s nothing wrong with desiring a community of one but the allure of group outings and activities can be undeniable, especially in new places. Fortunately, outdoor-focused group activities are common around Central Oregon.
The welcoming FootZone store specializes in running, walking and hiking gear — and hosts weekly outings of varying lengths for runners and walkers of all ability levels throughout Bend. Head out on outdoor adventures with Wanderlust Tours, a Bend-based outfitter that leads kayak and canoe trips, snowshoe and lava-tube tours and more around Central Oregon. Pine Mountain Sports offers year-round rentals and sells a wide range of gear in Bend — but separates itself with group mountain bike rides. Throughout the spring and summer, the shop’s events include coed group outings and women-only rides.