What’s to Love: I’ve been trying hard, but I cannot even imagine a better family destination than Black Butte Ranch, which is located about 8 miles outside beautiful Sisters, Oregon. When you pull into this amazing resort, park your car and leave it for the duration of your stay. If you don’t bring bikes, rent them! Get on your bikes and ride the 18 miles of smooth-as-silk-paved-paths everywhere you want to go. Whether it’s golf, tennis, swimming, kids’ activities, disc golf, playground fun, fine dining, or horseback riding, Black Butte Ranch has all the bases covered.
My first morning at Black Butte, I was up at 5am cruising around on my bike, and I literally almost ran into four deer strolling on the same bike path. I watched the sunrise light up Black Butte, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, and the Three Sisters peaks. I met my family for a bike ride to breakfast, then the pool, then a scheduled activity for kids, culminating with dinner and drinks on our patio. I kept asking myself, could it possibly get any better than this? Believe me, the fun was non-stop and the friendly staff members at Black Butte made everything so easy. Here is some video of my early morning ride.
Black Butte was one of those destinations we absolutely HAD to do here at Portland Family Adventures. When telling people about our adventures, we often got the question, “Yeah, but have you been to Black Butte Ranch?” It has legions of fans that run the gamut from wealthy retired folks who like to wander the trails and golf courses, to young families who save-up or share a house with another family. Black Butte has many different lodging options (cabins, homes and condos) and special packages to help fit into your budget.
Looking at the map of the resort, it’s all a bit overwhelming. There are 5 pools, 2 recreation centers, fitness classes, a spa, two full-service restaurants, two beautiful golf courses, and stellar views. All of these activities are linked together by a web of paved-paths that make getting around the resort a delightful experience. Above all, Black Butte does not have a “country club atmosphere.” It’s very down-to-earth without a hint of pretentiousness. Your family will feel comfortable in the “Recreation Barn and Arcade” or the Big Meadow Golf Shop. Here is a clip of the “Big Meadow” area.
Unless you’re looking for a little quiet time, the newer “Glaze Meadow Recreation Center (GMRC)” is where you’ll want to put in some serious family time. This facility is first-class featuring a pool with a “sprayground” feature and a kiddie/toddler pool. Your kids – whether toddlers or teenagers – will love the scene at the GMRC. When they get sick of the pool, head over to the playstructure just steps away from the pool. If you feel the need to get away from the kids, take one of the many fitness classes they offer, or go play a game of tennis or golf.
The other hub of activity is up at “The Lodge.” While the pool here cannot compare to the GMRC, this northern area of the resort does have a lot to offer families. For example, this is where you’ll find the “Recreation Barn,” which has some video games and is the headquarters for their day camp. The day camp is basically an open-to-the-public daycare option for parents who want a break for a few hours or a whole day. Unfortunately, we were not able to take advantage of the day camp, so I cannot say much more about it. Hopefully, we’ll get to use this option on our next trip to Black Butte. At the very least, you’ll want to take advantage of the MANY activities offered for kids throughout the day at the “Rec. Barn.”
Up north you’ll also find a basketball court, large sport field, a disc golf course, and the Big Meadow Golf Course. We are not golfers and passed on the opportunity to play a round of golf. I have nothing against the game – I just didn’t want to cause any serious damage to the course or injure anyone with a stray ball.
Instead of golfing a round, I noticed the driving range across from the Big Meadow Golf Shop was family-friendly. There were entire families out there hitting balls, and it looked like a lot fun. The staff members in the golf shop helped us get a pint-sized set of clubs for my 5 year old, and we headed out to smack some golf balls. We also tried some putting on their practice green. This was an excellent introduction to golf without actually playing!
Caveats: This is high desert climate, so expect a lot of sun without much shade. Your kids should definitely have sun hats, sunscreen and plenty of water. If you do need supplies, beyond what is offered at their General Store, you’ll have to drive 8 miles into the town of Sisters.
The water in the “sprayground” at the GMRC is not heated like the pool water! I thought it was quite cold running around in it, but our kids didn’t seem to mind. Also, we had a floating (body-sized) raft that people commonly float around on in swimming pools. I was told by the manager that the raft was too big to have in the pool. So, small inflatables are fine for children, but adult float toys were discouraged.
Website: Black Butte Ranch
Distance from Portland: Via I-5 and 22 east, it’s about 146 miles, which will take between 3 and 3 1/2 hours (Google map of that route). I prefer this route to 20 east from I-5. 20 east has too many stop lights.
Recommended Ages: Great place for the whole family from infants all the way to grandma and grandpa. Black Butte is the perfect destination for family functions, reunions, weddings, vacations, etc.
Parental Stress Factor: Low stress at Black Butte, and I think they like it that way! Even the drivers around Black Butte are very careful and keep their speed down. The only time I felt stress was when I was trying to decide what to do. There are just so many options when planning your day at the ranch.
Physical Difficulty: The paved-paths create many areas for handicapped accessibility. Contact Black Butte for more information. The trails themselves are mostly flat, and your kids won’t have much difficulty at all biking around their property.
Family Fun Factor: Black Butte gets the ultimate HIGH from Portland Family Adventures! Again, it would be hard to imagine a more family-friendly atmosphere and vacation. This destination truly provides an opportunity for the whole family to play together.
Pet Friendly: Some properties may be pet friendly. Please check with Black Butte before bringing your family pet. In my opinion, Black Butte is not a great place for dogs. Your kids will be so busy riding bikes, swimming, playing tennis, etc.
Weather Considerations: The high desert does not sport many shady trees! Be prepared for hot weather in the summer with a lot of sun exposure. If you’re into blue skies, the summer is the season for you. I know families that go to Black Butte year round, and they enjoy all the seasons on the ranch.
Insider Info: Even if you don’t HAVE to, do yourself a BIG favor and bike or walk through “The Meadow.” Experiencing these sweeping views of the surrounding mountains is one of those, “I’m so happy to be alive” moments that you won’t forget. I can still close my eyes and enjoy the view to this day. I don’t think I’ll forget it very soon.
If you’re interested in some horseback riding, make sure your kids have long pants and closed-toe shoes. It’s very common for kids to be running/riding around in flip flops and shorts, which isn’t going to fly at the stables. The rates are very reasonable, and they also offer extended trail rides for adults and pack trips in the Sisters’ wilderness.
If you have some inflatable float toys for the pool, take them over to the bike rental shop at the GMRC, and the friendly staff members there will gladly blow them up with their air compressor! This saved about 20 minutes – what a treat!
Again, I am not a food critic per se. I look at the “big picture” as it concerns dining with kids and family-friendliness. The Lodge Restaurant is located on the north end of the ranch and is their fine dining venue. We ate breakfast here on our first morning, and we all agreed the food was outstanding. More importantly, the Lodge Restaurant offers all the atmosphere and amenities of a high-end restaurant without the attitude.
Our one-year-old spilled oatmeal and a ton of “O’s” all over their carpeted floor, and our 5-year-old spilled a huge glass of orange juice. These common problems were met with humor and helpfulness. When our baby started screaming, we were not met with the cold stares of curmudgeons, but the loving smiles and nods of people who have “been there done that.” Definitely, do not be turned away by the aesthetics of this excellent restaurant. This is the perfect opportunity to introduce your kids to the world of fine dining.
Despite being at the Big Meadow golf course, Robert’s Pub has a more casual, pub-food experience. We ate breakfast here twice and dinner once. Why did we eat here the most? As parents, I’m sure you’ll appreciate my reasoning. Do you know that crazy time after you order food, and your kids are going out of their minds just sitting there waiting for it to arrive? Well, we know that feeling too! At the clubhouse, there is a quick exit right out onto the rolling hills of the golf course itself. Kids just need to take off their shoes (to protect the lawn), and they can run around while you watch from the patio or from inside the restaurant. There was a big group of kids just running and rolling around on this nicely manicured play-yard.
If they get bored in the back of the restaurant, kids can also go out rambling near the driving range to watch people hit golf balls. This range is far more casual than most places I’ve seen. The people were very friendly and made an effort to say hello and interact with our children. The Lodge restaurant has a grassy area as well, but a flock of Canadian Geese like to hang-out there; thus, you’ll have to be extra careful where you step and/or sit!
Family Tips: Every week Black Butte prints up a brochure of family/kid activities available on the ranch. Most of these activities are at the “Rec Barn” near the Big Meadow Golf Course and “The Lodge.” Many of the activities are free or cost a nominal fee (e.g., I saw many activities for just $3.00 per child).
If you have beginning bikers, you may want to bring (or rent) a Burley-type trailer. That way, if your kids poop-out on the trail, you can just load them up with their bike and continue on your way. These trailers are also perfect for loading up with all kinds of accessories like bats, balls, Frisbees, golf clubs, etc.
Many of the rental homes at Black Butte are perfect for multiple and/or large families. If the prices seem expensive for your family, partner up with another family (or two!) and split the cost of the rental. I think you’ll be surprised how affordable these rentals become when costs are shared.
The properties are fully stocked with everything you’ll need! Again, if money is an issue right now, plan on eating all your meals at your rental. Black Butte is small enough where it’s not a problem to head back for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Plus, this will give you time to put down your kids for a nap or an afternoon siesta.
Rent a canoe or kayak for only $5/half-hour at the small lake behind The Lodge. The view of the mountains from this little lake is just incredible, and it’s such a mellow paddle for beginners. High school kids will probably be bored, but kids under 10 will probably enjoy this activity. Here is the final video clip followed by a collage of photos, if you don’t feel like clicking on the pictures in the article.