What’s to Love: Sunriver feels like a community built around 30+ miles of paved walking/biking paths. When you’re there, it feels like everything (i.e., the pools, the tennis courts, the homes, condos, etc.) was an afterthought to this incredible network of trails. Most of the time, these paved trails are completely separated from the roads, which adds an element of safety.
You’ll often hear in Portland, “…if the biking paths were separated from the roads, more people would ride bikes.” Sunriver is a testament to that belief. Did I mention the great weather and restaurants, beautiful scenery, friendly staff members, everything you need close by, and an overwhelming amount of outdoor recreation opportunities? A vacation at Sunriver Resort will be THAT vacation your family talks about forever.
With its beautiful Main Lodge, South Pool facility, several golf courses, Homestead, Sage Springs Spa, and so many lodging options it’s difficult to know where to start, Sunriver Resort is the centerpiece of this planned community in Central Oregon. The grounds, roads, trails, golf courses, etc…are immaculate. I don’t think I saw a single piece of trash on the ground while biking all over the entire area that is Sunriver, Oregon.
Perhaps, you’re wondering, “What is the difference between Sunriver and Sunriver Resort?” Let me take a moment to explain, because I’ve pondered that same question before our trip. Sunriver, Oregon is a “…3300 acre private planned resort community in Deschutes County, Oregon (source).”
So Sunriver, Oregon is similar to a town with grocery stores, shopping areas, parks, gas stations, etc. There are permanent residents, but the majority of the population, especially during the summer, come from spots all over the USA and world. Within this community, Sunriver Resort has its own properties including those previously mentioned. While visiting Sunriver, we recommend booking through Sunriver Resort.
Your family will love the convenience of riding bikes no more than a few miles to almost any destination in Sunriver. If you need food along the way, there are 3 options inside the Main Lodge (Meadows Restaurant, Owl’s Nest, and the Merchant Trader Cafe). While I’m not a food critic, I can certainly attest to the “family-friendliness” of all three dining options. The waiters were very attentive to all of our “kid requests” (e.g., substitutions, cups with lids, seating where kids can move around, high chairs, boosters, etc.).
We had dinner at the Meadows, lunch at the Owl’s Nest, and breakfast at “McDivot’s,” which is located next to the Woodlands golf course. The highlight would certainly be sitting out on the back deck of the Lodge eating the wonderfully prepared food at the Meadows.
Finally, if you’re a golfing family, you’ll have PLENTY of options (Crosswater, Meadows, Woodlands, and Caldera Links). While I’ve read the accolades of the 18-hole courses, I’m not a good enough golfer to even bother checking them out. If you want to spend time with your young children golfing or introduce the game of golf to beginners, THE option is Caldera Links, which is a par three, 9-hole course. Although great for novices and kids, don’t be fooled. This is a challenging course with several tee-offs over water, difficult greens, and sand traps galore! You might see some experienced golfers working on their “short game” while at Caldera. Here is a quick clip of our game.
Here is a photo journal of our adventures in and around Sunriver Resort. To move at your own pace, click on the “pause” button and once stopped, click the forward and/or back buttons.
Caveats: Nothing is perfect, but Sunriver Resort does an exceptional job at being one of the best family-friendly places we’ve ever visited. My biggest issue with the Resort is that there are SO many things to do, and it’s all a bit overwhelming if you’re not prepared. Of course, you can just come and play at the pool everyday, which actually sounds pretty good right about now.
While it’s nice eating out every now and again, be prepared for prices that are consistent with Portland’s nicest restaurants. The best option is to bring food with you in coolers, especially snack items that you’ll want with you wherever you go.
If you plan on biking, be prepared! The community is bigger than you might think. You may be biking upwards of 10 miles or more per day AND hauling kids! Therefore, you may want to spend some time at home getting in shape to ride. Also, if you’re bringing your own bikes, make sure they’re tuned-up and ready to go.
The South Pool can get a bit crowded. It’s a public pool, which makes it popular with locals from nearby towns. While it’s definitely our favorite destination, if you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, you may want to head to a different pool. The Lodge pool is a good option and is only open to guests of Sunriver Resort. The population of Sunriver can swell considerably during summer weekends. Therefore, I recommend booking your vacation during midweek.
Non-swimmers are not allowed to wear “floaties” on their arms. If you’re concerned about safety, look for life jackets for your kids that are complimentary. The pools do not allow disposable swimming diapers. You can buy a reusable one at the local IGA grocery store for about $6.00.
The Deschutes River float is an excellent option. However, the shortest float you can take is 6 miles, which ends up being 1.5 to 2 hours minimum on the river. The river runs VERY slow here and it was a bit much for my kids (2 and 6) to sit still for that long. I really had to paddle hard to get us out in 1.5 hours, which wasn’t quite as relaxing as I was hoping. Be prepared with sun screen and hats! Here is a clip of our float down the Deschutes.
Distance from Portland: Google Maps has it 179 miles via 26 and 97. This is the way we traveled, and I would go the same way again. There is a beautiful canyon outside of Warm Springs, Oregon where we stopped to have lunch. Definitely would recommend this stop for your family. You can’t miss it! I’ve heard of families traveling via I-5 South then east out of Salem to Sisters. It’s 192 miles if you go that way.
Recommended Ages: All ages will enjoy Sunriver Resort. It’s the perfect location for family vacations, reunions, weddings, formal/informal meetings, or even a peaceful, romantic getaway for couples. There are concerts and teen dances, so even your older kids will find things that interest them.
Parental Stress Factor: I suppose if I had a couple of teens running wild inside the property, I might be a bit more stressed-out while on vacation. However, even with small children, this is a very low stress vacation. Our biggest challenges were the car rides there and back! There is just so much to keep the kids entertained.
Physical Difficulty: All the trails are handicapped-accessible. There are no rollerblades, skateboards, or scooters allowed on the trails. Watch-out for various points where you’ll need to get off your bikes including tunnels, the Village Mall area, and the Main Lodge. The trails themselves have been graded so the riding is mostly flat and easy. There are sections with small hills.
Family Fun Factor: Good times are possible wherever you head at Sunriver. With so many options for family fun, I thought it would be best to give you my top adventures.
- Simply riding bikes on safe, well-maintained, paved paths. I can’t stress this enough. If your family is not into biking, this might be the place to get started! The resort has everything your family needs on-site.
- Visit “Lava Lands Visitor Center and Lava Butte.” This Center is part of the larger “Newberry National Volcanic Monument,” which is only about 5 miles from Sunriver. A pass here will get you access to a lava cave and the entire Newberry Volcano. Read my article on Lava Lands here.
- “The Putting Course” – this is sort of like miniature golf without all the zany obstacles. It’s 9-holes of putting on large greens laid-out like a golf course. Kids and families were having a blast with this activity. It’s currently $12 for adults and anyone 7 and younger is free. Here is a video clip…
- Float trip down the Deschutes River with canoes or kayaks. Our kids were a bit young for this fairly long ride. Kids that can paddle will have fun.
- The South Pool is a beautiful outdoor facility with a tidy lawn and chairs, large kiddie pool (6 and younger), a small water slide for kids, and a giant water slide for older kids/adults. The larger slide dumps you in deep water, so riders must be able to swim on their own. You’ll spend hours at this pool! Here is a video…
- “Caldera Links” – visit this 3-par course if you’re a golfing family! It’s similar to the “Children’s Course” in Portland, Oregon. My son and I had a blast playing this short course.
Pet Friendly: The Resort has properties that will accept dogs. If we had a dog now, I would probably have left the dog with a friend. Even though the trails would be great for walking, we were so busy that the dog would have probably stayed in for most of our adventures. Dogs cannot go inside any of the pool facilities.
Weather Considerations: We had incredible weather while we were there. If you go during the summer months, you’re almost guaranteed a beautiful day. The Central Oregon area gets far more sun than we get in Portland. I can’t imagine that they keep the pools open year round; therefore, my recommendation is for sunny hot weather. However, I heard from several folks that Christmas is the best time of the year to visit. The Resort comes alive with all kinds of winter time activities. I’ll leave it up to you…
Insider Info: Give the Resort a call and ask them to send you a map well before you leave for Sunriver. That way, you can get your bearings and see where you might want your family to stay. If you want to be close to the action, you’ll want to stay as close as you can to the “Main Lodge.” Although the Lodge does have suites for families, your best bet is to find a large house to share with another family or friends.
We didn’t get over to the Observatory for their nighttime programs, which was probably a mistake. They have several high-end telescopes setup so families can take a look. The problem for us was it started a bit late (9PM), which makes sense. However, our kids were in bed by that time each night. I tried to make it over, but I was getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. If you go, make sure you dress accordingly!
If you’re looking for a little time away from the kids, check-out Fort Funnigan. Fort Funnigan is an Oregon State licensed day-camp facility. There are half and full-day programs of almost anything you can possibly imagine. Again, this is something you’ll need to consider before you get to the property. These programs can fill-up; thus, you’ll want to make reservations well in advance. These are very innovative and fun programs for everyone from age 3 (must be potty trained) all the way up through teens. The “adventure programs” looked amazing featuring a ropes course, rock climbing at Smith Rock, and many other adventures off-site. Call the resort and have them mail you a paper copy of the schedule or check-out the activity guide online.
Family Tips: Do yourself a favor and subscribe to their Blog/RSS Feeds. There are plenty of great deals available, and this is one of the best ways to keep on top of the latest offers. Once you get to the Resort, if you don’t feel like biking or need to go pick-up bikes, call the inter-resort transportation via the Front Desk. They will send a van to pick you up and bring you anywhere inside the Sunriver community. This is a complimentary service!
While I’ve really talked-up the biking, I want to give you a small tip that was essential to our biking enjoyment. Young riders (3 – 7) will probably get tired on some of the hills. Most parents handled this by just getting off their bikes and walking up hills with their kids. The problem with that is the small hills quickly return and everyone is back off their bikes. If you have a Burley cart, you might be able to bungee your kid’s bike onto the back of it for the hills, but again, it’s a lot of starting and stopping.
Our solution to this dilemma was to have my son learn to grab a hold of the Burley cart with one hand, which held our 2-year old, and steer the bike with his other hand. When he got tired on an uphill section, he’d just come up beside me, grab the cart, and I’d haul him up the hill. Usually, he still felt like pedaling a bit to help me out. This worked so well for us, and we never had to stop while biking.
You WILL get lost while biking the trails! As much as I stared at the map and held it in my hand while biking, we always seemed to get off route. The problem was that we were trying to follow the routes as drawn on the map, which is a BAD idea. The signage along the trails does not list “road names.” The signs along the trails have landmarks (Fort Rock Park, South Pool, Main Lodge, etc.) and more importantly…traffic circle numbers. This may not make much sense, but if you remember this tip, you’ll want to thank me. Simply memorize the traffic circles and landmarks around your lodging, and you’ll most likely be able to find your way around the community. Unfortunately, it took us 3 days to figure that one out!
Make sure you bring towels with you to the pools. They do not have them at the North and South Pools, and you’ll definitely not want to have to pedal back to your lodging to snag a towel. The Lodge pool does offer towels to the Resort guests.
If you’re interested in doing something as a family outside the Resort, there are so many options that your head will spin just trying to figure out what to do! The link I just provided lists a bunch of vendors offering everything from mountain biking, to fly fishing, to glider rides, and almost anything else you can think of. Seriously, you will need to make a plan to make these things work. Figure out what you want to do before you get to Sunriver! That way, you can setup dates and times with the various vendors and relax once you get to your lodging.
Other Posts of Interest...
Lava Lands Visitor Center on August 12th, 2010
Learn to Climb: Chockstone Guides on October 9th, 2012
Rock Climbing at Smith Rock! on August 8th, 2009