Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Sunriver: an all-season ‘kid paradise’ for Seattle-area families

People will tell you it's worth the drive to Central Oregon for Sunriver's wide range of activities and accommodations, to suit every interest and budget.

Once upon a time in late June, my sun-starved husband and I thought we’d take a drive to San Diego with two boys, ages 5 and 2. And then we mapped it.

As reality set in, the destination shifted.

“Los Angeles.”

“San Francisco.”


“Lassen National Volcanic Monument.”

“Aw, hell — let’s just go to Oregon and see what we find!”

What we found was Sunriver. In the summer it’s sunny and warm and dry and just what we East Coasters needed to feel like summer was really here. (Native Seattleites might even find it too hot, as the average summer temperatures stay firmly in the 80s.)

At first glance, Sunriver was this odd little planned community created back in the late 1960s, attracting families and keeping them there with a great mix of boats, bike paths, pools, water slides, horses, deer, stargazing, walking, sun in the summer, and snow in the winter. Oh, and with incredible hikes at nearby lava fields, a milelong cave, obsidian paths and pristine Paulina Lake.

“A kid wonderland!” one excited Seattle parent told me seven years ago, just after we fell upon this idyllic road-trip destination.

It’s a six- to seven-hour drive from Seattle, and about a 20-minute drive from the quirky city Bend, which certainly warrants a visit, too.

As parents now of a grade-schooler and an occasionally surly tween, we just keep coming back, including in winter, when skiing at nearby Mount Bachelor is fantastic — whether you prefer slopes or cross-country trails. Just remember to bring chains (or AWD and chains) and be ready to put them on for the challenging journey through the mountains in the snow and ice.

Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum offers biking, swimming, exploring and skiing, too, with just a much shorter drive from Seattle, but the great nerd combo of stargazing, spelunking and volcanic scenery keeps us heading back to Central Oregon almost every year.

We wandered down slowly that first trip, making stops first in the beach towns Seaside and Cannon Beach, as well as visiting Portland. Another year, we headed to Crater Lake National Park first.

At Sunriver, you can rent a condo, townhouse or house (many properties allow dogs, often with an extra security deposit) or get a huge place and take multiple families with you. (And some rentals have loads of bunkbeds, making kids feel like they’re at camp.)

There is a huge price variation, with a variety of rooms, houses and condos and townhouses available at the resort, from bare bones smaller units to extreme luxury and many bedrooms. Booking for hotel rooms or a residence can be done through the Sunriver Resort. Booking is also handled by individual owners through VRBO, Sunset Lodging Sunriver, Village Properties or Cascara Vacation Rentals, among others.

Some residential units have wood-burning stoves or fireplaces. Many have hot tubs. All have kitchens, except at the hotel, and many have grills available, so you can stock up on food locally and cook at home — or head out when needed.


What to do at the resort

Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory: Get ready for daylight nature walks and talks, and best, of all, really good stargazing at night, with access to some seriously high-powered telescopes. Remember to bundle up, even in summer.

Sunriver Marina. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and glide on the Deschutes River. Bonus: A shuttle will pick you up at the endpoint, and make sure the watercraft gets to the right place.

Bike paths around town: If you forget your bikes, you can always rent them at Village Bike and Ski or at Sunriver Sports. In addition, many rental homes supply bikes (and helmets, too).

The Village at Sunriver:  There’s a handful of family-friendly, loud-enough-for-kids restaurants, including Sunriver Brewing Co. and The Village Bar & Grill, as well as the old-fashioned ice cream shop Goody’s. Add that to a toy store, a veritable bouncy house village, mini golf, bumper cars and a little train for the kiddies. What’s not to love?

SHARC (Sunriver Homeowners Aquatic & Recreation Center): Check out the two big water slides, rafts, the footbridge and the lazy river. But take note: It’s a steep $26 a day per person in summer if your rental doesn’t include passes.

Tubing at the SHARC: In the summertime sun or in the winter sun, you can slide down on the SHARC’s big inner tubes. $10. Age 4 and up.

Sunriver Stables: Love horses? Older people can plan a trail ride, and kids as young as 2 can ride a pony, too.

Golf: There’s a fantastic golf course, if that’s your thing. As an alternative, you can play nine holes of disc golf at the SHARC.


Other nearby sights

Deschutes National Forest

Benham Falls: Waterfalls! From Sunriver, you can bike directly to the park entrance to see these rapids.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument:  Do you and your offspring want to hang out in the caldera of an active volcano? Here’s your chance. The volcano is 1,200 square miles, and the caldera itself is 17 square miles.

One major hit with kids there is the Big Obsidian Flow Trail, a breathtaking path lined in black glass left over from volcanic activity. Enjoy the stunning views of Paulina Lake from the top.

Lava River Cave: Want to hike a mile into a cave? More specifically, one formed by cooled lava? Lanterns are available to rent and highly recommended.

Lava Lands and Lava Butte:  See Oregon’s own “Lava Ness Monster,” among other cool cooled formations, and lots of ground squirrels scurrying around too. A shuttle will transport you up to Lava Butte.

About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.