Life is a Highway...Let's Roll!

Destination: Central Oregon

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It’s the time of year when many start planning vacations and little getaways.  When looking for a great place to truly unwind, pamper yourself, or to seek high adventure, one of the most popular choices is Central Oregon, home to a handful of worthy destinations including Bend, Sunriver, La Pine, Prineville and Sisters. 

These mountain retreats beckon rock climbers, river rafters and hikers, as well as golfers, spa dwellers and the art-and-wine set.  And whichever category a vacationer may fit, one belief held dear by many is that no vacation is complete without their numero-uno traveling companion, the dog.  Fortunately, this area is geared to pets, so many accommodations and recreational opportunities are, too.

Michael Ann Benchoff of SE Portland frequently tours the state with her tenaciously road-worthy Pomeranian, Gus.  “He loves navigating from the center console of the car . . . for hours,” says Benchoff laughing.  Perched with the highway ahead in full view, Gus loves the freedom of the road as much as Benchoff.  “He loves it whenever we stop for a nice view,” says Benchoff. 

  Gus "chilling out" after his three-mile hike. Photo by Michael Ann Benchoff

Gus "chilling out" after his three-mile hike. Photo by Michael Ann Benchoff

Benchoff and Gus have ventured from Klamath Falls to Hells Canyon, taking in sites at all points between.  In 2010, the duo traveled through Bend, stopping at Smith Rock State Park, a favorite for both local and visiting rock climbers.  “We’ve been there a couple of times,” says Benchoff.  “Gus likes it.  We walk the Canyon Trail that runs along the river and watch all the rock climbers.  Of course, Gus doesn’t get to swim in the river, but it’s a dog-friendly trail and it’s good exercise.”

Countless hiking trails are pet-friendly, but most do require dogs to be on a leash no longer than six feet to prevent dust-ups between wildlife or other trail users, which include horses and bicyclists.  Keeping dogs on leash in such settings is increasingly embraced as a given, thanks to time and too many tales proving how quickly unnecessary tragedy can occur (dogs falling from cliffs, wandering and becoming lost, having run-ins with dangerous inhabitant animals) and conversely, how a simple leash can insure that adventures begin and end safely.

One local state park, LaPine, does have an off-leash dog park.  This area was recently part of a project testing pet-friendly cabins and yurts.  Previously off-limits to people with pets, these popular accommodations will be opening up to canine companions in additional parks throughout the state beginning January 2012.  Until then, dog- and cat-friendly rustic cabins are available in LaPine State Park.

For those seeking a little more comfy in their accommodations, Bennington Properties in Caldera Springs and Sunriver improves upon the notion of dog-friendly lodgings. “Greeting dogs and their owners is the best part of my day,” says Robert Bennington, general manager.  “We love dogs and we love dog people.  We have two Labs and we travel with them all the time.  One of the things that drives us crazy is the lack of quality places to stay with our four-legged family members.”

Bennington Properties more than makes good on this philosophy.  From June through August, Thursday afternoon Yappy Hours find canine guests mingling and frolicking in an off-leash play area while their humans enjoy complimentary snacks, beverages and ice cream.  Those returning from hikes that leave the pup a little dirty around the collar can take advantage of the self-service dog washing station, complete with boutique shampoo and towels.  These special touches are typical of the attention the Bennington family pays to their guests, including the canine variety. 

“If we couldn’t be dog friendly, I don’t think I would stay in business.”

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Nearby Bend is a dog haven for locals and visitors alike.  La Donna Sullivan and her husband Tim have been making the trek from Oregon City for more than 20 years and now own a vacation property there.  “It’s just such an outdoorsy community,” says La Donna, “ and most outdoorsy people have animals, so it seems like everyone has a dog and walks everywhere with them.  It’s just a really accepting community.”  La Donna’s two dogs, Maggie, a Lab-Pit, and Willow, a Retriever-Aussie mix, like to go to Drake Park, near downtown Bend.  “It’s our favorite place to take our dogs. It’s near Mirror Pond, so the dogs can jump in and swim.”

30 minutes away, Sunriver is also uber dog friendly. In fact, Sunriver Resort has more than 70 pet-inclusive rooms, including suites.  The resort appoints a “Director of Barketing” each year, with one special dog taking center stage as a marketing mascot for the resort’s dog-friendly lodgings.This year’s director is a sweet dog named Tivi who was rescued and rehabilitated after a harrowing journey. Nurtured back to life, his story has allowed Sunriver Resort to champion the cause of rescue dogs nationwide.

While in Sunriver, check out the many eateries that appreciate four-legged guests, including the Village Bar and Grill, Café Sintra, and the South Bend Bistro.  Sunriver Books & Music also promotes dog-friendliness, prominently featuring on their website their dog and CEO (Canine Executive Officer), Flashman. 

Owner Deon Stonehouse says Flashman “insists on a dog-friendly environment.  Our customers really appreciate a friendly place to come with the family dog.  We do have two rules: no watering books and no aggression.  The dogs comply; they are seduced by the biscuits.”  Stonehouse understands families who travel with their dogs.  “Why would you want to leave your best friend behind when you can have him with you?”

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Whether heading to Central Oregon for high adventure or soothing relaxation, by all means, take the dog!  You’ll find yourself surrounded by welcome mats . . . most of which happily show the prints of paws right alongside those from human feet.

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Nikki Jardin is a Portland-based freelance writer who loves to write about people dedicated to making the world a better place for all beings. When she’s not writing, she’s either exploring the great outdoors, traveling, or volunteering with Fences For Fido, a local nonprofit dedicated to giving dogs freedom from a previously chained life.