By Barbara Brotman, Tribune Newspapers
4:33 PM EST, February 25, 2014
Say you are a large group of vacation-seekers. Your ages span from toddler to senior. Your interests range from walking to golfing to biking to reading to sitting on a patio fringed with pine trees and enjoying a nice glass of pinot noir.
Party of 20, your vacation is ready.
For years my Seattle cousin Shainie tried to explain the lure of Sunriver Resort, the vacation playground for the Pacific Northwest that draws her branch of the family every summer.
It was outdoorsy, she said. It was beautiful, set on a high desert plateau in central Oregon in the sunny half of the state. There was something for everyone to do.
But it wasn't till our entire extended family convened there for a family reunion that I began to grasp the place's beauty, natural and otherwise.
Sunriver is like a mix of an outdoorsy Disney World, a national park and summer camp. It is a 3,300-acre resort and residential community set amid forest and meadowlands where you can go biking, play golf, indulge in a spa, take the kids to a water park, visit at a nature center or float down a real-life lazy river — all without leaving the property.
But you must leave the property. Sunriver is bordered by the Deschutes River and some of the state's most spectacular scenery. You can drive to excellent hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing and the renowned Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
Then go back to your lodging for that nice glass of pinot noir.
Did I mention the hot tub?
Our rental house had one. But we started our Sunriver stay by piling into several cars and driving 16 miles to Newberry National Volcanic Monument, where one of the largest volcanoes in North America erupted 7,000 years ago. It left behind vast fields of craggy, otherworldly lava interspersed with the small yellow flowers of gray rabbitbrush and yellow puff balls of sulfur buckwheat.
We could have spent hours in the eerie landscape — a Portland family we met urged us to stay till sundown, when the lava would seem to turn black — but dinner awaited.
That meant the communal experience of cooking together — we divvied up dinner responsibilities each night — and sitting at tables on one of our rental houses' patios, opening a few bottles of good Oregon wine and settling in as the sky grew dark behind the pine trees.
After dinner, several of us repaired to our house's hot tub. We sat in the steaming water, turned off the patio lights and watched as the dark sky filled with twinkling constellations.
The next day we took to the Sunriver bike path, 37 paved miles, shared by cyclists and walkers, that meandered through woods and the green grasses and blue water of a wetland. My bird-watcher husband saw four lifers before we stopped for ice cream at the Sunriver Lodge.
I spent the afternoon wandering farther by bike, starting with the Great Hall, a magnificent timber and stone structure. Sunriver was built on the site of a World War II combat engineer training facility, and this had been the officers club.
I pedaled past Fort Funnigan (a reproduction fort for kids over 3), The Outpost (for arts and crafts, with Paint 'n Pinot for grown-ups) and the SHARC water park (there is a separate Mavericks fitness club with a lap pool).
But the outdoors beckoned. The Sunriver veterans took us on one of their favorite hikes in the Three Sisters Wilderness area: the Green Lakes trail along an icy river with tumbling waterfalls.
Then we took another in which we walked through wildflowers to the high alpine Todd Lake, where hundreds of tadpoles squirmed in the shallows. The lake is home to the Western toad and Cascades frog, threatened species protected by law.
Another day back at Sunriver, we took a float trip from the marina. Some of us tried stand-up paddleboarding, which let us feel the exhilaration of gliding atop the glass-calm Deschutes River.
And lest the dark sky opportunity go to waste, one night we went to the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver. A friendly crew of astronomers had set up telescopes below the jaw-dropping sky and were showing people the Ring Nebula, the Veil Nebula and the bright beam of Polaris.
Some of us capped the week off with a rock-climbing expedition to Smith Rock State Park, 42 miles away, a jagged outcropping of rock spires with some serious challenges.
Others stayed at Sunriver. Shainie's daughter, Tracy, spent hours reading on the patio during the vacation, proving her mother's point: There is something for everyone to do here, and it doesn't have to be the same thing.
I have a list of things we never got to, in hopes we make it back.
If you go
Getting there: You can fly into the Redmond Municipal Airport, 34 miles away, but if you don't like flying through turbulence in a small plane, fly into Portland, a pleasant 180-mile drive away.
Staying there: The Sunriver Resort (sunriver-resort.com) offers accommodations at vacation home rentals or in the Lodge Village or River Lodge, priced from $99 to about $250 a night. Vacation homes, owned by individuals, can also be rented through Bennington Properties (benningtonproperties.com), Discover Sunriver Vacation Rentals (discoversunriver.com); Sunset Lodging (sunriverlodging .com); Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO.com) and others. For a week's stay in June, the sites offer four-bedroom homes for $1,148 to $5,497.
Eating there: Sunriver has its own restaurants and a village with a grocery store. But for fine dining, head to Bend, 18 miles away.
Weather: Sunriver gets 300 days of sunshine a year, but because it is a high desert climate, summer temperatures can drop from 80 degrees in the daytime to 30 at night.
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