Explore the Many Museums of Deschutes County

Deschutes County museums
It's a cosmic experience like no other at the Observatory at Sunriver Nature Center. Photo credit: Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory

Did you know that more people explore museums than the number that attend sporting events or visit amusement parks combined each year? That’s right! Each year nearly 900 million visitors are captivated by America’s diverse array of museums — from aquariums to art museums, botanical gardens to cultural heritage centers, and everything in between! It’s no surprise considering they have educational opportunities for everyone looking to learn, and here in Deschutes County, there are plenty of local museums providing such opportunities!

Deschutes County museums
The High Desert Fish Tales daily program is where you can discover the 4 c’s that make it possible for fish to thrive in the area. Photo courtesy: High Desert Museum

High Desert Museum

59800 S Highway 97, Bend

Since 1982 knowledge seekers have been discovering the natural world and cultural history of the High Desert through artful exhibits, alluring animals, engaging programs, and meaningful history at the High Desert Museum. Rated the top Central Oregon attraction by Trip Advisor on multiple occasions, all 135 acres and over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space is a “must-see” for locals and visitors alike.

Here, museum-goers can get an up-close view of native wildlife, visit an authentic ranch and sawmill from 1904, and engage the kiddos with the museum’s many fun, hands-on programs that bring history and science to life. You can even experience close encounters with owls, falcons, hawks, and even a vulture at the Birds of Prey Center! There are tons to explore and even more to learn while walking through the wholes of this museum in our Deschutes County home.

Deschutes County museums
Travel back to 1914 by paying a visit to the Ms. Reid classroom at Deschutes Historical Museum Photo credit: Les Hagland

Deschutes Historical Museum

129 NW Idaho Avenue, Bend

Located in the historic Reid School that was originally built in 1914, the Deschutes Historical Museum has continued the tradition of education within the building since 1980 after being converted into a museum by the Deschutes County Historical Society. Today, the museum’s exhibits focus on educating the public on the area’s prehistory, Native American Tribes, explorers, pioneers, logging industry, transportation, and the United States Forest Service.

You can even go to school like it’s 1914 in Ms. Reid’s Classroom Exhibit and test your knowledge with the museum’s diploma questionnaire. Afterward, head on over to the Homesteading in the Early 20th Century Exhibit to catch a glimpse of what life was like in the early years of our state of Oregon’s history.

Deschutes County museums
It’s all about the rocks at Petersen Rock Garden. Photo courtesy: Petersen Rock Garden

Petersen Rock Garden

7930 SW 77th Street, Redmond

Just off Highway 97 between Bend and Redmond is a little local museum that has become quite the roadside tourist attraction. Petersen Rock Garden started back in 1935 as the pet project of Danish immigrant Rasmus Petersen. He worked on the rock garden for the last 17 years of his life, creating castles with moats, fountains, towers, bridges, and even miniature models of famous buildings like the Statue of Liberty along the property. These masterpieces were created using rocks, shells, bits of glass, and other found objects that visitors can now view as they meander through the seven acres of rock garden that has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Deschutes County museums
Museum-goers of the Sunriver Nature Center can get up close and personal with birds of prey. Photo courtesy: Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory

Today, the garden is still owned and run by Petersen’s grandchildren where admission to see the unique oasis is simply a suggested donation. There is even a gift shop on site, as well as a beautifully maintained rock museum. Within the rock museum, visitors can explore rare geodes, agates, fossils, and more! It’s truly a rockhound paradise and a great place to learn about the crystals of the Earth.

Sunriver Nature Center

57245 River Road, Sunriver

Carrying out its mission to inspire present and future generations to cherish and understand our natural world through interpretive exhibits, meteorite exhibits, educational programs, a botanical garden, and an observatory is the Sunriver Nature Center. Visitors can also encounter birds of prey, bees, amphibians, snakes, and other wild residents that share Deschutes County as home in their Creature Cave.

Deschutes County museums
It’s a cosmic experience like no other at the Observatory at Sunriver Nature Center. Photo credit: Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory

Further along at the Exploration Ridge, young future scientists can play, build, and discover nature in a different way with each visit. Make sure to head over to the shore of Lake Aspen for some natural wildlife viewing before the sun sets. Once the moon rises stop on in at the observatory for some awe-inspiring views of the night sky. It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind experience as the observatory just so happens to be the largest of its kind in the country!

Whether you’re seeking to learn about rocks, observe the night sky, interact with birds of prey, or simply travel back in time to the homesteader’s era, there really is something for everyone at local Deschutes County museums. They’re all waiting to be explored — all they need is you!

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