Fourth of July Events in Bend, Oregon
Grab your red, white and blue and stay in Bend, Oregon at the Riverhouse Hotel
In a lot of ways, Bend's Fourth of July is like lots of other places- a parade, a city celebration, and fireworks once the sun goes down. But Bend's location and that always-present undercurrent of “doing it the way nobody else does” means that the parades and fireworks have always been unique.
History of 4th of July in Bend, Oregon
This was never truer than in the middle of last century, when Bend had what was called the best Fourth of July celebration in the state of Oregon. From 1933 to 1965, the Bend “4th of July Stampede and Water Pageant” dominated the town, with festivities lasting at least three days, and sometimes stretching out for a week. The 1940 gathering was apparently the peak, with more than 18,000 revelers- double the population of the town at the time.
There were two major parades then, but only one survives today. Because the Deschutes River flows right through town, the most ambitious 4th of July parade was at night, right on Mirror Pond- the Water Pageant. Businesses and organizations built elaborate floats- I mean, seriously elaborate, like “scale model of the USS Missouri” elaborate (that happened in 1953)- and wound their way through Drake Park for two hours. There was even a Water Pageant Queen and all the elaborate junior prom epic-ness one expects an event like that to have. At the aptly-named Pageant Park, just across the Drake Park walking bridge, there's an information board with photos of the floats as well as a program for a typical three-day fest: rodeos and baseball games seemingly every two hours as long as the sun shines, with dances, concerts, and the Pageant at night.
Bend Pet Parade
The parade that survives has been the largest parade in town every year since its inception: The Pet Parade. The first recorded Bend Pet Parade was in 1932 (pre-dating the first official Water Pageant), and even in the Great Depression- or maybe because of it- there were 5 thousand spectators. Unlike many parades, this one is open to everybody as long as you bring a pet. Yes, in this town that generally means a dog, because pretty much everyone has one, but if the ferret, gecko, llama, or chicken tolerates a leash, then it's go time (no cats, rabbits or aggressive dogs allowed… and I’m not sure about the llama). The parade runs through downtown starting at 10 am and if you want to be in it, be at the Bend School Administration Building on Wall Street (across from the library) at 9:30 am. If it sounds a little goofy... well, that's the point. It's still phenomenally popular and even is broadcast live on the local cable channel. I'm told they even get decent ratings on the re-runs.
Bend Sunrise Lion's Club Pancake Feed
If the gecko didn't make the trip with you, then don't worry about participating. Instead, claim a spot on the parade route and send somebody down the hill to Drake Park for the annual Bend Sunrise Lion's Club Pancake Feed. That goes from 8 am until noon, so there’s plenty of time to have your pancakes and eat them too, before or during the parade.
Right after the parade ends about eleven, the Old Fashioned July 4th Festival begins, also in Drake Park. This includes plenty of classic fair and Fourth of July games like the watermelon eating contest, the 3-legged race, and more. There's also music, food.... all of it with that standard 4th of July twist. You've seen it all before, but you haven't seen it in this setting, with 10-thousand foot mountains in the background and a lazy, lovely river flowing next to the potato sack races.
Fourth of July Freedom Ride
That's because Bend still considers itself to be part of the Wild West, and the Fourth of July is no different. About a dozen years ago, a few bicyclists decided to have an unofficial Fourth of July Freedom Ride around town in the early afternoon. The event has grown in popularity because Bend is such a wonderful biking town, but it is still an unofficial ride- meaning no permits, no official road closures, and no official starting time (but you can find it without looking too hard).
Yet, with upwards of four thousand bike riders participating, it is very much worth mentioning here. The route meanders all through town, and without official road closures or permits, that means if you're in a car trying to get somewhere the wrong place at the wrong time on the Fourth of July, you're going to be stuck for about a half an hour. The organizers seem to claim that getting a permit (which apparently costs $174) and notifying the police of the route and start and stop times so that an organized “rolling road block” to minimize traffic could exist would be against the “Freedom” aspect of the ride.
If that was the worst thing that happened in the Freedom Bike Ride, then the non-participants could probably deal with it. Unfortunately, there are some riders who use the “Freedom” aspect of the ride to do things that aren't good ideas any day of the year, much less the 4th of July. I don't need to mention these things here; you're smart enough to figure them out on your own.
As in any situation like this, there has been a response. A different group has organized the “Anti-Freedom Freedom Bike Ride.” The Facebook event page says “This isn't a protest or ride to stick it to the man. We'll follow traffic laws to the best of our abilities, [and] leave no trace at stops.” All well and good, but why go with a large group of bike riders when you can just take a ride by yourself and not have to deal with any of this mess? Staying on the Crossings deck or golfing at River's Edge, like I mentioned earlier, also sounds like a real good option at this point.
Pilot Butte Fireworks
If you skipped the Firecracker Scramble, once the sun sets (which is quite late, so plenty of time to take a bike ride and a nap), it's time to settle in for fireworks. They're shot off from the highest point in town, Pilot Butte, so anywhere with a view of the Butte is a good place to watch. Since the Riverhouse is already your base of operations, why not just set up shop within walking distance from your room at the golf course and watch from there with your fellow travelers? Then there's no worry about getting stuck in the inevitable post Fourth of July traffic that everyone forgets about until they're in it.
There's another unique-to-Bend aspect of the fourth of July that concerns the Pilot Butte fireworks. Like most of the west, and desert country in general, the weather this time of year is usually fairly dry- although there are exceptions (I have heard claims that it has snowed on the Fourth, although I have not witnessed this personally). So in addition to watching the night skies, many residents will also keep glancing at the Butte itself because inevitably a dud firework will fall into the hill, and some of the brush and trees will catch fire. I have heard occurrences of wagering as to which side of the Butte will catch fire, but as this sort of thing is not legal, I have never seen it personally.
From pet parades to questionably legal group bike rides to watching Pilot Butte catch fire, Bend's Fourth of July is still like no other Independence Day in the state of Oregon. There are plenty of activities I haven't mentioned that you could put on the agenda, but again, this day is about the freedom to choose. “Doing it the way nobody else does” means doing it the way you want to- just stay safe out there!
Contributed by Alex Drude.
Alex will be putting his own advice to use a lot this summer. He does other writing on his mostly sports blog, www.sporadicsentinel.com, and co-hosts Central Oregon Sports Talk on KPOV, 88.9 FM, Thursday afternoons at 5:05.