Central Oregon is a geographic region in the U.S. state of Oregon and is traditionally considered to be made up of Deschutes, Jefferson, and Crook counties. Other definitions include larger areas, often encompassing areas to the north towards the Columbia River, eastward towards Burns, or south towards Klamath Falls. These three counties have a combined population of 153,558 as of the 2000 census, with Deschutes the largest of the three counties, having approximately four times the population of the other two counties combined. As of 2015, the most populous city in the region is Bend, with an estimated 87,014 residents. As defined by the three county definition, Central Oregon covers 7,833 square miles (20,290 km) of land. Central Oregon has had 3 record tourism years beginning in 2012. Over 2.2 million people visited Central Oregon in 2012 and again in 2013.
The Central Oregon region covers approximately 7,833 square miles (20,290 km), and sits at the convergence of the Basin and Range, Cascades, Blue Mountains, and Columbia River Plateau geologic regions. Because it is part of a historically volcanic region, volcanic rock formations are a common sight, including lava beds, volcanic buttes, crater lakes, volcanic plugs, and lava tubes. Consequently, Deschutes is the most cave-rich county in Oregon with over 500 lava tubes.
The primary river flowing through Central Oregon is the Deschutes River. Its source is Little Lava Lake in the Cascade Mountains, northwest of LaPine. The Deschutes runs south to north, eventually flowing into the Columbia River. Along its way, dams control its flow creating Crane Prairie Reservoir and Wickiup Reservoir. The river runs alongside the resort community of Sunriver and through the city of Bend. It is tapped as a water source for the Central Oregon Irrigation District which serves agricultural and municipal users. As the river continues north, it flows past the Eagle Crest Resort and the city of Redmond. North of Redmond, the Deschutes River has cut a 300 feet (91 m) deep canyon. West of Madras, Round Butte Dam impounds the Deschutes River, creating Lake Billy Chinook.
The two largest tributaries of the Deschutes are the Metolius River and the Crooked River. The Metolius begins at Metolius Springs and runs northeast, flowing into the Deschutes from the west just south of Round Butte Dam. The Crooked River flows west from its sources in the Ochoco Mountains and the Oregon high desert. It flows into the Deschutes from the east at Cove Palisades State Park. Both rivers merge into the Deschutes River, becoming part of Lake Billy Chinook, the reservoir created by the Round Butte Dam.
The native plant life of Central Oregon can be divided between the Ponderosa forests at the foot of the Cascades, and the smaller Western Juniper forests to the east, with the Deschutes River being a rough boundary between the two. Because of the lack of precipitation, high temperatures, and lightning storms during the late summer, wildfires are a common occurrence. Small fires are essential, as they burn away detritus. With the arrival of European settlers, fire suppression became common. However, due to decades of fire suppression, several major wildfires have broken out and threatened large settlements. Major wildfires are becoming less common as the practice of controlled burns by local officials are more frequent. The Oregon Badlands Wilderness preserves the indigenous character, flora, and fauna of the desert basin and is located about 20 miles (32 km) east of Bend.
The distribution of people in Central Oregon occurs mainly near its rivers. Most of its towns are built on riverside plains and between their surrounding foothills. Irrigation development in the region has made its otherwise arid flatlands useful for extensive hay production, farming, and livestock raising.