For people who love the outdoors and appreciate a peaceful, laid-back lifestyle, Central Oregon is an area that offers something for everyone. Residents enjoy more than 300 days of sunshine every year, which gives them a chance to make the most of a beautiful landscape that includes towering mountains, serene rivers and lakes, and world-class hiking and biking trails. To cap it all off, the climate is desert-like, so you get warm and sunny days that are cooled by crisp, clear nights.
Those of us who are local to the area also love the small-town feel of most communities, and the friendly, down-to-earth nature of the people. With everything Central Oregon has to offer, it’s no wonder that home buyers from every corner of the country are starting to take notice.
Central Oregon is a wonderful place to call home, with lots of small and mid-sized towns, a steady economy, and abundant job opportunities. And if you’re in the market for a new home, the region also offers a variety of property settings, from small-town suburbs to quiet and remote country living. All you need to do is figure out which area of this gorgeous landscape you want to settle in.
To help you decide, let’s take a closer look at some of the best areas to find land within Central Oregon.
In the heart of Central Oregon, Crook County is well known for its incredible natural beauty. As a relatively rural county, it has a total population of just 21,000. The largest city is Prineville, with just over 10,000 residents. Other small but attractive communities include Powell Butte, Post, and Paulina.
Of course, the biggest draw of Crook County is its incredible natural landscape. The dense wilderness of the Ochoco National Forest is popular among hikers, hunters, fishers, and boaters. It’s also a big draw for rock hounds, who frequently find free agates, jasper, and thunder eggs in and around the Ochoco Mountains.
Although Crook County feels peaceful and secluded, it’s within easy reach of all the big-city conveniences most families need. Thanks to its central location, the county is only about 40 minutes from Bend, the largest city in Central Oregon. Larger metropolitan areas, including Portland and Salem, are only about three hours away.
Throughout the small towns of Crook County, most residents work in the livestock, forest products, recreation/tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, or wholesale trades. Residents enjoy a lower cost of living than in other areas in Oregon, particularly when it comes to housing costs. In fact, the median home price in Crook County is about $90,000 less than the median cost of a home statewide.
The schools in Crook County offer a small, student-focused environment. With just seven schools in the district, the total student enrollment is around 3,000. The district also sponsors a charter school, Powell Butte Community Charter School, which includes about 200 students.
Immediately to the west and south of Crook County is Deschutes, a much larger county with a population of roughly 157,000. The county seat is Bend, the largest city in Central Oregon, with about 77,000 residents. Deschutes is the fastest-growing county in the state and the political and economic hub of the central Oregon.
Much like the rest of the region, Deschutes County is known for stunning mountain views, incredible outdoor recreation, and a friendly, small-town feel. It’s also become increasingly renowned for its craft breweries and local food scene. Bend in particular is popular for its blend of a small-town feel with big-city conveniences, plus all the mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and skiing that you can handle. No wonder it frequently appears on top-10 lists of “best places to live.”.
Deschutes County has a greater variety of job opportunities than some of its neighboring counties, which is one reason it’s so popular with new residents. In addition to the expansive, year-round tourism industry, the county also employs many residents in the lumber, ranching, and agriculture sectors, and in Bend, a boom in small businesses offers many other opportunities.
The cost of living in Deschutes is on the higher end of the spectrum for Oregon, and for the rest of the country as well. The median cost of a home is around $370,000; however, you can help mitigate high housing costs by choosing more affordable land and building a custom home that maximizes your equity right away.
The school system in Deschutes County is substantial, with 46 public schools serving more than 25,000 students. There are three school districts: Bend-La Pine, Redmond, and Sisters. Summit High School in Bend gets particularly high marks for its student-to-teacher ratio and test scores.
To the north, Jefferson County is another mostly rural area that is dominated by agricultural land, rolling plains, and beautiful forests. The total population is just under 22,000, and the largest city, Madras, has about 6,000 residents. As a result, Jefferson is extremely attractive for home buyers looking for a slower pace of life in a scenic small-town environment.
The economy of Jefferson County relies heavily on agriculture, as well as recreational tourism. People visit from across the country to enjoy the abundant sunshine, idyllic mountains and canyons, and pleasant weather while they cycle, fish, hike, boat, and hunt. In fact, the Forest Service owns almost 24 percent of all the land in Jefferson County, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs-Warm Springs Reservation owns and manages another 21 percent.
The local school district includes about 3,000 students. Compared to its neighboring counties, Jefferson is noted for having a more diverse school system and a slightly lower student-to-teacher ratio. Another perk is its low cost of living. For example, homes are even more affordable here than in Crook County. And the population has grown nearly 66 percent since 2000, an indication that the county’s economy is expanding steadily.
North of Jefferson is Wasco County, which stretches all the way up to the Columbia River and the state line. The total population is approximately 25,000, and The Dalles represents the largest metropolitan area, with 14,600 people. Other than Portland, The Dalles is the largest Oregonian city on the Columbia River.
Wasco County mirrors much of the rest of Central Oregon, with beautiful mountain ranges and forests, expansive plains, and plenty of farmland. The entire west edge of the county lines the Mt. Hood National Forest, offering world-class hiking, skiing, camping, and more.
Like Crook and Jefferson counties, Wasco is relatively affordable compared to other areas in Oregon. The median home price is $225,300, and values are steadily trending upward, making it a good place to buy.
Wasco County has two school districts: North and South Wasco County ISD. The northern district has about 3,000 students and eight schools, most of which are in The Dalles. The southern district is much smaller, with just 220 or so students and an excellent student-to-teacher ratio.
The leading industries in Wasco County include agriculture—especially orchards, wheat farming, and livestock ranching—lumber, manufacturing, transportation, and electric power production. Tourism is also big. Locals have seen a surge in tourism since the 2018 release of the Netflix docuseries Wild Wild Country, which tells the story of the rise and fall of the Rajneeshee commune in The Dalles. Visitors are drawn to Wasco to learn more about the intriguing history of the Rajneeshee followers and to see the beautiful area that they called home.
As you can see, Central Oregon has something for everyone, from growing families looking for strong schools and a small-town feel to nature-loving singles seeking a life of outdoor excitement. More than anything, this area gives residents the chance to carve out a niche for themselves, surrounded by friendly people and beautiful scenery.
If you’re interested in building a new, custom home in Central Oregon, now is an ideal time. There is plenty of beautiful land available at a reasonable price, and many buyers are able to easily find property in their preferred area.
To learn more about finding land in Central Oregon, or about the custom homebuilding process, call us or visit us at our office in Redmond.