written by Anna Bird | featured photo by Brendan Loscar
The saying goes, “If you can walk, you can snowshoe.” This is mostly true; you just have to adjust your gait a little. The large, wooden contraptions once used for survival have evolved into more manageable, lighter footwear, helping us maintain hiking as a year-round activity. As the easiest and least expensive winter activity, snowshoeing is a way for people of all ages, skill levels and experience to remain active and adventurous during the winter months.
As snow blankets the higher elevations of Oregon, consider strapping on snowshoes as you experience wild and untamed scenery, quiet and peaceful snow-covered forests and sparkling mountain slopes. We gathered up seven snowshoe hikes across the state that offer the perfect opportunity to get outside, breathe the crisp mountain air and burn off any leftover holiday calories. Dress warm and flee to higher land for these family outings, day trips and multiday adventures.
Distance: 33 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Most difficult
Elevation gain: Minimal
Trailhead: Rim Village Visitor Center
Theme: Backcountry, overnight, bragging rights
For an out-and-back trip filled with relics of Oregon’s mining and logging history, the trek to Jawbone Flats and Opal Creek is without comparison. Heavy snowfall makes one of Oregon’s last uncut old-growth forests into a winter wonderland, completely silent aside from the gentle trickle of the Little North Santiam, Opal Creek and waterfalls along the way. The remains of a mining camp built during the Great Depression, parts of a sawmill built in the 1940s and a decrepit cabin populate the path to Jawbone Flats, a ghost town of an old mining community that still holds a small number of residents. The beauty in the material history complements the ancient forest that surrounds it. Thick, soaring trees that are 500 to 1,500 years old jut out of a carpet of vegetation blanketing the forest floor. Walking under the layered canopy draped in snow is like traipsing through a snow globe. Read up on the area’s history of strife between loggers and activists in order to fully comprehend the spared lives of these towering trees.
Distance: 6.25 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 200 feet
Trailhead: Opal Creek Trail #4187 Opal Creek Trailhead
Theme: Day trip
Odell Lake Lookout
Odell Lake fills a glacier-carved basin, surrounded by a terminal moraine in the Cascade Range and stretching for six miles. Start from Gold Lake Sno-Park, across the highway from Willamette Pass Ski Resort, and you can take a pleasant hike along groomed trails—departing from the more populated parts of the sno-park to catch a picturesque view of the lake. The Westview Trail that will take you to the Odell Lake lookout is an easy route through towering Douglas firs draped in white. The trail will lead you to a cliff overlooking the lake. The cabins and resort along the lake’s shore are invisible from your perch, and snow-capped Diamond Peak is visible to the south.
Klamath County (western Willamette Pass)
Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Trailhead: Westview Trails at Gold Lake Sno-Park
Theme: Family-friendly day trip
The area surrounding Mt. Bachelor benefits from the same ideal winter conditions—dry powder and good weather—while providing a variety of options for snowshoers, Nordic skiers and snowmobilers to explore the Deschutes National Forest. The snowshoe trail is anchored by wide open Dutchman Flat Sno-Park on one end and quaint Todd Lake at the base of Broken Top Mountain at the other end. Blue diamonds with a yellow reflective snowshoer symbol mark the route, and the frigid white peaks of Three Sisters and Broken Top tower in the distance. The trail winds through lodgepole pine and mountain hemlock, emptying out at the Todd Lake parking lot. From there, you can follow the Nordic ski trail for the last tenth of a mile to the lake’s edge. Complete your trek with a 1.25 mile circumnavigation of the lake before heading back to Dutchman Flats.
Distance: 6.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: Minimal
Trailhead: Dutchman Flat Sno-Park
Bull Gap Trail
Snowshoeing from Bull Gap Sno-Park to the lodge at Mt. Ashland Ski Resort promises to be a test for your quads. Initially, you lose a gradual 600 feet in elevation as you hike into the saddle of Bull Gap on the ridge between Neil Creek and Ashland Creek. The views are stunning and include a glimpse of Mt. McLoughlin to the northeast. Over the last 2.5 miles, though, the trail climbs 1,100 feet to the lodge, where a hot chocolate and a giant dollop of whipped cream or a hot toddy from T-Bar Lounge will make a good reward before you make your way back to the sno-park. Mt. Ashland and the Rogue River National Forest are as much of a visual treat as they are a fitness test.
Distance: 5.7 miles
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Elevation loss: 600 feet
Trailhead: Bull Gap Sno-Park or Mt. Ashland Ski Area
Theme: Day trip
Warner Mountain Lookout
If you appreciate a good aerial view of snow-swept valleys, mountain peaks dotting the skyline and sweeping starscapes—all while nestled into a warm cabin atop a 41-foot tower—then Warner Mountain is definitely worth a visit. The Forest Service cabin, used as a fire lookout in the summers, transforms into a popular overnight stay in the winter, accessed only by snowshoes, skis or snowmobiles. The snowfall is too deep for any vehicle to traverse, so depending on how far you can drive down the Forest Service road, your only option is packing in for a night or a few, perched atop a high vantage point on Warner Ridge. From the cabin, you are met with a 360-degree view of peaks along the Cascade mountain range with the protection of four walls and a roof, the comfort of a bed and a stovetop. The lookout must be booked well in advance, and reservations fill quickly, so plan ahead and check snow conditions on the website as the trip nears.
Distance: 8-16 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 800-1,000 feet
Trailhead: FSR Spur 342
Cascade Huts offers self-guided overnight trips into the snowbound Mt. Hood National Forest with three metal frame cabins in the White River and Barlow Ridge area southeast of the mountain. These customizable trips allow you to hike as long or as little as you want along a variety of routes of varying difficulty. At the end of the day, you can relax in huts stocked with propane heaters, lanterns, stoves, kitchen utensils, sleeping pads and bags. One of the huts sits atop an open slope with a clear view of Mt. Hood on a good day, and backcountry skiers can take to the slope for the freshest powder. Bring the family and keep the miles to a minimum, or challenge your backcountry buddies and navigate your way to the more distant huts off trail.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Elevation gain: Up to 340 feet
Trailhead: Barlow Pass Sno-Park
Theme: Overnight, family-friendly or backcountry