If you enjoy snowy landscapes, great exercise and warming shelters with wood stoves, then you will probably like snowshoeing. This was my first year exploring Oregon by snowshoe and I am obsessed. I’m beginning to find myself picking snowshoeing over snowboarding on my days off and asking myself why it took me this long to try this out. Basically, if you can walk, you can snowshoe. Trails tend to be well-marked and as long as you don’t have a penchant for Robert Frost’s less traveled roads, you can easily follow the trail. Most ski shops rent snowshoes at a fraction of the price of skis and snowboards (usually around $10 a pair). Poles are an optional accessory. I like the fitness benefits of using poles and the stability they provide on sketchy traverses. Some other useful items are waterproof shoes/boots, gaiters, a map, layers of clothing, snacks, water and a Sno-Park Permit. I rent my snowshoes in Oakridge at the Willamette Mountain Mercantile. They have snowshoes for adults for $10/day, poles included, and kids 10 and under are free.
There are hundreds of miles of trails in Oregon that are marked for snowshoeing and cross country skiing and hundreds more that are unmarked in the backcountry. ODOT’s Sno-Park handbook is a good starting point for planning a snowshoe trip. My trips have all been along Highway 58, east of Oakridge.
Gold Lake Sno-Park
You have to start somewhere, and this is a great place for beginners to try out snowshoeing. There are two shelters in Gold Lake Sno-Park; the first one you come to is Westview Shelter. This beautifully constructed shelter usually has a wood stove going and a map for reference inside. Continue on to the Overlook Trail, which leads to a scenic panorama of Odell Lake and Diamond Peak. From here I turned around, however you can continue on along the Pacific Crest Trail to Pengra Pass and the other shelter before returning back to the trailhead along Abernathy Road.
This snowshoe trail requires a bit more of a commitment than the others. Rosary Lakes sit about 4 miles from the Pacific Crest Trail Trailhead at Willamette Pass Ski Resort. Park at Willamette Pass, walk past the lodge, past Eagle Peak Accelerator and Sleepy Hollow and follow the signs. From the trailhead you will begin climbing through a beautiful forest that teases you with obstructed views of Diamond Peak and Odell Lake. Before long, you reach the first of three Rosary Lakes. The other two lakes are not much further. I turned around at the third lake and followed my tracks back out and down the mountain. If it’s open, you can grab some warm food and drinks in the Willamette Pass Lodge. The upstairs bar is a great place to relax and warm up.
Salt Creek Falls/ Diamond Falls
The second tallest waterfall in Oregon is extraordinarily photogenic, especially in the winter when it is blanketed in snow. The snowshoe hike to Salt Creek Falls is easy. For more of a challenge, go past Salt Creek Falls and follow signs to Diamond Falls. This trail is steep in parts and will get you closer to the caloric goal required to justify a post-hike fast food binge. There are numerous scenic stops along the way, allowing you to snap photos and catch your breath. The trail ascends and then descends before returning you back to the bridge over Salt Creek.
If the weather forecast for Crater Lake is partly cloudy to sunny, don’t think twice: GO! You will not regret this decision. I lucked out and visited Crater Lake on a beautiful blue-sky day. In the winter, the only access to Crater Lake’s Rim Drive is via Highway 62 from the south. Park at Rim Village and head out in a clockwise direction around the rim. You can rent snowshoes at Rim Village and grab a map. If you visit on the weekend you can enjoy free snowshoe rentals and ranger-led tours.
From the moment you step out of your car at Rim Village, you are exposed to gorgeous views and scenic vantage points. The trail is rated “more difficult,” yet the first few miles are not technical, with just a bit of an uphill. Try to arrive in time to catch the sunrise. This will also give you the most amount of time to explore the trail with enough time to return before dark. Lodging is available outside the park along Highway 62, or you can snow camp.
Snowshoeing the machine-groomed trail network at Odell Lake Lodge was quite the departure from the previous hikes. In my opinion, the groomed trails weren’t as fun, a little too predictable and didn’t give me the same feeling of being on an adventure. The flip-side is that they are easy to follow and very convenient if you are staying in one of the rental cabins. The lodge houses a restaurant with breathtaking views of the lake and soul-satisfying hot cocoa. There is a trail around part of the lake that is not groomed. You can access this by following a cross country ski trail along the road between Highway 58 and the lodge. Keep your ears open as you approach the water; if it’s frozen, the wind over the top makes a very interesting sound.