When the snow falls in Oregon, the adventurous dust off their snowshoes and head for the hills. Many end up heading for the same winter wonderlands — Mirror Lake or Trillium Lake on Mt. Hood, Dutchman Flat near Bend, Salt Creek Falls outside Eugene — all popular for a good reason. But that can make solitude hard to find.
Luckily, Oregon is a big, beautiful place, and there are miles of lesser-known routes that offer tons of incredible scenery with a fraction of the traffic. You’ll be lucky if you get a snowshoe route in Oregon all to yourself these days, but these four options are solid bets if you’re looking for classic snowy Oregon adventures with a little more room to breathe.
Mt. Hood and Columbia Gorge
It can be hard to find solitude on Mt. Hood these days, but there are still some quieter pockets here and there. Case in point: the aptly named Pocket Creek. About 35 miles south of Hood River on the mountain’s drier east side, Pocket Creek’s trail system winds through a peaceful forest of droopy hemlocks, cedars and pines, and across crystalline streams that slice through the deep snow. On clear days, a jaw-dropping view of Mt. Hood will greet you at the apex of the main loop trail. What’s more, the area sits adjacent to the popular groomed ski trails of Teacup Nordic, which draws more people and, as a result, thins the crowds at Pocket Creek.
Distance: 6 miles round-trip
Already a remote yet spectacular destination during popular travel seasons, Southeastern Oregon’s Steens Mountain gets even more secluded when winter rolls in. That’s a good thing for snowshoers looking for solitude amidst the snowy slopes and expansive views of this stunning, 9,700-foot fault-block mountain. One of the best snowshoeing options on Steens is North Loop Road, which makes its long way to the airy summit plateau past snow-covered sagebrush and expansive vistas of Steens’ glacially carved past. The road is closed in the winter, but you can get a key to the gate from the Burns District Office of the Bureau of Land Management, which allows you to drive up to the snow line and then traipse to your heart’s desire toward Steens’ upper slopes.
Distance: Varies depending on how far past the Page Springs gate you can drive before snow. Getting all the way to the summit plateau would be a multiday trip.
Unlike many of the major Cascade peaks, Brown Mountain — a 7,340-foot cinder cone in Southern Oregon — doesn’t have widespread recognition, but that’s what makes it an attractive destination for a hearty winter romp. The mountain is edged by the Pacific Crest Trail, which is where the climb begins. Higher up, you’ll be navigating the lava rock of Brown Mountain’s open yet bouldery upper reaches by GPS, and once on top — after a climb of about 2,300 feet — you’ll be graced with broad vistas over the Mountain Lakes Wilderness, the conical Mt. McLoughlin and beyond.
Distance: 7.5 miles round-trip
The summer months find this gem of an alpine lake bustling with boaters, anglers and vacationers. But in the winter, Clear Lake and the surrounding fir forest get blanketed in snow and the crowds melt away. What’s left is a peaceful slice of Oregon beauty: a crystal-clear lake that hides an ancient preserved forest in its depths, towering snow-dusted Doug firs, far-off mountain views, and a general sense of peace and quiet. Take it all in on the loop around the lake, comprised of the Clear Lake trail and the McKenzie River trail. The snowshoe is a great day trip, but the rustic Clear Lake Resort, which rents snowshoes and charming cabins all year long, can make this an easy overnighter, too. (Note: Oregon is home to multiple Clear Lakes. This one is in Linn County, just off Highway 126, about 85 miles northeast of Eugene.)
Distance: 5.5 miles round-trip
If You Go:
Before you head out to any snow areas, especially in the backcountry, it’s vital to check road and weather conditions. If it’s not shaping up for you, turn back and plan to return another day — the slopes and trails can wait. Some of us grew up in places where it was natural to drive in the snow; others, not so much. Either way, here are some winter driving tips to keep you and your loved ones safe:
- Make sure your vehicle has clean headlights, good brakes, working windshield wipers and good tires. Get your brakes and tires checked beforehand — tires should be properly inflated and have plenty of tread.
- Carry chains and know how to use them. If you don’t have traction tires, practice installing chains on your car.
- Check weather and road conditions on your route before you go at TripCheck (which also has live cameras) or by dialing 511. Allow extra travel time when it’s snowing and head out with at least a half a tank of fuel, just in case of emergency.
- Turn on your headlights to increase your visibility.
- Always keep your eyes peeled for dangerous patches of black ice on shaded spots on the edge of a roadway — most common in the early morning when temperatures are lowest.
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly and gently to avoid skids, especially on ice (never use cruise control). Slow down when approaching off-ramps, bridges and shady spots where snow lingers longer. If the wheels lock up, ease off the brakes.
- Keep about three times the distance as usual between yourself and the vehicle in front of you in case there’s a spinout or incident up ahead. There is less traction on slick, snowy roads.
- While you’re driving, turn down the music and focus fully on the road, especially in dark or powdery conditions.
- If in doubt, look to book a guided snow tour with shuttle transportation to your destination.