: Sahalie Falls by Skyler Hughes

Winter Wonders in the West Cascades

Find untouched snowshoe trails, icy waterfalls and little-known ski resorts.
November 27, 2017

The Willamette Valley has a wintry secret: When the cool ocean air hits the backbone of the Cascade Range, the west-facing slopes transform into a powdery playground. Mountain peaks tower above the Willamette National Forest, with its hidden caches of snow. The rushing McKenzie River and companion creeks burble along, laced with ice. While most people head to Oregon’s better-known winter destinations, the Willamette Valley lures adventurous travelers to a quiet wonderland with fewer crowds and plenty of stoke. Whether you seek vertical velocity, groomed groove or natural beauty, you’ll find it on the west side of the Cascades.

Maiden Peak Ski Shelter by Tim Giraudier

Snowshoeing and Nordic Skiing

The Cascade Range is packed with trekking options for Nordic skiers and snowshoers — each with varying levels of difficulty and epic views. Nordic skiers and snowshoers glide and hike out of sno-parks located east of Oakridge on OR-58. Gold Lake Sno-Park is the jumping-off point for the easy, 4.2-mile round-trip Gold Lake Road Snow Trail. Farther north, trail seekers find powder stashes along U.S.-20. Tombstone Sno-Park leads to trails like the easy Tombstone-Prairie Hill Snow Trail (3.5 miles one way) and the more challenging Echo Snow Trail (5.6 miles round-trip). From the Potato Hill Sno-Park, visitors can access the 4-mile Hash Brown Loop Snow Trail through old-growth Douglas fir forests. Lava Lake Sno-Park has several short, easy options for beginners to kick and glide.

Salt Creek Falls by Joshua Rainey / Alamy Stock Photo

Wintry Waterfalls

The majestic waterfalls of the West Cascades are even more arresting in winter as their frigid veils plunge through snow-crusted outcroppings and ice-layered canyon walls. Near Oakridge, petite Salmon Creek Falls flows year-round into deep pools at an attractive day-use area along Salmon Creek. Nearby Salt Creek Sno-Park offers Nordic skiers and snowshoers a 4.5-mile loop trail with views of impressive Salt Creek Falls — Oregon’s second highest waterfall at 286 feet — and gushing Diamond Creek Falls. Accessible from OR-126, Koosah Falls plunges 70 feet into an icy pool along the McKenzie River. From here, strap on your snowshoes for a 2.6-mile hike leading to majestic Sahalie Falls tumbling 100 feet through the carved lava. You can also drive to the parking lot at Sahalie, which has an ADA-accessible viewing platform.

Courtesy of Visit Klamath

Willamette Pass Resort

A little over an hour east of Eugene, Willamette Pass Resort is the Valley’s closest groomed winter terrain. With a summit elevation of 6,683 feet and more than 1,500 feet of vertical, the resort catches an average of 430 inches of snow per season. This winter wonderland takes all comers. Snowboarders and skiers carve down 29 trails on 555 acres of skiable terrain — more than half of it groomed. Two terrain parks keep adrenaline pumping with boxers, rails and booters. Those looking for a more sedate session enjoy the resort’s 20 kilometers of groomed Nordic trails. Those same trails are open to snowshoeing, as are 300 adjacent acres of ungroomed backcountry. Willamette Pass provides lessons and rentals, too. Check the resort’s website for information about passes, deals and road conditions.

Hoodoo by Dave Bassett

Hoodoo Ski Area

Perched atop Santiam Pass about two hours from Eugene, Hoodoo Ski Area takes powder hounds up to a summit of 5,703 feet with a vertical rise of 1,035 feet. With 800 skiable acres, 34 trails and an average annual snowfall of 450 inches, Hoodoo is home to a 3-mile-long run. But there’s more here than high-adrenaline hijinks. Family-friendly Hoodoo is home to the Autobahn tubing park — a series of epic, 800-foot groomed runs that are essential to the winter adventure list. The resort also offers night skiing on Friday and Saturday and 18.5 kilometers of Nordic trails — most of which are perfect for beginners. Visitors can rent alpine and Nordic skis, snowshoes and singular snow bikes.

Brewers Union Local by Todd Cooper

Seasonal Savories

Cold weather builds a keen appetite in winter explorers. Luckily, the town of Oakridge is home to Brewers Union Local 180. Stop in for Oregon craft beer, good pub grub — like the ever-popular bangers and mash — and a family-friendly atmosphere (including Scrabble Night, open-mic night and darts). Grab a table at The Ridge Homestyle Cafe for hot coffee and hearty breakfasts such as steak and eggs or biscuits and gravy.

Gear up for a day of adventure in Eugene with Agate Alley Bistro’s delightful brunch offerings such as the smoked salmon Bennie and the savory shakshuka. At the day’s end, wind down in the elegant atmosphere of iconic Marché — the bistro that started Oregon’s farm-to-table movement. The taste of winter is on tap at Eugene’s craft breweries with seasonal offerings like Ninkasi Brewing Company’s toasty Sleigh’r Winter Ale and Oakshire Brewing’s Spiced Apple Porter.

If You Go

Always check road conditions before you go, and abide by traction tire and chain requirements. Keep essential equipment in your vehicle. All Oregon Sno-Parks require a permit, which can be acquired at various outdoor and sporting-good stores in most Oregon towns.

About The
Author

Eileen Garvin
Eileen Garvin lives and writes in Hood River. When she’s not hunched over her keyboard or digging in the garden, you can find her mountain biking, kiteboarding, hiking, skiing or camping somewhere in Oregon.

Trip Ideas

  • Winter Fun in Central Oregon
    Fire and ice, dogs and kids, stars and snow. Winter in Central Oregon has all the right ingredients for some serious family fun. Here are just a few ideas to put the stoke in your... More
  • Winter Getaways
    Wintertime brings shorter days, darker nights and cold flurries of snow. We love playing outside in winter, but it’s also the perfect season for a cozy getaway indoors. Mountain lodge, riverside cabin or historic hotel?... More
  • Willamette Valley Winter Adventures
    Famous for its pinot noir, the Willamette Valley is also home to snowy mountain peaks, fine art, rich heritage and a delicious culinary scene. Here are some ideas to help you plan a wintercation in... More