7 Wonders in Winter
December 31, 2015 (Updated February 8, 2016)
SMITH ROCK: Here’s a little secret about Smith Rock State Park: It’s typically warmer and drier than the rest of Central Oregon. The volcanic tuff spires of Smith Rock and their location in the high desert create a bit of a microclimate. This makes winter a perfect time to hike here. Crowds have thinned, trails are in great shape, and the rock walls absorb sun that is reflected back as heat. I like to hike up Misery Ridge and over the backside, to return around the base of the cliffs along the Crooked River. This route offers a great combination of epic views of the Cascade Range from the top and awe-inspiring views of the red-green-brown spires of Smith from the trail below. (Photo by Ben Moon)
THE WALLOWAS: To me, winter in the Wallowas is contemplative. One of the most beautiful, remote and peaceful parts of the state becomes even more so as the chill sets in and snow blankets the landscape. The Wallowas have 18 mountain peaks over 9,000 feet, and Hells Canyon is the deepest in North America. Simply put, it’s big country. The intrepid ones among us venture into the backcountry in winter; the rest of us are content to simply hunker down somewhere welcoming and cozy with friends and family, gazing at the massive, snowy beauty of those mountains. Do so from the Outlaw Restaurant in Joseph, the recently reborn Lostine Tavern, or Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise, with a frosty, locally brewed IPA in front of you. (Photo by Leon Werdinger)
CRATER LAKE: Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the snowiest inhabited places on the planet, with an average of 44 feet of snow annually. That means a visit to Oregon’s only national park in winter is a visit to an incredibly unique landscape in its most extreme season. I love the ranger-guided snowshoe trips offered daily on winter weekends at Rim Village. On this two-hour tour, learn about how animals, plants and people survive such harsh winters. From here, the sight of the caldera swathed in snow contrasted with the surreal blue of the lake is simply magical. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures. (Photo by Ian Shive / TandemStock.com)
THE OREGON COAST: I grew up on the Oregon Coast. And while some people shy away from visiting in winter, for me, a windy and rainy day at the beach just feels like home — and if you visit during these more meditative months, I think you’ll agree. The more rugged, rockier South Coast is my favorite winter destination, where the energy of a stormy sea meets high cliffs in crashing, splashing glory. Great vistas for winter wave watching can be found in Gold Beach, in Coos County at Shore Acres State Park and Cape Arago, and around the wee town of Yachats. But up and down the Coast, you’ll find that nothing tops the energy of the shore in winter — you’ll feel it in your bones and your soul. (Photo by Dennis Frates)
PAINTED HILLS: Confession: Some wintry nights, I dream about the pie at the Sidewalk Café and More in the town of Mitchell. There’s something particularly satisfying about finding a great little eating establishment in the middle of the high desert, and for me, Eastern Oregon is about taking in incredible outdoor vistas in between visits to authentic, down-home diners. Hike the Painted Hills on the Overlook Trail or the Carroll Rim Trail to achieve a great view of the multicolored volcanic ash of the hills while earning your pie in advance. After the exertion, enjoy a home-cooked meal at Sidewalk. Then continue east to explore more of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, or venture west into Prineville for more authentic western dining at hot spots like Barney Prine’s Steakhouse & Saloon or Club Pioneer. (Photo by Tyler Roemer)
THE COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE: In winter the Gorge calls for a road trip. I like to pack some provisions and warm, comfortable clothes and head east from Greater Portland on the Historic Columbia River Highway. Visit Crown Point Vista House for 30-mile views of the Columbia from 700 feet above. If you’re lucky, it’ll be my favorite kind of Oregon winter day, with skies clear, wind whipping and clouds tearing by overhead. You’ll get back in your car feeling totally invigorated. Head on down the highway for short hikes without crowds at Latourell, Bridal Veil, Multnomah and Horsetail falls. End in Hood River for a late lunch at Full Sail Brewing Co. or Celilo Restaurant and Bar, followed by a little small-town boutique shopping before the journey back to Portland. Perfect day trip! (Photo by Alamy Stock)
MT. HOOD: A few years ago, I spent a winter weekend at Timberline Lodge. Not being an alpine skier, I wondered what I’d do with my time. The answer was: Explore the iconic, historic lodge, from the hand-carved newel posts in animal motifs to the exhibit about The Shining in the lobby. Snowshoe up the flanks of the magnificent mountain under a shining winter sun. Sip hot drinks in the cozy Ram’s Head Bar with a breathtaking view of snowy Mt. Hood through the expansive windows. Soak in the hot tub with the smell of subalpine fir and snow on the breeze. Sleep peacefully under a warm, wool Pendleton blanket in a room built from great Oregon conifer trees. Finally, leave rested, happy and with a fresh vision of the beauty and wonder of my home state. (Photo by Timberline Lodge)
Having lived in Oregon my entire life, I can say for certain that there are countless reasons to love this beautiful state in every season — but this is especially true in winter.
During the colder months, days may get shorter and chillier, but that doesn’t mean Oregon’s 7 Wonders are any less wonderful. In fact, many locals will tell you that you’ll experience them in a more intimate way: Crowds thin, trails clear and the pace of things slows. Meanwhile, the natural features remain amazingly beautiful, from the snowy mountain peaks to the gusty ocean shores to all of the wild deserts and forests and rivers in between.
So come along with me for a local’s tour of some of my favorite sights and destinations around the 7 Wonders during the snowy, frosty season.