On a dark, snowy night in Central Oregon, all you can see is the puff of your breath as you tramp along. The only sound is the crunch of your snowshoes against the white ground in the quiet forest. Overhead a million stars pulse in the night sky. And then you see it up ahead, the faint flicker of light in the trees. You draw closer and finally reach your destination — a massive bonfire set in the middle of an amphitheater that has been hand-carved in the snow. It sounds like a dream, but it’s just a typical winter night out with Bend-based Wanderlust Tours.
The company’s central mission has always been “to get people out into the natural world,” says Dave Nissen, who co-founded the company with his wife Aleta in 1993. Wanderlust offers half-day tours around Bend, Sisters and Sunriver and specializes in taking small groups canoeing, kayaking, caving, snowshoeing, hiking, and exploring volcanoes.
Winter in particular offers unique outdoor opportunities, Nissen says. “Winter for most people is looked upon with some foreboding, and I think winter should be embraced because of the spectacular beauty that can be seen.”
Wanderlust’s wintertime offerings include daytime snowshoeing, moonlight snowshoeing and the snowshoe bonfire trip, which ends with hot chocolate and baked goodies from Sparrow Bakery. “Guests can comfortably get out in the natural world and feel safe and know they won’t get lost in the snowy forest,” Nissen says.
Wanderlust also takes people caving during the winter season in off-the-beaten-path Boyd Cave in the Deschutes National Forest. Wintertime caving is a unique option as most of Central Oregon’s caves are closed this time of year to protect bats in hibernation; bats do not inhabit Boyd Cave.
Nissen says every trip is customized for the group so everyone has a good time. That might mean, for example, that the guide will run the high-energy teenagers up a 30-foot hill and off a jump while the parents and grandparents stay the course on the trail below.
The company clearly knows how to show people a good time. In addition to its outdoor offerings, Wanderlust has urban tours focused on Central Oregon’s liquid culture — beer, spirits, cider and wine.
Nissen and his guides feel passionate about getting people out of the car and into the physical environment of Oregon. They want visitors to smell fir trees in the cold air, stick their hands in a pool of melted snow melt and crawl on their bellies in a cave.
Nissen says he hopes visitors also feel a call to action to their lifestyles, whether that means conservation, preservation or just a better sense of context for how humans exist in the world. “I hope they walk away having had a fun experience with their families, and having gained a better knowledge about the landscape and its many surprises,” he says.