: Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort

Eastern Oregon’s Winter Secrets

December 2, 2013 (Updated October 9, 2018)

You may have heard the rumors or even seen it firsthand: Eastern Oregon is a winter playground. The east side of the state is blessed with light fluffy powder, lesser-known ski areas, hungry steelhead, roaming elk and day after day of sunny winter weather. And then there are the soul-satisfying craft beers that cap off a perfect day outside.

All this is pretty exciting to discover, so we understand if you might want to keep Eastern Oregon’s winter playground a secret. But don’t worry, in this vast region there are plenty of adventures to share.

Ride, slide and glide in fluffy white powder and blue skies. (Photo credit: Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort)

Shred the slopes

At 7,100 feet above sea level, Anthony Lakes has the highest base elevation of any Oregon ski area. It also receives 300 inches of average annual snowfall. Explore the 1,100 acres of alpine terrain, featuring 21 runs, and 30 kilometers of groomed, track-set Nordic trails. Come on Thursdays for half-price lift tickets. Looking for even more remoteness? Visit community-owned Ferguson Ridge Ski Area outside Joseph.

Stay overnight in a yurt village, then ski from your front door. (Photo credit: Wallowa Alpine Huts)

Ski the backcountry

Located west of La Grande, Meacham Divide at the Mt. Emily Sno-Park has Oregon’s second largest Nordic skiing area, with more than 20 kilometers of trails, groomed from November to March. For serious backcountry skiers, Wallowa Alpine Huts offers access to the wide-open bowls, forested glades and snowy couloirs of the gorgeous Eagle Cap Wilderness near Joseph and Halfway.

Snowmobile miles of trails in peaceful solitude.

Snowmobile miles of trails

Many of Eastern Oregon’s legendary mountain ranges are also famous for snowmobilers: the Wallowas, the Blues and the Strawberries. Ride across trackless high mountain meadows, or punch down mile after mile of trails to find a spot that quite possibly has only been visited by rabbits and Steller jays. It’s also not uncommon to snowmobile from your cabin, as is the case at Cornucopia Lodge near Halfway.

Bird watching awaits at McKay Creek National Wildlife Refuge.

Watch the wildlife

Be on the lookout for owls, elk, deer, bald and golden eagles, kestrels, all sorts of hawks, bushy tailed coyote and big-footed bobcats. In winter, Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer move down out of the mountains to graze in open pastures in places like the Elkhorn Wildlife Area and Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. Ladd Marsh is open year-round; Elkhorn is closed during winter to protect the animals, but elk can be seen from the Anthony Creek Viewing Site. Take the Northeastern Oregon Birding Trail to see bald eagle, grebe and wintering waterfowl.

Discover the joys of winter steelhead fishing.

Find a fish tale

Eastern Oregonians know this secret well: the wild and scenic rivers of summer fame are even more amazing when you land a brightly-colored steelhead after wading through a winter storm. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) recommends the Wallowa, Umatilla, Imnaha and John Day Rivers for mid- to late-winter steelheading (with some areas catch-and-release only). It’s true, in Eastern Oregon these winter fish stories are more than tall tales.

Barley Brown’s is part of a Baker City culinary walking tour.

Eat, drink and be merry

Winter in Oregon is best paired with a handcrafted brew, a local wine, and sampled a bowl of wheatberry chili. You can easily plan a food road trip here. Play all day, then spend the night telling stories over great food and a local beverage, perhaps along the Eastern Oregon Brews Byway. Try beers named after the ski runs in the area, like Shredder’s Wheat or Tumble Off Pale Ale from Barley Brown’s in Baker City.

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More winter fun awaits

Winter is a magical time in Eastern Oregon, especially around the holidays. Take a winter sleigh or train ride that you’ll never forget. The Sumpter Valley Railroad hosts two-hour holiday rides on vintage trains. In Baker City, revel in old-time charm with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the historic downtown.

The fun continues indoors. Take the Northeastern Oregon Arts Trail for the region’s premier arts centers, galleries and theaters. Explore local heritage at National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City or the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, the only museum located along the Oregon Trail that documents how the arrival of settlers forever changed tribal life.

This is also a fine time to discover new designated trails: River to Hills Farm Loop Tour, Whisky & Rocks Farm Loop, Cove-Union Farm Loop and the Wallowa Barn Tour.

Know before you go: Eastern Oregon is vast and topographically diverse, meaning you can experience multiple climates and varying weather in a single trip, especially in the cooler months of the year. Before setting out, review your route on TripCheck.com, which will alert you of current conditions and potential closures. Be prepared by filling up on gas, carrying an emergency roadside kit and bringing a paper road map. When visiting wilderness, tread lightly and aim to leave no trace.


Looking for more ideas for what to do in Eastern Oregon this winter?

Find your winter trip idea.

About The
Author

Emily Forsha
Emily is Travel Oregon's Content Manager, a proud mom, intrepid home cook and loyal Oregon Ducks fan. You can usually find her running, writing, or finding creative ways to avoid doing both, preferably over an Oregon IPA.

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What are your favorite Oregon winter adventures?

During winter, there are tons of activities you can do, from skiing or snowboarding, to snowshoeing, hiking and soaking in hot springs! You can camp in the national forests or wilderness areas, or there are some campgrounds open too, depending on where you want to go. There are also some fun places to stay, like…

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