At an elevation of 5,128 feet, Willamette Pass is the highest drivable winter mountain pass in the Cascade Range, nearly 1,200 feet higher than Government Camp on Mt. Hood. And yet while winter destinations to the north part of the state enjoy plenty of visitation, Willamette Pass has similar outdoor offerings with fewer crowds and a setting that seems like a pleasant trip back in time.
Even better, at about 30 miles east of Oakridge it’s conveniently located near both Bend and Eugene. Beyond the uncrowded slopes of the Willamette Pass Ski Area, there’s a whole network of snowmobile trails, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, sledding and quaint lakeside lodges offering idyllic winter escapes complete with “one-horse open sleigh” rides. Here’s what you can expect to find on a road trip to Willamette Pass from Eugene.
1. Ride a Snowmobile Through Crescent Lake
Heading west along Highway 58 about 78 miles from Eugene, you’ll pass through Crescent Lake, where the action is heating up at the 3-acre Junction Sno-Park, a jump-off point for snowmobilers looking to head out on a local ride or on an all-day or overnight adventure. The trail network extends north through the Cascade Lakes clear to the Ray Benson Sno-Park on Santiam Pass; riders can also opt to head south to Diamond Lake Resort and beyond. The trail network is groomed by active local snowmobile clubs.
Snowmobilers can make a weekend of it by staying at the Willamette Pass Inn, which offers cozy cabins and rooms with wood-burning stoves and some with kitchenettes. Another popular lodging option is the Crescent Creek Cottages. Over-21 locals and visitors alike flock to Manley’s Tavern for the famous broasted chicken and a true tavern experience. Fans of snowmobiling along Cascade Lakes Highway will love this area — it offers even more snowmobile-accessible terrain.
2. Immerse in Winter Coziness at Lakeside Lodges
As Highway 58 runs parallel to Odell Lake about 4 miles from Crescent Lake Junction, you’ll soon approach the historic 120-year-old, family-friendly Odell Lake Lodge & Resort, a popular summer destination that transforms into a winter retreat. Visitors can enjoy the quiet comfort of the seven-room lodge or in one of the 14 cabins. While there’s always the option to just enjoy watching the snowfall in front of a crackling fire, O’Dell Lake owner Jon Ditgen upgrades the snowmobiles every year or two and offers guided tours on the vast snowmobile trail network that is easily accessed near Crescent Lake— guests pay only for the guides’ gas and oil for the day.
Visitors can also rent Nordic skis and snowshoes and head off on the 6 miles of groomed trails through the ponderosa pine forest or along the frozen lakeshore. For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, the resort recently began offering horse-drawn sleigh rides pulled through the forest and around the historic lodge by one of the lodge’s six Clydesdale horses. Cap off your brisk outdoor adventure with a homemade meal in the restaurant, which is open 365 days a year for lodge guests and day visitors alike.
Continuing along to the north shore of Odell Lake, you’ll find Shelter Cove Resort & Marina, another winter destination tucked along the border of the Diamond Peak Wilderness area that has welcomed generations of visitors year after year. The resort offers accommodations including four interconnected lodges and 10 stand-alone cabins, and it’s great for multiday stays. Shelter Cove is the closest lodging to the ski resort; guests can also ski directly to the huge network of Nordic trails at Gold Lake Sno-Park. The general store is open for snacks and quick meals.
3. Find Uncrowded Slopes at Willamette Pass Resort
Willamette Pass Resort, your destination, sits on top of the pass at another 6 miles down Hwy. 58. In operation since 1941, the resort has many claims to fame including the state’s first six-person high-speed lift and the R.T.S. trail — the initials stand for Real Tough Stuff. At 52 degrees, it’s the steepest trail in the state.
Fear not, though. The resort accommodates all levels from beginner through advanced skiers. Professional snowboarder Josh Dirksen first learned to snowboard with his family coming up from Eugene. From his first turns on a board to the launching point for a snowboarding career spent traveling the world, his experience shows how the terrain accommodates all skill levels — and allows for progression.
The resort offers free adult lessons twice daily on weekends, or visitors can opt to set out on over 12 miles of dedicated Nordic trails. Visitors can now plan and prepay for their entire visit including tickets, lessons and rentals in advance online, which is exactly what we did.
With the snow falling throughout the day, we lap Willamette’s steep tree runs and fast groomers on the front side, then head to the back side, where we find untouched powder and no shortage of terrain to keep us entertained. This back-side area, or Peak 2, is Willamette Pass general manager Mindy Ingebretson-Wolowicz’s favorite terrain.
“I’ve been riding back there with my niece and nephew — one of them is just exploring black diamonds, while the other one enjoys the mellower runs,” she says. “It’s perfect because we can all meet together at the bottom.” In the springtime, the sunny front-side runs are her top pick.
The resort base area is anchored by a huge lodge, a cozy upstairs bar and a large dining area where visitors can enjoy live après-ski music most weekends. (Dirksen notes with pleasure that not much has changed in the lodge since his days as a passholder in the 1990s.) Take a midday break to enjoy fresh pretzels and hot chocolate. The mountain view through the floor-to-ceiling windows is the ideal place to watch the snow pile up.
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4. Explore Nordic Trails at a Trio of Sno-Parks
Just across from Willamette Pass is Gold Lake Sno-Park. This popular sno-park leads to a series of looping Nordic trails with two warming shelters. Skiers can also cross over Highway 58 to access Willamette Pass Resort’s Nordic trail network.
When the snow falls and the trees are flocked with white, it’s an idyllic scene. You may be able to catch a sight of smoke rising from the chimney of the warming cabin that serves as the home base for the volunteer Willamette Backcountry Ski Patrol. Visitors are invited to shelter in the cozy cabin, which serves as an information hub offering trail maps and up-to-date weather.
While Gold Lake is the highest elevation of all three area sno-parks, visitors can also explore the Nordic skiing and snowmobiling access from Waldo Lake Sno-Park and Salt Creek Sno-Park, which accesses Nordic trails as well as a popular sledding hill and a quick winter hike to Oregon’s second-tallest waterfall, Salt Creek Falls.
Looping back toward Eugene from the pass, consider a nice soak at McCredie Hot Springs between mileposts 46 and 47 to take the chill off weary bones. You’re also well advised to stop in at the 3 Legged Crane Pub in Oakridge for a hand-poured English ale to cap off a fine visit and share all your snow adventures.
If You Go:
- Sno-park permits are required from Nov. 1 to Apr. 30 and are available online, at all Oregon DMV offices and by permit agents in resorts, sporting-goods stores and other retail shops.
- Come prepared with extra layers of waterproof clothing and boots, plenty of food and water, headlamps, fuel, and chains or snow tires for your car.
- Check weather and road conditions on your route before you go at TripCheck, and read all about winter safety in Oregon before your trip.