When you head east of the Cascade Mountains, out to the lesser ranges and the broad, arid expanses, you’ll find that the snow falls light and often and the sun shines a little more. The result? Ideal conditions for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing without the crowds at the state’s more famous snow areas.
From the granite wonders, the Wallowa Mountains, to the dreamy flakes that fall around Anthony Lakes, Eastern Oregon is packed with places to explore when the ground is white. Here are six favorites for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Distance: Up to 12 miles roundtrip
Nothing like starting an Eastern Oregon snowshoe at 5,500 feet, with views up a canyon toward the pristine peaks of the Wallowas. That’s just what this local favorite is all about, and because you begin at such an elevation, there’s not much more to gain. Instead, the route winds through a slim canyon accented with occasional cascades from the likes of Falls Creek and Deadman Lake and views of Wallowa jewels such as Twin Peaks and Sacajawea Peak.
Distance: Up to 8 miles roundtrip
Look into Idaho over at the gnarled summits of the Seven Devils Mountains from the popular and scenic Trail 1819 that heads south out of the Salt Creek Summit Sno-Park. The view is stunning. The Sno-Park is home to several other shorter trails that wind through the Wallowa foothills. Try the Summit Loop (0.5 mile) for an easy snowy stroll through a pretty forest with occasional alpine vistas, or head out on the Mountain View Loop for far-off glances of the Wind Ridge area.
The powder is renowned at this Eastern Oregon ski area, but there’s more here than backcountry bliss or downhill dreams. Anthony Lakes is home to nearly 20 miles of groomed and track-set trails ideal for Nordic skiers of nearly any ability. The 1.1-mile Anthony Lake Trail zips around the namesake lake in the shadow of Gunsight Mountain. Or stitch together any of the other 14 or so trails for a more strenuous but still enjoyable day in the snow.
Distance: Up to 6.5 miles one way
Is there a much better setting for a snowshoe or a ski than a pristine, frozen lake backdropped by a subtle range of snow-covered mountains? Not likely. That’s what this breezy trail along the southern shore of Philips Lake southwest of Baker City is all about. And those snow-covered mountains off in the distance are the Elkhorns, part of the larger Blue Mountains range.
Distance: Up to 12 miles roundtrip
This is a stout haul, but it’s an unforgettable one that takes you into the heart of the Eagle Cap Wilderness to one of the area’s striking jewels. Aneroid Lake sits surrounded by some of the grand peaks of the Wallowas and makes an ideal destination for a spring snow camp or a long day trip to a classic Eastern Oregon wilderness locale. (The trail begins at Wallowa Lake.)
Oregon’s Blue Mountains don’t get as much love as the Cascades, the Coast Range or the Wallowas, but maybe they should. Sprawling from near Pendleton almost to Idaho, the range is gorgeous, especially when its peaks are white. The Blue Mountain Nordic Club maintains a network of trails at Meacham Divide that is the second-largest Nordic ski area in the state. The 18 miles of groomed trails wind through pines and offer jaw-dropping views into Meacham Canyon and up the Spout Springs Ridgeline. Both skiers and snowshoers are welcome.
If You Go:
Eastern Oregon is a beautiful place any time of the year, but it’s also remote and sparsely populated, more so in the winter, when temperatures drop, winds whip and snow falls. Keep this in mind when you plan a winter excursion to the region. Some of the mountain and desert roads can make for sketchy driving; others may close. Services can be erratic, so plan far ahead and know that cell service may be spotty, so download maps and trail directions.. Be sure to check road and weather conditions before heading out and carry snow chains or traction tires when advised.
Whenever you’re adventuring in the winter, wear waterproof layers, appropriate snow boots and don’t forget your sunglasses. Learn how to come prepared by brushing up on tips at How to Winter Like an Oregonian. Always follow Leave No Trace principals, including packing in and out, leaving what you find where it’s at, and respecting wildlife and other visitors.
Phillips Lake photo by Basecamp Baker; Meacham Divide photo by Anne March. All other photos by Leon Werdinger.