Mt. Bachelor and Hoodoo ski areas are synonymous with winter sports in Central Oregon, both epic playgrounds for families as well as adrenaline-loving ski and snowboard enthusiasts as soon as the fluffy stuff hits. But the fun doesn’t stop below 9,000 feet. Farther downhill in the pristine foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range, several backcountry sno-parks (designated winter-recreation parking areas) are full of day-trip adventures for snowshoers, sledders, cross-country skiers, mushers, snowmobilers and fat-tire bikers looking for powdery fun, no chairlift required. Here are five fantastic sno-parks in Central Oregon to explore this winter, all within an hour of Bend.
This large area at 5,400 feet elevation is great for those who enjoy groomed Nordic skiing, with 14 miles of some of the best-maintained trails in the area. It includes a large yurt at the trailhead, rustic restroom facilities, and a food truck serving warm drinks and food. It’s located on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, 20 miles north of Sunriver.
This park at 5,500 feet elevation is so popular that there are two entrances: an east site (to the right of the entrance) with a vast trail network for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking; and a west site (to the left of the entrance) that is a dedicated snow-play area, closed to snowmobilers. Dogs must be on leash in the parking lot and on the sledding hill; otherwise it’s OK to be leash-free. Since the sledding and tubing hill can get quite busy, the snow tends to get hard-packed and bumpy, so soft inner tubes are a better choice than a rigid sled. There are rustic facilities and a large warming hut. It’s located just west of Virginia Meissner Sno-Park on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
Closed to snowmobiles and off-limits to dogs, this park at 5,800 feet elevation offers close to two dozen miles of groomed and ungroomed trails for Nordic skiers and snowshoers, with several warming shelters along the way. Make sure to pick up a map to find your way through the trail network, since it’s common to cross over to another trail. Snowshoers can choose from a few loops, including one that is 3.25 miles. It’s located just west of Wanoga Sno-Park on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway.
One of the area’s newer sno-parks, Kapka is a short, 2-mile backcountry loop that’s popular with snowmobilers, at an elevation of 5,900 feet. There aren’t any dramatic vista views, which makes for fewer crowds and easier access. There is no warming hut, but dogs are allowed. It’s located on Forest Service Road 45, just south of the turnoff from the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway on the way to Sunriver.
With access to 150 miles of groomed trails open to snowmobilers and snowshoers winding through the ponderosa pine, the network can be confusing, so it may be a good idea to carry a GPS device or a map. This park at 5,040 feet elevation includes 24 miles of Nordic trails with two shelters, and dogs are welcome. It’s located 4 miles south of Kapka Butte on Forest Service Road 45, 12 miles north of Sunriver.
If You Go:
- Sno-park permits ($4 per day) are required from Nov. 1 to April 30 and 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. Always check weather and road conditions before you head out, and be comfortable driving in wintry conditions.
- Warming huts are located at some sno-parks, but be prepared for changing conditions. As you peel off layers and open snacks, make sure to follow Leave No Trace practices — take your wrappers, broken equipment and water bottles home with you to leave the site beautiful for visitors all season long.
- Be aware and courteous of other trail users. If you’re snowshoeing, don’t snowshoe over ski tracks because it ruins the track and can make it more difficult to ski. If you happen to be skiing on a snowmobile trail, move off to the side. Watch for fat-tire bikers as well. Be friendly and say hi on the trail.
- Dogs are not allowed in sno-parks north of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway or on the Nordic trails at Mt. Bachelor. If you do bring Fido to a pet-friendly spot, always pick up after her (no one likes finding surprises in the snow) and keep her under voice command, making sure to respect all sno-park users. Make sure dogs have plenty of food and water and aren’t overexposed to the cold.