: Crater Lake by Tyler Roemer

Ski These 8 Essential Nordic Trails

Oregon is one of the top spots in America for cross-country skiing.
November 28, 2018 (Updated January 2, 2020)

The world’s oldest form of skiing is once again gaining traction, and there are few better spots to strap on skis than Oregon. Nordic skiing is perfect for beginners, with lightweight, comfortable boots, affordable rentals and passes, and the option to learn on flat, corduroy-soft groomed trails with no lift lines or intimidating slopes. From the Cascades to the Wallowas, Oregon has a variety of Nordic trail systems, some adjacent to well-known ski resorts like Mt. Hood Meadows and Mt. Bachelor, while others exist as stand-alone trails promising the solitude and unique silence of a snowy forest. Regional Nordic skiing clubs exist throughout the state and offer a great way to learn about the sport and the hundreds of miles of trails maintained by club members. Here are eight trail systems around the state for beginner to intermediate Nordic skiing. 

By Shawn Linehan

Teacup (Mt. Hood)

Distance: 12 miles of groomed trails
Difficulty: All levels
Fees: Sno-park pass and daily trail fee of $10

Just off Highway 35, 20 miles from downtown Hood River, the Teacup trails are a Mt. Hood favorite. Beginners can connect the Meadow Trail to the Hood River Road Trail for a 4- to 5-mile loop on wide, mellow terrain followed by a warm-up in the Ray Garey day-use cabin, open to the public on grooming days (Mon., Wed., Sat. and Sun.). No rentals or lessons, but nearby Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic Center provides both.

By Michael Hanson

Steens Mountain (Eastern Oregon)

Distance: Varies, out and back
Difficulty: Intermediate
Fees: None

If you favor solitude and remote adventure over groomed trails, Steens Mountain Wilderness supplies the goods. Located deep in Harney County, Steens has no facilities, but an overnight at the Frenchglen Hotel makes for easy access. Discovering Steens begins at the BLM station in Hines, where you pick up a key that opens the gate along the access road out of Frenchglen. Drive until you hit the snow, then start gliding the gentle, wide-open, likely untracked slopes.

Courtesy of the Southern Oregon Nordic Club

Buck Prairie Trail (Southern Oregon)

Distance: 17 miles
Difficulty: All levels
Fees: Sno-park pass

Just over a half-hour from Ashland, the straightforward Buck Prairie Trail system wanders up a wooded valley with multiple loop options, including an advanced ski up to Table Mountain, while beginners can take the 4.5-mile Natasha’s Web Trail loop. Skiers with dogs can use the more recent Buck Prairie II beginner-friendly glades and meadows located 2.5 miles beyond Buck Prairie.

By Tyler Roemer

Crater Lake (Southern Oregon)

Distance: Varies
Difficulty: Varies
Fees: $10 vehicle entry fee

Arguably the best way and definitely the most quiet way to see Crater Lake National Park is in winter on cross-country skis. The Rim Drive, normally bustling with cars in summer, is a wide, peaceful cross-country ski trail in winter. Conditions vary and there is no grooming, but following a good snow, several marked and unmarked Nordic trails leave from the Rim Village. Check for road closures, and inquire at the Steel Visitor Center for snow and trail conditions.

Courtesy of USFS

Gold Lake Sno-Park (Willamette Valley)

Distance: 4.8-mile out-and-back to the Gold Lake Shelter
Difficulty: All levels
Fees: Sno-park pass

Beginners will love not only the mellow trails looping around Gold Lake but two rustic warming shelters with wood stoves that provide an opportunity to escape the elements and enjoy a backcountry picnic indoors. One of the cabins, Gold Lake Patrol Cabin, is staffed by ski-patrol volunteers who offer answers to trail questions. More experienced Nordic skiers can follow the Pacific Crest Trail for 4 miles to the Maiden Peak Shelter. Nordic rentals are available at nearby Willamette Pass Ski Resort.

By Alex Borsuk

Anthony Lakes Ski Resort (Eastern Oregon)

Distance: 18 miles of groomed trails
Difficulty: All levels
Fees: $15 trail pass purchased at Nordic center

Most people consider Anthony Lakes, located high in the cold Elkhorn Mountains, to have the state’s best, driest snow — a good thing for powder hounds and Nordic skiers seeking smooth gliding trails. Beginners can warm up on the easy (green) 1.2-mile Anthony Lake loop Trail, then progress up to intermediate blue trails, while advanced skiers combine black loops into hours of exploring. Rentals available at the resort.

Courtesy of Mt. Bachelor

Mt. Bachelor Nordic Ski Trails (Central Oregon)

Distance: 35 miles
Difficulty: All levels
Fees: $14-$21 day pass or $11-$17 afternoon pass, purchased at the Nordic Center

Nordic skiing is not an afterthought at Mt. Bachelor. They groom and track-set their trails every night to ensure fresh corduroy for skate skiers and easy-glide tracks for cross-country skiers. And the season lasts into May thanks to the area’s high elevation and healthy snowfall. The resort offers rentals, lessons and beginner-friendly trails, but most of the terrain is intermediate to advanced, meaning you’ll be glad there’s plenty of good food and hot beverages at Bachelor’s lodge.

Courtesy of the Fox Lodge

Edison Butte Sno-Park (Central Oregon)

Distance: 24 miles of trails
Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate
Fees: Sno-Park pass ($4 daily, $25 annual)

If it’s windy on Mt. Bachelor, the Edison Butte trail system offers a relatively calm respite among old-growth ponderosa pines just 4 miles off the Cascade Lakes Highway. Beginners can aim for the Edison shelter, less than a mile from the trailhead, then take on a variety of short loops from there. More advanced skiers follow the well-marked Direct Current trail mostly uphill (around 500 feet of elevation gain) to the AC/DC warming hut and its perfect view of Mt. Bachelor. Make a 7- to 8-mile lollipop loop of it back to the trailhead via the Alternating Current trail. Don’t expect solitude here. You can download a PDF trail map here. The popular trail system allows dogs, snowshoers and snowmobilers, so it can get busy on blue-bird weekend days.

Know Before You Go:

Nordic skiing is a safe, affordable and beginner-friendly way to enjoy the outdoors in winter. But since most trail systems are in remote settings, you should be prepared with proper gear and travel info, as weather and road conditions can change quickly. Be sure to check the Oregon Department of Transportation’s website and TripCheck.com for weather forecasts, road conditions and tips on safe winter travel. Additionally, be sure to dress and pack appropriately for cold-weather conditions. Here is a helpful checklist for Nordic skiers. Finally, for trail maps, updated trail information, group outings and opportunities to join localized Nordic ski communities, check out the Oregon Nordic Club to find chapters near you.

About The

David Hanson
David Hanson is a free-range journalist, working the pen and the camera for national publications, organizations and commercial outlets — mostly concerning conservation, adventure and social justice issues. The Georgia native, his Puget Sound wife, their daughter Ada and a few bikes and kayaks have found their home in Hood River.

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