Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s two-week statewide freeze means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Before you set out, check road and weather conditions and travel alerts.
When white flurries enter the forecast, it is often accompanied by daydreams of wintry adventures: sparkly white idyllic landscapes, fresh tracks and ear-to-ear grins from bundled-up snow bunnies. With its fresh air and wide-open setting, Oregon’s outdoors are perfect for social distancing. If you’re new to the scene or just need a refresher, you can take a guided snow tour designed for beginners. Many tour operators provide instruction, rental gear and transportation — all with COVID safety protocols in place. All you have to do is reserve your spot and show up. Here are a few to check out this season.
Mt. Hood snowshoeing
Options for snowshoeing getaways around Oregon’s tallest mountain abound, so choose wisely. Mt. Hood Outfitters offers four different snowshoe tours, depending on your mood and thrill level. The daytime tour offers two to four hours of exploration with a focus on proper technique. A Crosstown tour takes visitors along the Crosstown Trail, through a wonderland of old-growth forest around Government Camp. A moonlight tour is another one for the bucket list. And a New Year’s Eve bonfire tour is probably the coolest way to ring in the new year, with a fireworks show over Mt. Hood Skibowl. This and the sleigh rides and guided cross-country ski tours for all ages and skill levels meet at the Mt. Hood Outfitters headquarters in Government Camp’s historic village.
For the 2020-21 winter season, all Mt. Hood Outfitters tours will be private, with a maximum of nine people. Guests will be required to wear face coverings for the entirety of the tour, health screenings will be taken upon arrival and cancellations will be required if guests have any COVID symptoms in the 14 days prior to the tour (guests will then receive full credit for the tour). All rental gear will be disinfected.
REI also offers a range of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing programs for both public and private groups. Tours have been redesigned to work for smaller groups and all participants, guides and instructors must undergo a health screening. Transportation vehicles are sanitized between each use, rows are left empty to maximize space between guests and face coverings are required while in transit. More details of REI’s health and safety protocols can be found here.
Snowshoeing tours at Mt. Bachelor is also an option and can be done for everyone’s favorite price: free! These 90 minute interpretive tours are offered at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. from mid-December to late March. No reservations are required, but tour-goers are asked to check in at the US Forest SErvice snowshoe hut just outside of the Guest Services building in West Village 10 to15 minutes prior to the tour time. Naturalists from Discover Your Forest lead the tours and donations to the nonprofit are happily accepted.
Mt. Hood snowmobiling
If snowshoes just aren’t fast enough, snowmobiling satisfies the need for speed. Mt. Hood Outfitters holds the only permit to offer a guided snowmobile tour in the Mt. Hood National Forest. The company is offering private tours only for groups up to eight. Health screenings will be conducted upon arrival, and face coverings are required for the whole tour. Tours last 1.5 hours and are open to visitors with a valid driver’s license — no experience necessary. You can hop on a single or double snowmobile, pop on your helmet with a face shield and be zipping around in no time. Tours meet at Frog Lake Sno-Park or Skyline Road Sno-Park, both off Highway 26. The company disinfects its rental snowmobile gear using the same protocol as its snowshoeing tours.
Mt. Bachelor snowshoeing
Children ages 8 and up are welcome on this Wanderlust Tours trek, led by naturalists in the wilderness around Mt. Bachelor and the surrounding Cascade mountain range. The small-group levels are customized for whatever adventure level you’re seeking, whether it’s flat strolling or getting air on the lava flows.
Wanderlust also offers a Moonlight & Starlight Tour that takes you out under the light of a full moon to enjoy constellations and shooting stars, nocturnal animals and hot chocolate (offered through April, weather dependent). Wanderlust also hosts a family-friendly afternoon Shoes, Brews & Views tour, with suds from Bend’s Cascade Lakes Brewing Co. and handcrafted root beer for the kids (ages 8 and up welcome). For each tour, Wanderlust organizers have implemented a series of safety protocols to keep guides and patrons safe, including health checks, face-covering requirements, physical-distancing guidelines and limited number of people in their transportation van — though guests can also choose to drive themselves to the meeting point.
Shuttles to the mountain
In Eastern Oregon, you can hop on a shuttle from La Grande to play in the snow at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, 40 miles south. This year, there will be limited seating to adhere to social-distancing guidelines, and will include precautions such as health checks and face-covering requirements. Visitors have numerous ways to get to Mt. Hood without a car, from the Portland region, Willamette Valley and Gorge cities. When in doubt, book lodging nearby the mountain — like the Wallowa Alpine Huts in the Eagle Cap Wilderness — and you’ll be getting fresh tracks every day.
If You Go:
Winter in Oregon can be chilly and wet, or crystal clear and sunny — so wear waterproof layers and appropriate snow boots, and don’t forget your sunglasses. Remember that during COVID-19, face coverings are required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Make sure to Take Care Out There by carrying your 10 Essentials, sharing the trails, leaving sites cleaner than you found them and following other Leave No Trace practices. Brush up on more tips on how to winter like an Oregonian. Know that cell service may be spotty, so download maps and trail directions. If you are traveling by car, be sure to check road and weather conditions before heading out, and carry snow chains or traction tires when advised.