7 Ideas for Easy Winter Fun in Central Oregon

February 10, 2022

Winter brings a new round of outdoor fun to Central Oregon, and there’s something to enjoy for all ages, abilities and experience levels. Always wanted to explore the snow-covered forest or cast a line in a trout-filled river? In sun and snow, Central Oregon has winter adventures for everyone.

Snowshoeing with the entire family

1. Tackle Forested Trails on Snowshoes

Snow doesn’t need to slow you down, even in alpine areas where it typically lingers into June. Strap on some lightweight shoes and you’re suddenly in all-wheel-drive, tromping atop snow-covered trails rather than sinking into them. Mt. Bachelor is a great place to give it a try. US Forest Service naturalists lead free 90-minute tours on weekends from the ski area’s West Village base, where you’ll learn about the geology and ecology of the forest around you. Snowshoes are provided and ages 10 and older are welcome to join. 

If you want to venture out on your own, head for a sno-park with well-marked snowshoe trails that will make it easy to find your way back to the car. West of Sunriver, several trails depart from the Edison Butte Sno-Park, from the gentle 1-mile Snowshoe Short Loop to the more challenging 5-mile Tesla Trail that leads you over lava ridges and past fat ponderosa pines. A warming hut with an inviting wood stove offers a midway rest stop. Before you go, be sure to monitor weather and road conditions, and stock your vehicle with the winter Ten Essentials.

2. Get Hooked on Winter Fly-Fishing

The tranquility of casting a line grows even more profound in the winter, just you and the wild river, flowing cold and clear — the color of butterscotch. Peak-season crowds are gone but plenty of fish are still running. The Metolius River is a favorite winter fishery, busy with rainbows and big bull trout that migrate up the river from Lake Billy Chinook. Trout fishing comes on a bigger, broader scale on the Lower Deschutes, which grows as wide as a football field framed by 1,000-foot-high canyon walls. If you’re new to the sport, hiring a guide or taking a class will make your experience even more satisfying. You’ll find both at Confluence Fly Shop in Bend and River Borne Outfitters in Madras.

In Central Oregon, Oregon Adaptive Sports' equipment makes snow fun for all. Photo by Pat Addabbo

3. Hit the Slopes With Oregon Adaptive Sports

Bend-based Oregon Adaptive Sports is on a mission to make the outdoors more inclusive for all. Whether you’re a Paralympian or a first-timer, a skier or a snowboarder, OAS has a variety of adaptive equipment and certified adaptive instructors to get you ripping turns at Hoodoo Ski Area or Mt. Bachelor this winter. Its reasonable lesson rates include a personal guide trained in your specific needs, all equipment and a lift ticket. The organization offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing programs at Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center, too. Just be sure to book well ahead of your trip.

Snuggle up in a snow cave (Photo courtesy of Wanderlust Tours)

4. Spend the Night in a Snow Cave

How about an adventure that gets you outside and outside your comfort zone? Winter camping involves a lot of kid-like fun — romping through an old-growth forest, following animal tracks, gazing at stars, building and sleeping in a snow cave — but, of course, winter wilderness isn’t all child’s play. Learn the skills for a memorable overnight adventure with professional outfitters like Wanderlust Tours in Bend. You pack the warm clothes; they supply the gear and introduce you to a whole new way to enjoy winter.  

5. Zoom Beyond the Groom on a Snowmobile Tour

“Exhilarating” is the word Central Oregon Adventures uses to describe its guided snowmobile trips through the powdery backcountry of the Cascades. Two-hour guided outings can be geared to the tamer end of the scale for those new to the sport and for those with younger kids (on double-seat machines). A four-hour guided trip heads higher into the Cascade Lakes region, zipping across drifted meadows and making a stop at the Elk Lake Resort, a popular summertime spot 25 miles southwest of Bend that welcomes snowmobilers (like you!) in winter.  

The long and winding road at Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway

6. Go for a Spin Along a Scenic Bikeway or Byway

There’s no need to tuck away your bike with the arrival of winter. At lower elevations, the sun-soaked climate provides plenty of days with mild temperatures and dry riding conditions. South of Prineville, the Crooked River Canyon Scenic Bikeway slips between basalt bluffs as it follows the river toward the Prineville Reservoir. A choice segment of the Madras Mountain Views Scenic Bikeway skims along a high canyon rim above Lake Billy Chinook, with a sawblade of snowy volcanic peaks for a backdrop.

If your bike can handle gravel, the Lower Deschutes River Back Country Byway near Maupin adds more remoteness to your adventure. The mostly level, low-traffic route wanders alongside the riffling Deschutes, where bighorn sheep sometimes stare down from sage-covered hills. There are no nearby bike shops in this lovely outback, so be sure to bring a well-stocked repair kit.

A flat, smooth option at Sun-Lava Path

7. Explore the High Desert

Tired of the snow? Central Oregon’s arid landscapes may be at their best in winter, when the low-angle sun and crisp dry air intensify the dramatic beauty of the desert. (You’ll want to pick a sunny day and still bundle up for temperatures that average in the mid 40s and 50s.) In Redmond, the ADA-accessible Dry Canyon Trail meanders 3.7 miles up the shallow canyon, past parks on the south end and more natural desert habitat as you continue north. The 10-foot-wide paved trail is mostly flat, with a few short, sloping inclines. You might feel a bit like an astronaut at Newberry National Volcanic Monument, where burnt orange cinder cones and ancient lava flows evoke an alien landscape. The paved, ADA-accessible Sun-Lava Path begins at the Lava Lands Visitor Center (be sure to check out the excellent geology exhibits here), then winds among sagebrush, juniper and pine as it slowly descends 5.5 miles to Sunriver. Lava Lands has other accessible paved paths around the Visitor Center, too.  

Here are more ideas on how to experience winter in Central Oregon, and always remember to check weather and road conditions before you go.

About The
Author

Tina Lassen
Tina Lassen writes about travel and outdoor recreation for several national publications and websites, and is at work on a guidebook about watching wildlife in North America. She has lived happily in Hood River for more than 20 years.

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