You may have heard the rumors or even seen it firsthand: Eastern Oregon is a winter playground. The east side of the state is blessed with light fluffy powder, lesser-known ski areas, hungry steelhead, roaming elk and day after day of sunny winter weather. And then there are the soul-satisfying craft beers that cap off a perfect day outside.
All this is pretty exciting to discover, so we understand if you might want to keep Eastern Oregon’s winter playground a secret. But don’t worry, in this vast region there are plenty of adventures to share.
Shred the slopes
At 7,100 feet above sea level, Anthony Lakes has the highest base elevation of any Oregon ski area. It also receives 300 inches of average annual snowfall. Explore the 1,100 acres of alpine terrain, featuring 21 runs, and 30 kilometers of groomed, track-set Nordic trails. Come on Thursdays for half-price lift tickets. Looking for even more remoteness? Visit community-owned Ferguson Ridge Ski Area outside Joseph.
Ski the backcountry
Located west of La Grande, Meacham Divide at the Mt. Emily Sno-Park has Oregon’s second largest Nordic skiing area, with more than 20 kilometers of trails, groomed from November to March. For serious backcountry skiers, Wallowa Alpine Huts offers access to the wide-open bowls, forested glades and snowy couloirs of the gorgeous Eagle Cap Wilderness near Joseph and Halfway.
Snowmobile miles of trails
Many of Eastern Oregon’s legendary mountain ranges are also famous for snowmobilers: the Wallowas, the Blues and the Strawberries. Ride across trackless high mountain meadows, or punch down mile after mile of trails to find a spot that quite possibly has only been visited by rabbits and Steller jays. It’s also not uncommon to snowmobile from your cabin, as is the case at Cornucopia Lodge near Halfway.
Watch the wildlife
Be on the lookout for owls, elk, deer, bald and golden eagles, kestrels, all sorts of hawks, bushy tailed coyote and big-footed bobcats. In winter, Rocky Mountain elk and mule deer move down out of the mountains to graze in open pastures in places like the Elkhorn Wildlife Area and Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. Ladd Marsh is open year-round; Elkhorn is closed during winter to protect the animals, but elk can be seen from the Anthony Creek Viewing Site. Take the Northeastern Oregon Birding Trail to see bald eagle, grebe and wintering waterfowl.
Find a fish tale
Eastern Oregonians know this secret well: the wild and scenic rivers of summer fame are even more amazing when you land a brightly-colored steelhead after wading through a winter storm. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) recommends the Wallowa, Umatilla, Imnaha and John Day Rivers for mid- to late-winter steelheading (with some areas catch-and-release only). It’s true, in Eastern Oregon these winter fish stories are more than tall tales.
Eat, drink and be merry
Winter in Oregon is best paired with a handcrafted brew, a local wine, and sampled a bowl of wheatberry chili. You can easily plan a food road trip here. Play all day, then spend the night telling stories over great food and a local beverage, perhaps along the Eastern Oregon Brews Byway. Try beers named after the ski runs in the area, like Shredder’s Wheat or Tumble Off Pale Ale from Barley Brown’s in Baker City.
More winter fun awaits
Winter is a magical time in Eastern Oregon, especially around the holidays. Take a winter sleigh or train ride that you’ll never forget. The Sumpter Valley Railroad hosts two-hour holiday rides on vintage trains. In Baker City, revel in old-time charm with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the historic downtown.
The fun continues indoors. Take the Northeastern Oregon Arts Trail for the region’s premier arts centers, galleries and theaters. Explore local heritage at National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City or the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, the only museum located along the Oregon Trail that documents how the arrival of settlers forever changed tribal life.
Know before you go: Eastern Oregon is vast and topographically diverse, meaning you can experience multiple climates and varying weather in a single trip, especially in the cooler months of the year. Before setting out, review your route on TripCheck.com, which will alert you of current conditions and potential closures. Be prepared by filling up on gas, carrying an emergency roadside kit and bringing a paper road map. When visiting wilderness, tread lightly and aim to leave no trace.