The first time I ventured into this secret winter wonderland, I went big — circumnavigating Crater Lake on skis. That meant three days and nights of snow camping. The unencumbered night skies and bluebird days exceeded my wildest expectations in their beauty. But what I loved most of all was the silence, broken only by the sound of our skis on the snow and the room to roam across the snowy landscape. Anyone can find that in Southern Oregon. From family-friendly tubing hills and beginner-friendly snowshoe hikes to opportunities for more strenuous treks along the shores of Crater and Diamond lakes, here’s where to find your winter adventure.
Anyone who’s been astonished by the azure water of Crater Lake National Park in the summertime will also find it exquisite in winter. When the crater rim is dusted with snow and Wizard Island rises out of the misty lake, the views are breathtaking. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and blaze your own trail using a map from the ranger station. Or take advantage of the ranger-led snowshoe walks (daily from mid-December to early January; weekends through April), open to ages 8 and up. This 2-hour tour, free with paid entry to the park, typically covers one to two miles. Snowshoes are provided and no experience is required. Note: A handful of rugged adventurers complete the entire 31-mile Rim Trail each year, but circumnavigating the lake is not for beginners — it requires a backcountry permit and snow camping know-how. If you’re interested, contact the Crater Lake park rangers.
About 25 miles north of Crater Lake, the snowy faces of Mt. Thielsen and Mt. Bailey look down on another winter wonderland ripe for exploring by snowshoe: Diamond Lake. Rent snowshoes at Diamond Lake Resort by the hour or all day and use their handy map and trail report to help plan your outing. Wander through the snowy landscape and take in the views of snow-covered peaks and shaggy alpine forests around the pristine lake.
In February, the resort welcomes travelers 55 and up with a special package that includes discounted lodging, guided tours, lessons and dinner. Wherever your snowshoes take you, be prepared for Oregon winter conditions: Dress in layers, bring water, sunscreen, sunglasses and a waterproof jacket.
Some prefer to go dashing through the snow on a snowmobile. For this high-adrenaline exploration of Southern Oregon’s snowscapes, Diamond Lake Resort offers machine rentals as well as deals on their lodging and snowmobile rentals from December to April. The resort’s maps of trails will help you plan your speedy tour through the woods. A frequently updated trail report provides helpful information on conditions for routes maintained by the resort and the local snowmobile club.
At Crater Lake, snowmobilers can zip along a 9-mile route from the north entrance of the park all the way to the caldera’s rim. The best conditions for this trip are December through March. Snowmobiles are not allowed elsewhere in the park.
The Hilltop Shop Snow Tubing Slide Hill at Diamond Lake Resort is a long-time family favorite. The 470-foot magic carpet ride conveys kids up to the top of the hill to bomb down one of seven high-speed lanes. Buy a 3-hour or all-day pass for unlimited rides to the hill summit. Fees include the use of tubes and kids aged 3 to 5 can slide for free with an adult. Innerstellar Tubing Nights on Fridays include use of tubes, festive music and laser show, hot cocoa, s’mores and a campfire. The hill is open Dec. 21, 2019 through March 29, 2020, conditions permitting.
Crater Lake National Park does not have developed tubing areas, but welcomes visitors to slide on slopes around the park, including a pretty meadow just south of the lodge. Tubing, sledding and tobogganing are not allowed in the caldera or on roads for safety reasons. If you do sled here, be familiar with the routes and potential dangers.
If You Go:
Where to stay: Southern Oregon offers a variety of lodging options to suit the needs of winter travelers. Check out Historic Prospect Hotel, just southwest of Crater Lake, or the year-round Diamond Lake Resort, which includes a range of cabins and an on-site restaurant. Just south of the park in Chiloquin, you can rest your head, get a hearty meal and find entertainment at Sleep Inn at Kla-Mo-Ya Casino.
Leave No Trace: When you’re out in Oregon’s pristine natural areas, remember to follow Leave No Trace principles: Respect all trail users and wildlife; stay on marked trails; be prepared with your 10 Essentials; and pack out what you bring in, to leave the space beautiful for the next generation.