Discover Winter Fun in Central Oregon

Adventure Hiking Running Skiing By Kühl Editor

Central Oregon is a popular vacation destination for those who love adventure. Situated just east of the Cascade Mountains, many popular destinations see far more sun than the western side of the state. In winter, residents trade their mountain bikes and paddle boards for skis and snowshoes.

There are several sno-parks and ski areas located an hour or less from Bend, the largest city in the region. If you’re not a fan of snow, there are still plenty of places to enjoy the trails without a heavy dose of winter weather.

If you plan to adventure with your dog, keep in mind that trails and sno-parks on the north side of Cascade Lakes Highway are restricted to dogs between November 1st and May 1st. The south side allows dogs, as well as many of the locations listed below.

Jen Sitka WinterHiking
Jen & Sitka enjoy winter views. Pictured in KÜHL Protektr Hoody.

Snowshoeing

If you’re new to winter sports, snowshoeing is a great introduction to getting outdoors in cold weather. For unobstructed views, head to Upper Three Creeks Sno-Park outside of Sisters.

The three-mile snowshoe trek to Jeff View hut starts off with a gentle uphill climb through the trees before opening completely to views of Three Sisters mountains. 

From there, continue through the narrow path that winds through the forest and ends at Jeff View Hut. The warming hut is equipped with firewood and benches. 

Three Creeks Winter Oregon
Warming hut in Three Creeks Sno-Park

As you may have guessed from the name, the view from the hut includes Mt. Jefferson, as well as Three Sisters. Return to the parking lot the same way you arrived.

Nordic Skiing

No matter what type of skinny skiing you enjoy, Central Oregon has plenty of spots to enjoy this cardio-heavy winter sport. Along Cascade Lakes Highway in Bend, three sno-parks offer miles of groomed and ungroomed trails for nordic skiing (and snowshoeing as well). 

In Sisters, you have Upper and Lower Three Creeks Sno-Parks. A half hour east of Bend near Paulina, you’ll find 10-Mile Sno-Park. Head west along Santiam Pass for more options.

Sno-parks offer varying levels of difficulty depending on your comfort level on nordic skis. Many trails lead to warming huts, while others provide stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Skiing

Mt. Bachelor is the gem of Central Oregon for skiers. The 6th largest skiing area in the United States, it sees far fewer people than other big resorts. There are eight high-speed lifts, 101 runs, and 3365 feet of vertical drop.

The high snowfall (462 inches on average, annually) and long season that usually runs from November until May is a draw for downhill enthusiasts.

Trail Running

If snow sports aren’t your thing, you can usually find snow-free trails at Smith Rock and Gray Butte. Popular among trail runners during the winter months, you can run between the two recreational areas if you’re up for the distance.

Gray Butte stands just above 5,000 feet with views of nearly all of the iconic Cascade peaks. On a clear day, you can even see Mt. Rainier in Washington. The trails around Gray Butte are steep and muddy. Bring a lightweight jacket to block strong winds at the top.

Smith Rock is a popular place for rock climbers all year long and a great hiking destination in the winter when the crowds are lighter. It’s still popular, so go early or on a weekday if you prefer quiet trails.

Running Smith Rock
Jen & Sitka trail running at Smith Rock

Jen Sotolongo is a writer, photographer, and blogger. She travels the world in search of the most dog-friendly cities and outdoor adventures. Her book, The Essential Guide to Hiking with Dogs is now available for pre-sale. Join her journey at Long Haul Trekkers.


Backcountry Skiing Sitka
Kühl Editor