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Winter Fun: In Central Oregon it is time to dust off those snowshoes

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Are you looking for a fantastic winter sport, but are not really into skiing or snowboarding, or you just physically can't do those sports any longer? Why don't you try snowshoeing a try like we did?

When my wife and I moved to the Bend area of Central Oregon in 2012 we were determined to embrace all four seasons, not just the hiking season. Since I have a bad back I knew that downhill skiing wasn't in my future, I looked into snowshoeing and decided that was the winter sport I would like to try.

My wife liked the idea, so we each purchased a beginners set of snowshoes that came with trekking poles, and a bag to store everything in.

View photo gallery of snowshoeing at the Swampy Lakes Sno-Park near Bend, Oregon.

Now for experienced snowshoers I'm sure our snowshoes wouldn't do the trick, but for us they work real well, and if we wear them out after one season of snowshoeing, so be it. We will purchase better ones in the future.

After deciding on our snowshoes, snow boots and other winter gear, we next had to figure out where to give them a try. Well, the Bend and Central Oregon area is just loaded with places to snowshoe.

I will start with the Sno-Park we went to the first time, and then I will list some of the others.

Please remember that snowshoers and snow hikers should use the designated snowshoe trails in the Sno-Parks where available, which are marked with blue diamonds with a yellow showshoer in the center. If using designated ski trails, please avoid walking on set ski tracks. On my first snowshoe trek I walked across a ski track without thinking, and realized right away that probably wasn't a good thing to do. Of course after reading articles on trail etiquitte later, I saw that was one of the top things not to do.

Swampy Lakes Sno-Park

The Swampy Lakes Sno-Park is located on the Cascade Lakes Highway (Highway 46, milepost 16) to the west of Bend, Oregon, and it has an elevation of about 5800 feet.

The Swampy Lakes Sno-Park usually offers better snow conditions than the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park because of its higher elevation, and it also has more parking. Please remember dogs are not allowed in this Sno-Park.

This is where we ended up for our first time out snowshoeing, and we are glad we did. There is a long and short snowshoe loop that begins right at the Swampy Lakes Sno-Park, and it was well marked and in excellent condition.

The Long Snowshoe Loop is about 3 1/4 miles long and the Short Loop is about 1 3/4 miles in length.

We took the Short Loop on our first outing, and it was a beautiful trek, and not real difficult for a beginning snowshoer. Hopefully we will be able to complete the Long Loop next time.

Virginia Meissner Sno-Park

The Virginia Meissner Sno-Park is located on the Cascade Lakes Highway (Highway 46, milepost 14, to the west of Bend, Oregon, and it has an elevation of 5350 feet.

When we were looking to find a good place for our first snowshoe trek, we could tell this was a very popular place for Nordic skiers, and much of the trail system in this area is often groomed for Nordic skiers. However there are snowshoe trails that lead out from the Virginia Meissner Sno-Park, but they seem to be geared for those who are more advanced in the sport.

Vista Butte Sno-Park

The Vista Butte Sno-Park is located along the Cascade Lakes Highway (Highway 46, milepost 18), just east of where US Forest Road 45 from Sunriver intersects the Highway.

It is at an elevation of 5900 feet, and is tailored more for Nordic skiers than for those looking to snowshoe, especially beginners. However, the Butte and Vista Butte Trails lead to the summit of Vista Butte, which is about a 800-foot climb and is a good snowshoe route for the more advanced snowshower. Parking is quite limited at Vista Butte.

Please remember that like most of the area's Sno-Parks, dogs are not permitted.

Edison Butte Sno-Park

It is a large Sno-Park, but it is very popular with snowmobilers, skiers, snowshoers and their dogs, and the parking can fill up early on weekends, or on a holiday weekend, so get there early.

There is a short and long snowshoe look at the park, and of course several trails for those who enjoy Nordic skiing.

The Edison Butte Sno-Park is somewhat sheltered from high winds when it is stormy in the Mt Bachelor area. If you are a Nordic skier, the AC/DC Shelter has a fantastic view of Mt Bachelor and is accessible from several trails.

Please remember that snowshoers and snow hikers should use the designated snowshoe trails where available, which are marked with blue diamonds with a yellow showshoer in the center. If using designated ski trails, please avoid walking on set ski tracks.

Skyliner Sno-Park

The Skyliner Sno-Park is located on Skyliner Road (milepost 9) just before the road crosses Tumalo Creek and forks to the left to become Tumalo Falls Road. This is a small Sno-Park is at an elevation of 4700 feet, and is a very popular area for skiers, snowshoers and their dogs.

Most people also park just on the other side of Tumalo Creek near the Tumalo Falls Road gate (but not in front of the gate). The Tumalo Falls Road is not plowed in the winter, but the trail is accessible from the Sno-Park, or those parking at the gate usually travel on the snow-covered road.

Tumalo Falls is a beautiful and popular place for hikers, and while I have not been there in the winter, I hear it is even more beautiful during that time of year.

Other Sno-Parks

There are several other Sno-Parks in the Bend and Central Oregon area, but for the most part they cater to Nordic skiiers and snowmobilers. They include the Dutchman Flat, Three Creeks, McKenzie Pass and Ten Mile Sno-Park which is located in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Snowshoe Etiquette

Remember, please do not walk in or on Nordic ski tracks, be they groomed or user created. Doing so pocks the Nordic tracks, and makes the skiing unnecessarily difficult. If possible, don’t even snowshoe next to them. This is where the Nordic skiing and snowshoeing communities collide. Trampling the tracks of cross country skiers can ruin an entire day of outdoor activity for a Nordic skier.

For more information on snowshoeing in the Bend, Oregon area check out the Oregon Outdoor Activities website.

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