Surely I’m not the only person to grapple with Bend’s great wintertime conundrum: you’re just energetic enough to crave outdoor exercise, but too lazy to dig up the snowshoes or rent nordic skis.
Folks come to Bend in search of snow this time of year, but sometimes you just want some winter recreation without the risk of sinking in snow up to your crotch. For a fun winter hike that doesn’t require any special equipment, here are three great options.
Take your bad self to the Badlands
I have a special fondness for the sprawling desert landscape of the Oregon Badlands Wilderness, but I particularly love it in wintertime. Even when much of Bend is blanketed with snow, the white stuff is generally sparse in this 30,000 acre stretch of wild desert just a few miles east of town.
There are plenty of places to access the area, but one of the easiest is the Larry Chitwood Trailhead. To find it, head east on Highway 20, then north on Dodds Road and continue about four miles before hanging a right on Obernolte Road.
There’s a sign at the trailhead with a good map, and you’d be smart to study it a bit before heading out. The trail offers a flat 4.5 mile loop dotted with an abundance of craggy old-growth juniper, ancient lava flows, and a lot of random rusted items ranging from cans to cars. They’re protected as artifacts, so leave them alone and just enjoy the random quirkiness as you move along.
The trail is marked, but be aware that people sometimes steal the signs, so pay attention. When in doubt, remember it’s a loop, and you can always follow your own footsteps back out.
I’ll admit I sometimes get spooked hiking alone, and I become convinced a cougar is stalking me each time my dog pricks her ears. Play it safe and bring a buddy, along with plenty of water and a decent map.
Enjoy a car-free Pilot Butte
There are two routes up this 500-foot cinder cone in the center of Bend: a wide, paved road, or a slightly shorter, steep dirt trail. I’m partial to hiking the paved road, but fear for my life half the year when I share it with massive SUVs barreling up the asphalt and careening around corners.
That’s why I love having the paved road all to myself during the winter vehicle closure from late fall to mid-April.
Well, not all to myself. There are plenty of other hikers with the same idea, which is to enjoy a brisk hike to the summit for a rewarding 360-degree view of Bend and surrounding areas.
Technically an extinct volcano, Pilot Butte State Park is a 100-acre State Scenic Viewpoint that was acquired by the city in 1927. The views from the top are incredible, and Bend is one of the only cities in the nation with a volcano right in the middle of town.
There’s an outhouse at the top and a small park at the bottom. You’ll need to keep dogs on-leash, and there are baggies at the bottom for picking up Fido’s droppings. When conditions are icy, keep a close eye out for patches of black ice on the road, or play it safe by walking in the gravel shoulder.
For added family fun, consider bringing a small container of bubbles to the top. I’m not sure why, but my gentleman friend’s offspring adore scurrying to the summit and running around chasing bubbles adrift on the wind.
Just remind them to save some energy for the hike back down.
Tumalo Falls isn’t falling so much as trickling
Tumalo Falls is gorgeous 365 days a year, but it’s a special treat to visit when temperatures drop below freezing and the falls begin to look more like a giant, drippy popsicle.
That sounded weirder than I meant it to.
Though you’ll encounter plenty of snow up there this time of year, the area is so well-trodden that you can hike it easily without snowshoes. You can keep your explorations in the lower area near the falls, or keep hiking beyond that for some lovely river views and solitude.
Keep Rover leashed in the parking area and at the trailhead, but feel free to unleash him as you get further up the trail. On sunny days, find a dry stump at the edge of the river and enjoy a nice winter picnic as you enjoy the burble of the river and the cleanest, freshest mountain air imaginable.
Got any favorite winter hikes of your own in Bend? Please share!