Tis the season for spring breakers to descend upon Bend in search of the ultimate snowy vacation in the winter wonderland of Bend. Happy families are arriving en masse to enjoy skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing.
The only problem with spring break in a winter wonderland? It’s, uh . . . still winter.
Not by the calendar, of course, but in terms of seasonal closures that affect Central Oregon roadways and landmarks. Some of our region’s most popular summertime hotspots are buried under a few feet of snow in March and April, so it’s important to know what’s open, what’s closed, and what to check out as an alternative if your destination of choice happens to be a bit hard to reach right now.
No, they don’t shut down the waterfall for winter, but they do close off the road just past Tumalo Creek. Soon after the snow starts to fly, the gate swings closed for the season so cars can’t pass beyond that point and get stuck. Those accustomed to parking just 50 feet from the waterfall viewpoint in the summer months may be disappointed to discover the closest parking spot is roughly two miles away in March.
So what’s a wintertime waterfall enthusiast to do? You can still visit Tumalo Falls, but you’ll have to do a little extra hiking. Just stash your car near the gate, grab your snowshoes, and set out on foot. Right now you’ll likely find bare dirt for a couple miles (though watch for icy patches in the shade). Depending on how far you want to go, the snowshoes will come in handy the closer you get to the falls and beyond that. Don’t forget a bottle of water and some snacks, and it’s a good idea to dress in layers, since weather can be unpredictable this time of year.
While it’s a little extra effort, it’s worth the opportunity to see Tumalo Falls with her winter coat and frosty galoshes. Don’t forget your camera!
For those who’d prefer to wait ‘til the gate re-opens and the parking area near the viewpoint is available once more, check back sometime in mid-May. In the meantime, Smith Rock State Park and the Oregon Badlands Wilderness make for excellent wintertime hiking.
Lava Lands Visitor Center & Newberry Crater
Guests eager to do some sightseeing in Bend often head for the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. In the summer months, Lava Lands Visitor Center is teeming with tourists eager to attend a ranger talk, browse the gift shop, catch an educational film, or drive to the top of Lava Butte for scenic views of Central Oregon. When snow starts flying in the fall, those amenities close down so everyone stays safe.
While the Lava Lands Visitor Center won’t reopen until May 1, guests can still park outside the visitor center and walk around the lava beds on a self-guided tour. Cars aren’t allowed to drive Lava Butte, but it’s a fun hike to the top on foot.
Lava River Cave is closed this time of year, but if you’re craving a cave outing, consider Bend’s lovely Boyd Cave. Located off China Hat Road just south of Bend, it’s open to the public all year long. To get there, take Highway 97 south and exit at Knott Road. Hang a left toward China Hat Road and watch for signs. For a truly unforgettable cave outing, head out with Wanderlust Tours. They’re the only outfitter with permits to visit off-limits Skeleton Cave, and their naturalist guides will hook you up with the gear, transportation, and insider info guaranteed to make this an unforgettable experience.
While the Newberry Crater area of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument is mostly closed to vehicles this time of year, you can go here to learn more about areas for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling. If it’s the caldera views you’re after, consider a short trip to Crater Lake National Park. It’s the deepest lake in North America, and it formed when Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago and the resultant crater filled with water. For info on their seasonal closures, go here.
Pilot Butte State Park
While Pilot Butte is open for hiking year-round, the road is closed to vehicles from late fall through mid-April to keep cars off the icy roadway.
Can I be honest and admit this is one seasonal closure I wish would last all year long?
This time of year is a wonderful relief for those who love to hike the wide open roadway without dodging cars. There are two routes to the top of this 500-foot dormant volcano in the middle of town. Either way will earn you spectacular views of the city and a pretty good workout to boot. I walk it at least a couple times a week with my pup, and the trails are always teeming with happy families and trail runners out for a bit of exercise. The views from the top are well worth the hike!
Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway
During warmer months, most folks drive to the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway by hanging a right just past Mt. Bachelor on Century Drive. When winter rolls around, that route closes as the snow piles up and winter recreation lovers seize the opportunity to break out the snowshoes, cross country skis, and snowmobiles.
Don’t want to miss your shot at driving the scenic Cascade Lakes Highway? You don’t have to! You can do a mini-loop on Forest Service Road 45. Just drive like you’re headed to Mt. Bachelor and watch for signs for Sunriver. You’ll hang a left there, and enjoy a lovely scenic loop that will eventually spit you out back on Highway 97 near Sunriver. The whole thing is roughly 50-60 miles from Bend and back.
You’re likely to find dry pavement this time of year, but be mindful of icy roads and unpredictable snowstorms that can make conditions slick or dangerous. Still, it’s a beautiful drive, and a great opportunity to explore a different route than the one you’re used to in the summertime.