Ahh…snowshoeing. The winter sport for those of us too broke, nervous, or uncoordinated to ski.
That’s me on all counts, which is why I’ve been an avid snowshoe enthusiast for 20+ years. It’s easy to master if you can plant one foot in front of the other, and Central Oregon boasts tons of great spots to try it.
Here’s everything you need to know if you’d like to try snowshoeing in Bend, Oregon.
My first set of snowshoes cost $5 on Craigslist. They were…not awesome.
Before that, I borrowed from Bend gear rental shops, which is what I’d suggest for those first starting out. They’ll have top-of-the-line equipment, and can show you how to use it. They’ll even offer trail maps and tips, which are both handy to have.
Good winter boots are essential, as are snow pants. Plan on wearing layers on your top half, since some conditions call for thick parkas and scarves, while sunnier days leave you comfy in just a fleece. You’ll often encounter both types of conditions in one day, so bring a day pack to stash your gear.
Speaking of being prepared, don’t set out without the 10 essentials. Items like hydration and snacks are no-brainers, but other things like emergency shelter and flashlight (not the one on your phone) could save your life if you’re lost or injured.
Before setting out, research whether the area you plan to visit requires a Sno-Park pass. We sell them in the Bend Visitor Center, so swing by to grab yours and get tips and maps from our knowledgeable Visit Bend staff.
Lastly, study the signage carefully to make sure you’re choosing a designated snowshoe trail. Otherwise, you could find yourself face-to-grille with a snowmobile or a Nordic skier who’s not thrilled you’re messing up the tracks (more on that in a sec).
Guided snowshoe tours
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the planning and gear and the prospect of driving by yourself into the snowy wilderness, don’t panic! Leave the work to someone else by booking a guided snowshoe adventure with Wanderlust Tours.
They’ll handle the driving and gear, plus their knowledgeable naturalist guides will educate you about the ecosystem of the forest and the geology of the region. They offer both daytime and nighttime tours, plus special adventures like beer-themed snowshoe outings.
These tours aren’t just for newbies, either. Even with two decades of snowshoe experience, I still head out with Wanderlust every year or so to experience the starlit wonder of their Bonfire on the Snow tour. It’s also a great way to introduce kids to the magic of snowshoeing, and to score some amazing family memories.
Setting out solo
Got your gear and feeling ready to set out on your own?
The snowshoe trails off Century Drive are a great place to start, with several of them offering amenities like warming huts and well-trafficked trails (read—easier stomping than carving your own tracks through fresh powder).
One of my favorite spots is Virginia Meissner Sno-Park, with acres of well-marked trails and facilities like vault toilets and warming huts. The signs make it clear where the snowshoe trails are so you can avoid being a butthead who stomps through groomed Nordic tracks (Tip: Don’t do this. If you find yourself accidentally trudging a trail with established ski lines, step far off to the side so you don’t send some poor classic skier off into a snowbank).
Swampy Lakes is another great option just a couple miles up the road from Meissner. In early-fall or late-spring conditions when Meissner’s snow is sparse, you’re likely to find more of it at Swampy. They’ve got vault toilets and a warming hut, and plenty of stunning forest trails to explore.
Continue along Century Drive toward Mt. Bachelor to hit Dutchman Sno-Park. This spot is popular with snowmobilers and skiers, so the parking lot can fill quickly if you’re not up there early. On clear days, you’ll catch killer views of the Cascade Mountains from several spots.
Want a change of pace from the Sno-Parks off Century Drive? Paulina Creek Falls in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument boasts a designated ski and snowshoe loop that’s roughly seven miles. Begin at Ten Mile Sno-Park and trudge toward picturesque Paulina Lake Lodge, which is about three miles in and makes a nice pit stop for snacks. There’s also a warming hut along the way.
Sno-Park permits are required in all of these spots, and dogs are not allowed from November 1 to May 1.
As you gathered from the listings above, there are lots of winter trails where Fido isn’t welcome. Never fear! Plenty of pup-friendly spots are out there if you know where to look.
Wanoga Sno-Park boasts doggie-centric trails for snowshoers, fat bikers, and Nordic skiers alike (though just a reminder, it’s not cool to snowshoe over ski tracks). The snowshoe trail is a short one, with an easy 1-mile loop. It’s a great place to start if you and Rover are new to the sport.
Once you’ve got your groove, it’s time to step it up a notch. The snowshoe trails at Edison Sno-Park are a bit hillier, and range from about 2.5 miles to longer loops in the 5-7-mile ballpark. You’ll spot some nifty lava rock formations blanketed in snow, plus a peek-a-boo shot of Mt. Bachelor through the trees. You’ll also find a warming hut and a vault toilet.
Ray Benson Sno-Park near Hoodoo Ski Area is another dog-friendly area with multiple snowshoe and Nordic trails, plus two restrooms, a warming hut, and a staging area with snub posts for sled dogs. Since the area has been hit hard by wildfire in recent years, you’ll want to be extra watchful for buried stumps.
Don’t forget to bring doody bags to scoop your pup’s treasures, and please, please pack them out instead of leaving them by the trail.
You’ll also want to be cautious about Rover’s comfort and safety, particularly if he’s not used to snow. Booties or a topical solution like Musher’s Secret is a good way to safeguard his paws. Dogs with shorter fur should be bundled in cozy jackets if the weather’s especially chilly. Bend-based Ruffwear makes some excellent cold-weather dog gear.
Snowshoe trails in town
While Bend itself isn’t blanketed in snow as often as our higher elevation areas, a thick dusting of white stuff can transform your favorite Bend park into an easily-accessible snowshoe trail.
The Oregon Badlands Wilderness is an area I often recommend for winter hiking, since it tends to have sparse snow and dry trails. But when Bend gets a big dump of white stuff, the trails out there become a winter wonderland perfect for close-to-town trekking. If you’re thinking of heading out there, pull up the road cam for US 20 near Horse Ridge to see if there’s enough coverage for snowshoeing.
Ready for a challenge?
Most of the areas I’ve mentioned have options for trails ranging from easy-peasy to OMG I deserve a beer for that.
If you’re looking to take things to the next level, snowshoe trails with more elevation gain can be the way to go.
Tumalo Mountain offers a lovely hike through the forest with stunning views of the mountain’s summit. At the point where the trees thin out, the trail climbs rather steeply to the top of Tumalo Mountain. You’ll get breathtaking views, plus a pretty nice workout.
Vista Butte Sno-Park is another option for those looking to do a bit more climbing. The trailhead starts at nearly 6,000-feet, and boasts an 800-foot climb to reach the summit of Vista Butte.
Parking can be limited at the trailheads for both of these treks, so go early or have a backup plan for where you’ll go if the lot is full.
Incidentally, one of the 10 items in The Bend Pledge is a vow not to invent your own parking space if a lot is full. Want to check out the rest of the pledge and possibly win a Bend vacation for taking it? Go here.