winter in oregon mountains

Winter Backpacking in Oregon

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Winter Backpacking in Oregon

Are you a winter lover or do you spend your time dreaming about the summer months to roll in? What if I tell you that the winter season in Oregon is simply breathtaking and that there are plenty of reasons to love being outdoors in winter time.  

There’s no better time to add some extra layers of clothing to keep you warm. Wrap yourself in comfy clothes, wear your big jackets and sweats because it’s about to get cold!

First of all, the Oregon coast is less crowded during the winter months, a lot more peaceful and easier to navigate, which is already a positive thing to start with and make your experience even more special. If you’re looking to escape the urban world and connect with nature, winter is the perfect time to do it.

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Oregon offers a ton of natural beauty, from lush green forests to snowy mountains. You’ll be amazed by the many great destinations across the state and the miles of trails for you to pick your favorite winter hikes. There are plenty of national parks, forests and monuments to visit. Some with a number of hiking trails ranging from a short walk to longer hikes that require several days. Keep on reading, here is a list for a backpacking adventure across the Pacific Northwest.

 Multnomah Falls

If you’re new to winter hiking, it’s best to start with an easy hike. Multnomah Falls is located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge and it is also considered the tallest one in the state of Oregon. A 2-mile hike to the top of the falls and back makes for the perfect place to start. 

The drive takes about an hour from Portland via I-84, but the parking lot is a bit tricky as it is in the middle of the highway, so pay attention to the road signs. 

The view of the falls and bridge are beautiful, hikers up for a longer climb can go up the mountain to enjoy the best views of the Columbia River Gorge and the mountains over Washington. 

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Things To Do At Multnomah Falls:

Check out these tours at Multnomah Falls that you can enjoy on your trip.

Fun Fact: The lodge that welcomes visitors at the base of the falls dates back to 1925, a great place to grab a snack or pick up a map.

Trillium Lake at Mt. Hood

The winter destination for fun activities and winter sports. Trillium Lake in Mt. Hood National Forest offers a 3.6-mile loop trail that is divided in two; cross-country ski tracks on one side and a snowshoeing track on the other.

The Trillium Lake hike near Government Camp also gives hikers incredible views of Mount Hood. Make sure to also stop by Tamanawas Falls, when visiting Mount Hood, this hike is beautiful from beginning to end!

Pack for cold and snow conditions if you are a winter hiker. Waterproof hiking boots and a set of hiking poles should be enough, but you may also want to consider snowshoes for a snowshoe hike depending on the snowpack you got. Some extra food, water, and an outdoor first-aid kit are also good to have on hand. 

Things To Do In Mt. Hood:

Here is a list of activities you can do at Mt. Hood.

Crater Lake National Park

Born out of the eruption of an ancient volcano called Mount Mazama. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America and it is widely known for its intense blue color and for being one of the snowiest inhabited places in North America, with 44 feet of snow covering the lake every year. 

The lake’s water comes directly from snow or rain, there are no other water sources. This makes it one of the cleanest and clearest lakes in the US and the entire world.

Some parts of the park may close due to winter weather and snow levels but there are lots of outdoor activities that you can do, from snowshoeing to cross-country skiing. 

Mount Mazama was an important symbol to the indigenous peoples who lived in the surrounding areas. As you explore Crater Lake, pause to reflect upon its sacred history. 

Deschutes River Trail

Located in central Oregon, the Deschutes River Trail is a must for mountain bikers, offering a 26-mile round-trip ride along the east bank of the river. The choice of trails can be tricky to follow as the forest park has trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and turn offs at various spots. 

During the winter months, a wide-range of snow sports are possible across the Deschutes National Forest. One of the coolest ones is snowmobiling up to Paulina Peak, the view of the cascade mountains from the top is just spectacular. 

Don’t forget about Tumalo Falls, which is a must-see in the forest as it has easy access from a parking area very close to the main viewing platform. 

Smith Rock State Park

One of Oregon’s most iconic destinations, located in central Oregon’s High Desert within a 40-minute drive from Bend. Smith Rock State Park is the perfect place to hike, bike, climb and plan your snow camping.

Come prepared for icy conditions and know your skill level before setting out on a trail. Once you arrive, be sure to purchase a $5 day use permit and if you are short on time, taking the Canyon 1.5-mile trail could be a good idea. It starts at the Welcome Center and heads down to the river towards the climbing area. You will find viewpoints as you descend that overlook the Crooked River and nearby rock formations.

The McKenzie River Trail to Tamolitch Blue Pool

In winter time, an icy blue Mckenzie River calls for a truly magical experience. Being one of Oregon’s visitors’ favorite hikes, the 27-mile trail with little elevation gain, draws hikers and bikers from all over the world. 

The underground part of the river comes up at the base of the Tamolitch Blue Pool. This also explains why the water is so cold but definitely a great hike and worth seeing at any time of the year. 

With the Blue Pool trail being just two miles, it makes it suitable for almost every hiker. 

Salt Creek Falls

The second highest waterfall in Oregon and a popular stop for travelers, Salt Creek Falls is only half a mile from the highway to the viewpoint, making it an easy stop. 

Take the bridge from the picnic area for a longer 3.7-mile trip that can take you to the Diamond Creek Falls. In winter those trails can be covered in so much snow and ice that is at your own risk to hike. 

The Salt Creek Falls is an amazing snowshoe destination because of the lower elevation and often icy conditions. The best way for Cross-country skiers to gain experience is to visit the trails after a dump of fresh snow. 

The Flatiron Rock Trail

A quite popular trail for winter hikes and just a short drive from Bend, this snow-hike is as epic and magical as it sounds. Do a 5.5-mile out-and-back hike from Flatiron Trailhead all the way to the rock and back trail through the Ancient Juniper Trees.

 People love hiking in winter or early spring as it can be dry and dusty in summer. So, dress in layers and get ready for the cold wind!

Washington Park 

One of the best winter hikes in Portland, Washington Park has over 15 miles of trails and is home to Hoyt Arboretum which is Portland’s Museum of living trees, featuring thousands of species from around the world. Visitor Center hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Washington Park is also one of the oldest parks in Portland and site of the first zoo. There are no bad days here, numerous attractions take place for all to learn, enjoy nature, smell the roses and have fun. 

Things To Do In Portland, Oregon:

Here’s a list of some of the best things to do in Portland.

Koosah and Sahalie Falls Trail 

This hike is quick and has easy access points. Part of the McKenzie River Trail connects the two waterfalls, Sahalie (“Heaven”) and Koosah (“Sky”) with a 2.6-mile loop trail. After some time spent in Sahalie Falls, take the trail towards Koosah Falls. There are epic photogenic spots. This place can be a destination or simply a stop along the way but totally worth the drive.

Below I’ve listed some tips for winter backpacking to make your trip more enjoyable!

  • Pack as lightly as you can, but always make sure you’re prepared for winter conditions.
  • Your extra layers should be easy to put on or take off and they should be packed where they’re easy to access in your backpack. 
  • Hydration is very important. You’ll want to carry a bottle that won’t crack if frozen and is easy to open like this one.
  • Always carry your camera if you don’t want to miss capturing the beauty of nature during this season. 
  • Before hiking any trail, find a map or park brochure at the information center and save the hiking route on your phone.
  • Don’t forget a first-aid kit.

Winter is a magical time in Eastern Oregon too, offering visitors a unique solitude among landscapes and a beauty that reminds us how diverse and refreshing Oregon can be.

For the foodies out there, Oregon food trails are committed to sustainable practices and support family-owned farms. These unique food trails showcase the freshest local offerings of farmers, fishers, brewers and chefs around the state.

Why buy local? It tastes better, lasts longer and help the community & local economy. The Eastern Oregon region is full of beautiful locations, places to explore and it turns into a winter wonderland in the cooler months.

Oregon is full of amazing food and drink. If you enjoy snowy landscapes and cozy bed and breakfasts, you will also love a handcrafted brew and a local wine. Fun fact: Portland has more breweries than any other city. In addition to beer, you can enjoy some local wine too.

For the ultimate winter wine tasting, slow down and enjoy Oregon’s biggest wine-growing region. Willamette Valley is just beautiful and not as busy as the summer months.

The drive from Willamette Valley Wine Country to Newport is a very popular coast day trip. Don’t miss out on the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival that takes place on February. (Check local restrictions for COVID-19). Eating your way through the next winter adventure is a great way to travel.

With that said, you don’t need to be an expert in winter backpacking to have a great time on a snowy hike. And even though there are plenty of outdoor activities that you can do, I know winter weather and road conditions can be tricky.

So, if you’re looking for a warm escape that will make you forget about the heavy snow, Oregon is known for its amazing hot springs surrounded by beautiful scenery. Most of them are open year-round.

In addition to its calming effect, they are also good for your body, hot springs can alleviate aches and pain as well as skin conditions. The mineral water can also help you sleep better, disconnect from your routine and reduce stress levels.

Please note: Some hot springs may be temporarily closed due to COVID concerns.

You may be surprised about all the volcanic activity that took place in the Pacific Northwest 1,500 years ago. Soaking in the many natural pools of thermal water created by this volcanic activity is without a doubt one of the best things to try this winter.

We all want to be able to enjoy the outdoors without disrupting nature. Our planet is home to incredible beauty and wildlife. These natural wonders are accessible to everyone and should be cherished and protected.

Hiking Tip: Practice Leave No Trace ethics when visiting the outdoors from remote areas, to local parks. There are seven principles in Leave No Trace hiking, all of them common sense and easy to practice. 

  • Plan ahead and prepare. (Check local regulations)
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.

Don’t let chilly temperatures and snow keep you indoors! 

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