Five Winter Adventures in Central Oregon
This winter is unlike any other in recent memory in Central Oregon. Organized events, fairs, and festivals have fallen by the wayside this season—all victims of COVID-19.
But in their place, opportunities for low-key adventures abound all over Central Oregon—even if you don’t snag a lift ticket. Some outings showcase the region’s natural beauty (both above and below ground), while others share our food and wine offerings—a true feast for the senses. So whether you’re up for a long day in the region’s snow-free backcountry or want to nosh some of the area’s best cuisine in a laid-back setting, here are five fun winter adventures to enjoy this season in Central Oregon.
Every spring, summer, and fall, mountain bike riders hit the trails around Central Oregon, kicking up dust and packing paths in some of the region’s most beautiful forests. But come winter, those same trails see far less traffic, even as they remain snow-free and dry enough to ride comfortably—which makes it the perfect time to shred some of Central Oregon’s less-traveled, low-elevation trails.
Families and novices, in particular, love the trails at LaPine State Park. More than a dozen miles of multi-use paths crisscross the park, affording views of the Deschutes River and Newberry Volcano. The trails are mostly flat, with no thigh-busting climbs or technical features that might otherwise intimidate beginners or casual riders.
And while Smith Rock State Park hosts thousands of hikers and rock climbers every spring and summer, its trails see far less traffic in winter—and some are even open to mountain bike riders. In particular, riders can connect a few paths that cover a breadth of features, including hard-packed singletrack, loose rock climbs, gravel trails, and more. The trails even get beyond the park’s busiest viewpoints and into quieter backcountry settings. Fair warning: A few steep, rocky climbs might intimidate new riders but can be navigated by walking the bike for short stretches.
If you’re not traveling to the Willamette Valley for Cellar Season this winter, you’re in luck: Dayton’s Stoller Family Estate has brought some of the valley’s best wines to Bend. Earlier this season, the winery opened a pop-up tasting room at the Riff Cold Brewed shop in the Box Factory.
Reservations are required for the outdoor (though heated) seating, which covers 90 minutes and boasts a menu full of Stoller’s award-winning wines alongside offerings from its sister brands—including Chehalem, Chemistry, Canned Oregon, and History. Flights, wines by the glass, and bottles are available, and a small food menu from Zydeco Kitchen & Cocktails complements the tasting.
As winter hits, locals and visitors alike flock to Central Oregon’s above-ground attractions—from brewpub patios to the slopes of Mount Bachelor—so go where the crowds aren’t this winter, and head underground. Specifically, make time to check out Boyd Cave Day Use Area.
Several caves and lava tubes around Central Oregon close in winter and early spring, but Boyd Cave remains a year-round attraction—provided you don’t suffer from crippling claustrophobia, that is—and offers a fascinating introduction to the volcanic history that has literally shaped Central Oregon for hundreds of thousands of years.
Boyd Cave itself is at least 75,000 years old and is located on the far northern flank of Newberry Volcano. A metal staircase descends to the well-preserved lava tube, which is nearly 2,000 feet long and is usually wide (and tall) enough to make it an easy outing for beginning spelunkers. (Of course, more adventurous visitors will find a few areas where crawling around on your stomach is required.)
If visiting Boyd Cave, dress warm—temperatures in the cave remain a steady 42º all year long—and be sure to bring at least two headlights, flashlights, or lanterns for visibility. (Your phone’s camera won’t be of much help, and will drain your battery in short order.)
In summer, the barren Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area can be something of a sunburnt slog, with precious little shade shielding hikers from heat that can top 90º long before lunchtime. Even the shortest of outings can sap hikers of their energy and wonder as midday temperatures soar in the likes of July and August.
And that’s what makes a trek through the Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area such a treat in winter: The cooler weather makes it more pleasant to explore the region’s natural features—like Flatiron Rock, a large outcrop that’s visible more than a half-mile away. There hikers can head into (and explore) its citadel-like interior, where views of the surrounding Badlands and several Cascade peaks await.
But the pleasant climate is just part of the Badlands’ wintertime appeal: Its nearly 30,000 acres of space make it easy to keep your distance from other hikers, and the wide paths (broad enough to fit a vehicle for long stretches) give hikers plenty of room to pass others. And while the Cascades are covered in fresh powder this time of year, the Badlands usually remain accessible and free of snow.
Before you plan your trek, make sure safety is top of mind. Nearly 50 miles of trails cover the Badlands, as do numerous user-created paths. Trail junctions in the Oregon Badlands are generally well-signed, so be sure to stay on marked trails at all times—and download a trail map from the Bureau of Land Management website.
Food cart pods offer more than just a filling meal: They bring together disparate dishes, give rise to innovative cuisines and creative chefs, and engender outdoor gathering spaces—usually complemented by cozy fire pits, expansive seating areas, and fresh taps of local beer and cider.
Fortunately, Central Oregon is home to numerous food cart pods. We couldn’t begin to list them all here, but these are a few of our favorites.
Wild Ride Brewing food cart pod: The popular Redmond brewery doesn’t serve its own food, opting instead to partner with four carts stationed in its large outdoor space. Current offerings include pizza, tacos, yakisoba bowls, fish and chips, burgers, and more—all of which pair well with Wild Ride’s ales and lagers.
The Lot: Four carts are stationed at The Lot, which also hosts a bar pouring local beer, cider, wine, kombucha, and hard seltzer. The seating area is enclosed in wintertime, and a gas fire pit, heaters, and heated benches keep diners warm.
The Podski: With nearly a dozen carts, you’re never short of options at The Podski. Nestled between the Box Factory and downtown Bend, carts at The Podski serve local beer, fried chicken sandwiches, pierogies, tacos, fresh vegan fare, and more. Plenty of picnic tables and fire pits round out the experience.
Midtown Yacht Club: The aspirationally named Midtown Yacht Club boasts an indoor bar (with draft selections and bottles available) along with nearly a half-dozen carts crafting small-batch takes on classic street food—like tacos, tater tots, and hot dogs. Plenty of picnic tables invite diners to linger.
The Bite Tumalo: Just 10 minutes north of downtown Bend, The Bite Tumalo hosts four food carts serving the kind of food that sounds good all year long, but which truly hits the spot in winter—like grilled cheese sandwiches, Thai food, and hearty melts.