Splashing through the snow
It’s true that when winter rolls around in Central Oregon, most people’s minds veer toward things to do in the snow. With Mt. Bachelor, Hoodoo, sno-parks and more, there’s plenty of options for folks to get out and play.
But with our high desert climate, there’s also plenty of opportunities for more “summer-like” activities like hiking, cycling and yes, even swimming and golf.
On many days you can wake up to two or three inches of the white stuff out your window, but come lunchtime the snow’s gone, the temps have warmed up and it’s the perfect weather to get outside.
There’s something invigorating about hitting the pool when there’s a blanket of fresh snow on the ground. For starters, kids will take any chance they can to go swimming regardless of the temperature outside and nothing says “vacation” like a day at the pool.
Central Oregon has some great places to splash around all year, including the indoor pool at the SHARC aquatic center in Sunriver, at Juniper Swim and Fitness Center in Bend. Seventh Mountain Resort, Tetherow Resort and more have heated outdoor pools for their guests that will quickly have you forgetting what season it is.
Several of the hotels, including the Hampton Inn and Suites in the Old Mill District, have indoor pools as well. And there’s the unique experience of ornate Turkish bath at McMenamins Old St. Francis School in the heart of downtown Bend.
Yep, you read that right. Surfing in Central Oregon. In fact, you can do that in a couple different ways here.
For the truly adventurous, Bend’s Whitewater Park near the Old Mill District turns the tranquil waters of the Deschutes River into a whitewater adventure. The center channel of the park has four-wave features for emerging to expert whitewater enthusiasts. The features are created by twenty-six, underwater pneumatic bladders, natural and man-made riverbed conditions and dynamic river flows.
The sport – Flowriding is not just a ride, it is a sport… a 21st Century alchemy that has the look of surfing, the ride of snowboarding, the tricks of skateboarding, and boards derived from wakeboarding. Since the early ‘90s, the world’s best board riders have cross pollinated
into flowboarding. This new alternative board sport is taken seriously from the mountains to the sea.
Looking to take it up a notch? How about an afternoon surfing Oregon’s only indoor FlowRider wave machine! The Sunriver Fitness and Aquatic Center on Sunriver’s northern edge offers two-hour sessions for $20.
One of the most popular go-to hikes for folks during the winter is the Deschutes River trail near the Bill Healy bridge west of the Old Mill District. This gentle hike (it’s more like a walk on dirt than a “hike”) is a 3.5-mile loop up one side of the river, across a footbridge and back down the other. You can add some distance by parking in the Old Mill (a perfect place to grab a bite to eat or hot chocolate after your hike.)
A lot of locals also like to hike Pilot Butte’s trail in the winter. This is actually a pretty good hike – not long, just strenuous in that it’s quite a trek up to the top of this 480-foot butte located in the middle of town. The road is closed during the winter so you won’t have to worry about cars, but you should be careful of icy spots on the north-facing side if there’s been a recent snow.
And, of course, there’s the granddaddy of winter hiking spots – Smith Rock State Park in Terrebonne. Winter might just be the best time to explore all of the hiking – and biking – options available because the park can get scorching hot during the summer months.
You can find more info on our “urban hikes” here.
Cycling wise, most mountain bikers head east of Bend for the best trail conditions during the winter. Complexes like Horse Ridge and Horse Butte stay snow free most of the winter except in rare cases and offer some great trails and amazing views of the area. Hikers and horses can also often be found at Horse Butte. You can combine several loops in the area for longer rides, but the Coyote Loop Trail-Arnold Ice Cave Trail loop is about 12 miles. Be sure to check out the Arnold Ice Cave as well – a super cool lava tube in the middle of the loop.
In Redmond, try the Radlands and in Sisters, some of the Peterson Ridge trail systems is rideable during the winter months too. You can also mountain bike the uber-scenic Smith Rock State Park. Prineville has some great backroads and mountain bike trails that are perfect for winter riding.
“If folks were coming to Prineville to ride a mountain bike I would push them to the Lower 66 trails at the Grade as you enter town coming into Prineville from Bend/Redmond,” said James Good, owner of Good Bike Co. in Prineville. “It is located in the south part of the Ochoco Wayside State Park. It is 66 acres that have roughly 3.5 miles of single track trails encompassing two loops and a connecting loop at the West end of the trails. Trails are for beginner to intermediate riders.”
Good Bike Co. is a great place to stop before you hit the trails – James is a wealth of information.
The Madras Mountain Views Scenic Bikeway is a rideable route for road cyclists in the winter because the 30-mile loop is entirely in the warmer climes of Jefferson County.
Several Central Oregon courses are open year-round, weather permitting and often the weather most certainly permits. I worked one winter at Lost Tracks Golf Club in Bend and we were open every single day. Sure, there were some really cold days and the greens froze over a few times, but the course stayed snow-free the entire season and we had players nearly every day.
In Bend, River’s Edge Golf Course is another popular winter golf destination; Prineville’s Meadow Lakes Golf Course is a popular winter spot even if there’s no snow in Bend. It’s a fun course and the weather’s usually a tad warmer the farther east you go.
Happy Hour Alfresco
Sure, it might be a little cold, but several of the region’s hot spots for dining/drinking outside have found ways to keep customers warm. Places like 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Crux Fermentation Project, McMenamins Old St. Francis School and others have firepits that only add to the already cool ambiance.
More inspiring stories, adventures, and tips & tricks for planning and experiencing the best Central Oregon has to offer.
Tour the Central Oregon Mural Trail
Take a scenic tour around Central Oregon, and among the lush forests, arid high desert landscapes and bright blue skies, you’ll start to notice stunning murals dotting the region. The murals, each with distinct symbols unique to the town, reflect the spirit of Central Oregon in animated colors and design. Artists Katie Daisy and Karen Eland began the “Greetings From…” series with inspiration from vintage postcards. Now, nearly every town in Central Oregon hosts a large hand painted mural with stunning details specifically designed for that town. Follow the Central Oregon Mural Trail and discover hidden treasures in each high desert town along the way.
Central Oregon Sled Dog Rides: Four-Legged Friends Power All Day Smiles
You can hear them before you see them. About 30 four-legged endurance athletes chomping at the bit for another chance to prove their worth and provide you with an ear-to-ear grin that will last an entire day.
How to Beat the High Desert Heat
During the dog days of summer, one of your best options to beat the heat is to head up to the high lakes and splash around. But when you’re on vacation with the family sometimes all you want to do is go and relax at the pool. Luckily, Central Oregon has a handful of great places to soak up the sun in between cooling off in the water.
Hopless in Central Oregon: Experience Scenic Cideries and Vino with a View
In an area dominated by craft beer, you might be wondering is there anything else on tap? The answer is, ‘Yes’. Central Oregon is home to award winning cideries and wineries and with postcard-worthy views from their tasting rooms – you won’t be disappointed. Named after the Three Sisters, Faith Hope and Charity Vineyards is just over 30 miles from Bend. It’s hard to complain about the drive though when furry faces from the Alpaca farm nearby greet you right before you turn onto the property.
Central Oregon Mountain Bike Trail Guide
The Central Oregon mountain bike scene is 300 miles of diverse singletrack through high alpine forests and sagebrush dotted deserts from Madras to La Pine, Sisters to Prineville. Bulletin newspaper reporter Mark Morical has ridden just about every one of the trails you’ll find on any mountain bike trail map – and he’s written about his experience.
Adventures Abound Starting at Sunriver Resort
Sunriver is the type of place that takes your breath away no matter what season it is. During the summer you can hop on a horse for your very own wild wild west experience. The team at Sunriver Stables will make you feel comfortable on your ride, even if you’ve never saddled up before. Whether you’re in a tube or a kayak, floating down the Deschutes River is a relaxing activity that’s fun for the whole family.
Casual Family Weekend in Sunriver
Imagine this: you’re riding your bike through a rolling meadow, the Cascade mountain range in the background, and the only sound is from the whir of a prop plane taking off against a crisp blue sky. Up ahead, your children pull carrots from their pockets and present them to a gathering of friendly horses in an adjacent pasture.
Central Oregon Winter Adventures
When the snow flies, Central Oregon shines. All you have to do is choose your adventure. Mt. Bachelor - The model of a complete snowsports resort, Mt. Bachelor offers 360-degree lift-served groomed skiing and riding from its volcanic summit.
Elk Lake Resort a Great Winter Getaway – And Getting There is Half the Fun
There’s a couple of ways to look at the annual winter closure of Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway: You can see it as cutting off your recreational access beyond the gate until the snow melts in the spring.
Sammies and Sandos: Central Oregon’s Best Sandwiches
Sometimes after a day full of adventure, all that you crave is a simple, yet delicious, stick-to-your-ribs sandwich. (And a beer, obviously.)