There’s nothing like the feeling of cross-country skiing: gliding across the snow, getting your heart rate up and taking in the scenery. With desert sunshine filtering through Ponderosa trees, blue skies, and easy access trails, it’s easy to see why Central Oregon is a top spot for cross-country skiing.
Also called nordic skiing, cross-country skiing in Central Oregon has been a draw for nearly a century. Long before its renown as a downhill skiing destination, the Bend and Sisters area was the birthplace of several cross-country ski clubs, started by hardy Scandinavians and mountain adventurers. At the turn of the 20th century, these ski pioneers passionately constructed huts, created community ski areas, and competed in rugged overland ski races that would astound today’s skiers. The names of Central Oregon’s many warming shelters and trails you’ll find throughout the area pay tribute to these cross-country skiing pioneers- a part of local skiing lore, culture and tradition that continues today.
Skiers can find countless cross-country trails in Central Oregon, both groomed and ungroomed, for ski touring or a fast-paced skate skiing workout. Groomed trails are wider to allow both types of cross-country skiing: skate skiing and classic. Tracks set to the side are for classic. The smooth “lane” is designated for skate skiing, a technique that requires more space. Ungroomed trails follow a series of trail markers to guide your route. For first tracks in fresh snow, get there early!
Also, with multiple users on the trail at once, it’s best to know cross-country ski trail etiquette. Meissner Nordic, a popular community ski area mentioned below, has this great cross-country skiing trail etiquette overview to get you up to speed before you go. If you need to rent ski equipment, there are many shops in Bend, Sunriver and Sisters, or you can rent onsite at Mt. Bachelor or Hoodoo Ski Area. Let’s hit the trails!
Top Nordic Skiing Areas Near Bend and Sunriver
Both Bend and Sunriver offer quick, easy access to some of the best cross-country skiing in the Northwest. You can choose to go more off the beaten path from one of many sno-parks, or, head to one of Central Oregon’s downhill ski areas, Mt. Bachelor and Hoodoo Ski Area, both of which have cross-country ski trail systems near their alpine action. Sno-parks are maintained by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), which plows for parking November through May. Many of these offer access to several winter recreation activities: snowmobiling, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on groomed and ungroomed trails.
Pro Ski Tip! Before you go, be sure to pick up a sno-park permit from one of the many ski shops or stores in town, or most of Central Oregon resorts sell them as well. You can buy a day or season pass depending on how many times you plan to ski. Also, an important note about dogs and trails in the winter: The Deschutes National Forest does not permit dogs on the NORTH side of the Cascade Lakes Highway, November through May. See below for which popular sno-parks are suitable for pooches!
Meissner Sno-Park and Meissner Trail System
Only 20 minutes from Bend, Oregon, this popular nordic skiing area was named after local ski pioneer Virginia Meissner, a legendary cross-country ski instructor and inspiration. With a welcoming wood stove in the day use lodge to greet skiers, donation-based Meissner Nordic is a community-minded non-profit that now offers about 50 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski terrain. The trail system offers loops ranging from beginner trails to challenging expert trails with steep climbs and descents. A popular route is a short skiing jaunt up to the Meissner Shelter, where you get a breathtaking view while you enjoy lunch and conversation around a cozy fire. Ambitious skiers can make their way to the Shooting Star shelter that overlooks the Cascade Mountains and Tumalo Creek drainage. (No Dogs Allowed)
Swampy Lakes Sno-Park and Trail Head
Just a few minutes past Meissner Sno-Park off Century Drive is Swampy Lakes. Here, you can access Meissner Nordic’s groomed trail system from the west OR head out on one of the numerous ungroomed trails and loops. The popular Swampy Lakes Loop (about three miles round trip) takes you to Swampy Shelter where you can warm your toes by the wood stove. Link up with longer trails like Swede Ridge or the Flagline Trail for a full day tour. (No Dogs Allowed)
Wanoga Sno-Park Cross Country Ski Loop
Just across the Cascade Lakes Highway from Meissner Ski Area, Wanoga is your pooch’s happy place. Wanoga is a shared-use sno-park, providing parking for snowmobile enthusiasts, sledders and casual, dog-friendly cross-country skiing. From its easternmost lot, you can access a small system of sometimes-groomed trails in open meadows that are perfect for playing, skijoring and skiing with your furry friends. (Dogs Allowed)
About 20 minutes from Sunriver along Forest Service Road 45, you will find Edison Butte Sno-Park. You can also easily get there from Bend, turning left off of the cascade Lakes Highway and driving just a few minutes down the road. Edison is a great lower elevation Sno-Park that offers snowy fun for everyone: on skis, snowshoes or snowmobiles. There are countless well-marked, ungroomed cross-country skiing loops you can explore, some which take you to the area’s two warming shelters. For a 7 to 8 mile loop, try the AC/DC Trail! (Dogs Allowed)
Groomed Nordic Trails on Mt. Bachelor
An iconic part of Nordic skiing history in Central Oregon, the Mt. Bachelor Nordic Center has been a mecca for Northwest cross-country skiing for decades. Just 30 minutes from Bend where the Cascade Lakes Highway ends in winter, its cozy timber nordic lodge sits peacefully across from all of the downhill skiing action at the area’s West Village lot. Mt. Bachelor Nordic expertly grooms more than 50 km of trails daily, and also offers professional lessons and abundant ski rentals. Don’t miss the Nordic Center’s café, where you’ll find some of the best food on the mountain, and can sip hot chocolate in front of a blazing wood stove fire. From the Nordic lodge, cross-country skiers and snowshoers can also access popular ungroomed forest service trails like Todd Lake. Make sure you grab a complimentary (but required) “Common Corridor” ticket from the Nordic Center to leave from their lodge.
Top Nordic Skiing Areas Near Sisters
Just west of Sisters, Oregon, roads climb up to two mountain passes: Santiam Pass (30 minutes) and McKenzie Pass via the Old Mckenzie Highway, which starts just 15 minutes from Sisters. Not only is Santiam Pass a quick shot from Sisters or even Bend, but it’s also a popular day skiing destination for people driving from the west-the Willamette Valley, just under two hours from Salem or Eugene. Highway 226, or the old Mckenzie highway, closes every winter to transform into a winter playground. From the road’s snow gate, cross-country skiing enthusiasts venture up where they can link into other ungroomed ski trails.
Thanks to these and other access points to higher elevation snow areas, there are plenty of places to explore cross-country skiing near Sisters. On your way up, be sure to grab some breakfast at one of the many bakeries, or a delicious dinner at one of their restaurants on the return!
Hoodoo Cross Country Skiing
Along with its family-friendly downhill skiing area, Hoodoo Ski Area at Santiam Pass grooms about 18 km of cross-country skiing adjacent to its slopes. The lower loops feature gentle rolling terrain and one more challenging out and back hill. More expert-level cross-country skiing can be found up high at the 8.8 kilometer Skyliner trail system. The area offers lessons and rentals and grooms trails on weekends and some holiday Mondays.
If you want to turn your day skiing into a week-long all inclusive vacation, Black Butte Ranch, the official lodging for Hoodoo Ski Resort, is just 15 minutes away from Hoodoo, and also offers its own groomed trails when there’s enough snow. You can cross country ski and snowshoe around their Big Meadow Golf Course on groomed trails (if they have six inches of snow or more). If you didn’t bring your own equipment, you can rent cross country skiing equipment at Glaze Meadow Rental Shop.
Ray Benson Sno-Park
Just before the access road to Hoodoo at the top of Santiam Pass sits the popular Ray Benson Sno-Park. The largest sno-park in Oregon, Benson serves as a staging area for many snowmobilers and snowshoers as well, but you can find quiet cross-country skiing trails here, too. Follow trail markings via the South Loop Trail, which connects trails to two warming huts, backcountry lakes and vistas depending on your navigational skills. (Dogs Allowed)
Upper Three Creeks Sno-Park
Following a snowy road for about 30 minutes from Sisters with a good 4WD, you can access Three Creeks Sno-Park. The area features 14 miles of cross-country skiing loops and connecting trails. Cross-country skiers can also opt to head straight up the wide road where they can access the Tam MacArthur Rim for some backcountry turns. This sno-park is also the starting point for Three Sisters Backcountry Tours, which takes skiers on multi-night backcountry adventures who stay in custom backcountry yurts, complete with outdoor sauna! For a true backcountry cross-country skiing experience, there is a 16-mile hut-to-hut traverse tour you can reserve for cozy overnights along the way.
Cross-Country Skiing near La Pine, Oregon
Venture south of Bend, and the horizon will soon reveal the impressive silhouette of the Newberry Crater shield volcano, near La Pine. Taking a day trip to this geologic area rewards skiers with trails of varying scenery and difficulty to explore.
Newberry Caldera Nordic Skiing
About 30 minutes south of Bend, take Paulina Lake road east just north of La Pine. Skiers can stride on the shoulder of Paulina Peak and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument from the Ten Mile Sno-Park. A picturesque cross-country trail system offers fantastic views of this volcanic area, Paulina Peak and its lava formations. Ski loops branch off of the main road to Paulina Lake, which you’ll share with snowmobilers while you catch views of Paulina Falls along the way.
So, grab your day pack, fill it with hot cocoa, lots of water, layers and snacks. You can’t go wrong with any of these spots to have an unforgettable cross-country skiing adventure!
Explore Nature’s Beauty
From the sagebrush-covered plains of the high desert to the towering pines and majestic mountain peaks, discover the diverse landscape Central Oregon has to offer.