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How to Snowshoe in the Cascade Range

By Matt Wastradowski

The Willamette Valley sits between two mountain ranges—including, at our eastern edge, the Cascade Range. It's there, from the Cascade foothills to the crest of the dramatic mountain range, that snowshoers and cross-country skiers find plenty of fresh powder, groomed trails, old-growth forests, and wide-open vistas all winter long.

Four major highways shuttle drivers between the Willamette Valley and the heart of the Cascades. From north to south, here's the skinny on each:

If you're planning an epic snowshoeing adventure, it's wise to choose your home base from the aforementioned Willamette Valley communities—and then find fun adventures along the corresponding highways.

Before hitting the trail, make sure you've purchased an Oregon Sno-Park Permit and read up on snowshoeing safety. And if you're looking for snowshoes, rentals are available from select local retailers—such as Berg's Ski & Snowboard Shop in Eugene and Peak Sports in Corvallis.

Ready to get outdoors? Here's what awaits as you head toward the heights of the Cascades:

Detroit and Breitenbush Hot Springs | Santiam Pass | McKenzie River | Westfir and Oakridge | Oregon Sno-Parks | Safety

Highway 22 heads east from Salem and passes through the community of Detroit—which sits on the shores of Detroit Lake and in the Cascade Range foothills. The community, still recovering and rebuilding after a 2020 wildfire, makes an idyllic jumping-off point for snowy adventures in the surrounding forests. Before visiting, contact the Detroit Ranger District for updated trail conditions, potential road closures, and other good-to-know information.

Top Trails and Sno-Parks: Maxwell Sno-Park hosts 25 miles of trails for outdoor enthusiasts of all fitness and skill levels; several trails pass the park's Mountain View Shelter, which on a clear day affords views of Three Fingered Jacket, Mount Washington, and other peaks. Consult a Maxwell Sno-Park trail map to understand the sprawling network of paths before heading out.

Post-adventure fun: Detroit sits near the midway point of the 220-mile West Cascades Scenic Byway, which runs north-south along the western edge of the Cascade Range; highlights along the scenic drive include crystal-clear mountain rivers and views of snow-covered volcanic peaks.

Overnight stays: Detroit Lake State Recreation Area hosts nine cozy cabins on the shore of Detroit Lake, all open October-April, that sleep up to three and include a heater; running water and hot showers are available at the campground, as well. Nearby, Breitenbush Hot Springs hosts several clothing-optional hot springs pools in the midst of a lush forest; the popular resort is one of several hot springs in the Willamette Valley. Finally, enjoy well-equipped rooms at The Lodge at Detroit Lake, which offers easy access to the area's adventures.

Photo by Matt Cook

Take Highway 20 east from the likes of Corvallis and Albany, and it's a scenic 90-minute drive to Santiam Pass and the Middle Santiam Wilderness. Here, snowshoers can choose among nearly a dozen Sno-Parks near the crest of the Cascades. Before heading out, contact the Sweet Home Ranger District or the McKenzie River Ranger District for conditions at your preferred Sno-Park(s), recommendations, and potential closures.

Top Trails and Sno-Parks: From the Tombstone Sno-Park, the Tombstone-Prairie Connection parallels Highway 20 while following a snowy forest road; occasional peak views rise above the quiet forest. For a more challenging trip, Potato Hill Sno-Park hosts a few steep, yet rewarding trails that offer views of Lost Lake, Mount Jefferson, and other peaks.

Post-adventure fun: On your way back to the Willamette Valley, fuel up with sandwiches, pasta, seafood, and other hearty dishes at The Point Restaurant and Lounge in Sweet Home. Also in Sweet Home is Casa de Reyes, which serves flautas, burritos, and other filling Mexican dishes. 

Overnight stays: Enjoy a night along the South Santiam River at River Bend County Park, which hosts heated cabins and yurts with on-site restroom facilities. Other overnight stays along Highway 20 include Foster Lake Inn & Vacation Lodge (housed in a 1940s-era historical home) and Foster Lake RV Resort (which offers four log cabins and a pair of western-themed studio rooms).

Highway 126 heads east from the Eugene and Springfield area, largely following the azure McKenzie River as it ascends into the heart of the Cascades; there, the road ends at Highway 20 near Santiam Pass. The communities of Rainbow and McKenzie Bridge make excellent bases for winter fun higher in the mountains. Before starting your trip, contact the McKenzie River Ranger District for updated conditions, recommendations for where to go, potential closures, and more.

Top Trails and Sno-Parks: The underrated Ikenick Sno-Park provides access to a mix of easy and moderate trails that showcase the best of the region—including views of Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, and plenty of second-growth forest.

Post-adventure fun: Stop by Clear Lake, which lives up to its name with a shimmering, bright blue hue—never more apparent than on sun-kissed afternoons; views are enchanting from the day-use area, and a 5.3-mile hiking trail circles the lake. And if you're itching to explore more of our hot springs, enjoy a soak at Terwilliger (Cougar) Hot Springs—a clothing-optional series of pools that can be reached via quarter-mile trail in a lush forest.

Overnight stays: Enjoy a soak in one of two mineral hot spring pools (and an overnight stay in lodge rooms and cabins) at Belknap Hot Springs. Nearby, Horse Creek Lodge hosts four family-friendly cabins that include in-room fireplaces, kitchenettes, and comfortable amenities—all in the midst of a thick forest.

Highway 58 heads southeast from Eugene, passing the communities of Oakridge and Westfir (both mountain biking hotspots in summer) on its way into the heart of the Cascade Range. Get recommendations for where to go, trail conditions, closure updates, and more by contacting the Middle Fork Ranger District.

Top Trails and Sno-Parks: Salt Creek Sno-Park provides easy access to a network of trails that heads through a snowy forest and affords views of Salt Creek Falls; the thundering cascade drops 286 feet and is the second-tallest waterfall in Oregon. Families can also go sledding and tubing on a well-maintained play area within the Sno-Park, as well. Guided trips are available from Cascades Outdoor Center, a local outfitter.

Post-adventure fun: Warm up with a relaxing soak at nearby McCredie Hot Springs, a clothing-optional spot that can be accessed via a mostly flat, half-mile (one-way) hike; the pools are adjacent to Salt Creek and are two feet deep; consider bringing a thermometer to ensure the water is not too hot before easing into the pool.

Overnight stays: Enjoy a comfortable overnight stay, a homemade breakfast each morning, and other relaxing amenities at Westfir Lodge & Mountain Market—which sits in the heart of its namesake community.

Oregon Sno-Parks are exactly what they sound like: parks, typically covered in snow, that provide access to the state's wooded areas for winter adventure. Sno-Parks usually comprise a broad parking area that sits surrounded by trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, and other activities.

Permits are required to park at Oregon-Sno Parks between November and April; these cost $4 (for daily permits), $9 (for three-day permits), and $25 (for annual permits). Sno-Park permits are typically available at hotels, sporting goods stores, and other retailers; check the Oregon Sno-Park webpage for a full list of participating outlets.

Weather is unpredictable in the mountains, so be sure you have a capable 4WD or AWD vehicle with enough clearance to pass snow ruts in the roads. You can check road conditions on the main highways at the Oregon Department of Transportation's TripCheck before heading out. 

Also note that the Forest Service roads are not typically plowed in winter.

  • Start by reading the Willamette National Forest's Winter Safety webpage, which includes tips for what to pack, planning ahead, and even how to limber up before your excursion.
  • Bring more food and water than you think you'll need in the event you get stuck or are out snowshoeing longer than planned.
  • Dress wisely, and wear layers, based on conditions. Check out REI's guide to layering basics so you're prepared with the right gear to stay warm. 
  • Snowshoeing is tougher than hiking, especially in untracked snow, so only do as much as your individual and group fitness allows. Leave enough energy to return to the trailhead. 
  • Either download an area map or bring a paper copy as cell service is non-existent outside small communities in the Cascade Range and over mountain passes.
  • Before heading out, check the Willamette National Forest's "alerts" page to ensure your preferred trail is open and accessible.

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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