Oregon’s natural beauty ranges from the rugged Oregon Coast, to the pastoral Willamette Valley, to the thrilling Cascade peaks and a high, arid desert. So it only makes sense that Oregon’s winters enjoy the same kind of variety: Wind and rain dominate the coastline, the Cascades’ pillowy peaks remain snow-covered well into spring, and lowlands […]
Oregon’s natural beauty ranges from the rugged Oregon Coast, to the pastoral Willamette Valley, to the thrilling Cascade peaks and a high, arid desert. So it only makes sense that Oregon’s winters enjoy the same kind of variety: Wind and rain dominate the coastline, the Cascades’ pillowy peaks remain snow-covered well into spring, and lowlands in Eastern Oregon see chilly—but clear—evenings all winter long.
With all that weather creating memorable waterfall hikes and scenic snowshoe trails, it’d be a shame to waste the remaining days of fall—and the coming months of winter—sequestered inside.
Fortunately, Oregon meets the moment with fall and winter camping choices throughout the state. Whether you’re looking to pitch a tent, park your RV or cozy up in a heated yurt or cabin, here’s where to make the most of the Oregon outdoors this winter—and what to do once you’re there.
No matter your preferred outdoor activity, chances are good you’ll find it at L.L. Stub Stewart State Park (“Stub Stewart” for short). More than 20 miles of trails crisscross the park, professionally designed mountain bike trails challenge novice and veteran riders alike and an 18-hole disc golf course offers a relaxing respite–and thanks to the Willamette Valley’s relatively mild climate, it’s all available year-round.
But the park might be most heralded for the Banks-Vernonia State Trail–a 21-mile converted rail line spanning the towns of Banks and Vernonia at the west end of the Willamette Valley. Even better: The first “rails-to-trails” linear state park in Oregon bisects Stub Stewart, providing easy access to its meandering path. Along the way, you’ll enjoy 13 bridges and sweeping forest views from the 733-foot-long, 80-foot-high Buxton Trestle.
L.L. Stub Stewart State Park hosts 41 full-hookup sites and 23 walk-in tent sites that remain open year-round—all with flush toilets and hot showers nearby—but the centerpiece of the park’s offseason attractions is the Mountain Dale Cabin Village.
Mountain Dale Cabin Village comprises 15 cabins—three double-room and 12 single-room—that sleep up to five. Amenities include electricity, heat, a ceiling fan, futon double and twin bunk beds, an outdoor fire pit and picnic table, nearby hot showers and flush toilets, and more. And for our four-legged friends, three cabins are pet-friendly.
All that’s to say nothing of the panoramic views of the nearby Oregon Coast Range at your doorstep. Oregon State Parks doesn’t operate many campgrounds in the foothills of the Coast Range, so Associate Director of Oregon State Parks and Recreation Chris Havel says this offers an especially rare treat. “It’s probably got one of the best views of the Coast Range from any of our cabins,” he says.
The “crown jewel” of the Oregon State Parks system more than lives up to its billing. Nestled near the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley, the 9,200-acre park boasts equestrian trails, mountain biking opportunities, year-round camping, and—most notably—the Trail of Ten Falls.
The almost-9-mile loop takes hikers into a lush canyon, with views of—you guessed it—10 waterfalls. Some, you walk behind; others, you watch from afar. The tallest of the falls is 177 feet, but five of the 10 falls measure 100 feet or more.
Summertime draws the largest crowds—the park greets nearly a million visitors each year—but Havel makes a compelling case for why it’s an under-the-radar wintertime destination. “A lot of people come out in the midsummer—which is a wonderful experience—but sometimes, the water flow can be a little tepid,” he says. “But in the winter, especially after a good rain or snow, the waterfalls come to life. And not everybody gets to see that.”
If you’d like to see those falls for yourself, Silver Falls State Park offers plenty of year-round camping.
You can certainly pitch your tent or park your RV in one of 18 or so electrical sites open year-round. But if you’d like to escape some of the 80 inches of rainfall the park sees each year, consider one of the 14 cabins available for rent (four of which are pet-friendly).
Each cabin includes beds, a vinyl-covered mattress, heating, lights and an outdoor fire pit for total comfort (along with nearby restrooms and hot showers).
Nestled in a forest along Interstate 84, Emigrant Springs State Heritage Area sits near the summit of the fabled Blue Mountains—offering no shortage of history, along with easy access to winter recreation.
Travelers on the Oregon Trail once camped in this area and restocked with the springs' clear water. Today, the park honors its connection to the Oregon Trail with an interpretive shelter and covered-wagon display. Just seven miles northwest, at the Deadman’s Pass Rest Area, visitors can even see genuine wagon-wheel ruts.
The park also provides the easiest, closest access to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and other backcountry winter fun: Just walk along any of the park’s short trails for a fun, family-friendly outing. And 25 miles east, Meacham Divide/Mt. Emily Sno-Park offers up Oregon's second-largest Nordic area—complete with more than 12 miles of trail.
Most Oregon Trail pioneers had the good sense to cross the Blues before the season’s first snowfall. Fortunately, you can choose from seven cabins to escape the elements whenever the latest storm covers the range in a fresh coat of powder.
In addition to 16 full-hookup sites open year-round, Emigrant Springs hosts six rustic log cabins (four of which are pet-friendly) and one duplex cabin.
So what’s the difference? Rustic cabins sleep up to six on some combination of bunk beds, a futon couch and a double bed. Amenities include a table and chairs, electricity, heat, a covered porch and an outdoor firepit.
The duplex cabin, meanwhile, comprises two individual units—each with bunk beds and a table and chair. You can rent each cabin individually, though the combo suits larger groups. All cabins include an outdoor fire pit.
Oregon State Parks hosts more than a dozen campgrounds with yurts and cabins along the Oregon Coast, and few match the versatility of Umpqua Lighthouse State Park.
The park borders Lake Marie, a small body of water that’s popular with anglers, kayakers and casual hikers. And in every direction, the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area stretches out for miles—providing plenty of options for hiking, off-highway vehicle riding and sandboarding (think snowboarding, but with a small surfboard and sand replacing snow).
Of course, there’s the fabled Umpqua River Lighthouse. The present structure replaced the first lighthouse on the Oregon Coast (which was built in 1857—and destroyed just four years later by a storm). Today, the 65-foot tower sits 100 feet above sea level on the shores of Winchester Bay. Its unique lens emits red and white beams—the only such signal on the entire Oregon Coast.
In all, 31 campgrounds in the Oregon State Parks system rent yurts and cabins. But only one—Umpqua Lighthouse State Park—offers deluxe yurts, complete with all the amenities of a roadside motel.
In addition to two basic yurts and two log cabins, Umpqua Lighthouse rents six deluxe yurts—each including a full bathroom with shower; a kitchen with a refrigerator, microwave and sink; and a TV with a DVD player. Each yurt can sleep up to seven, and three of the deluxe yurts are pet-friendly.
The park also offers eight full hook-up sites, eight electrical sites, and 23 tent sites year-round, but take note: A new restroom/shower building is currently under construction. So in the meantime, no showers (other than those in the deluxe yurts) will be available in the park until May 2019.
Up for roughing it? Looking for a remote getaway, far from the trappings of civilization? If so, consider camping at the foot of Steens Mountain in the southeastern corner of Oregon.
The 170,000-acre Steens Mountain Wilderness hosts all kinds of stunning scenery, from glacier-carved gorges to highland forests to bucolic rivers. Though Steens sees most of its visitors in the warmer summer months, winter means cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling through the mountain's most remote and rugged stretches.
Steens Loop Road, which ascends to just below the summit of Steens, usually closes each winter. But the Bureau of Land Management offers a limited number of gate keys each day—all on a first-come, first-served basis—for those looking to drive to the snowline above Page Springs for a truly wild outdoor experience. Call 541-573-4400 for more information on obtaining a gate key.
Page Springs Campground sits at the base of Steens Mountain, on its western flank, and makes an ideal basecamp for hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, snowshoeing, bird-watching and more.
The primitive campground hosts 36 sites, all in the shadow of cottonwood and juniper trees, not far from the Donner und Blitzen River. You’ll enjoy vault restrooms and potable water, but don’t expect much else in the way of amenities.
Every summer, the southern shore of Wallowa Lake is abuzz with all manner of family activity. Kids savor their ice cream cones in-between laps on the go-kart track, while their parents enjoy horseback rides and buy tickets for the tram to the top of Mt. Howard.
Come winter, though, the scene looks a whole lot different. Soon after the summer crowds depart with the first day of school, the region becomes a winter wonderland, with fun for the whole family. “Especially for somebody who’s never been to that corner of the state, with its tremendous, craggy peaks, it’s a little more like the Alps than any other place in Oregon,” Havel says. “And it can make for a really memorable winter retreat.”
Just 20 minutes from Joseph, the Ferguson Ridge Ski Area hosts eight downhill trails and provides easy access to nearby Nordic trails. Others ride snowmobiles through the Eagle Cap Wilderness, while families enjoy a classic winter experience at the Wallowa Valley Community Ice Rink. And every January, the Eagle Cap Extreme Dog Sled Race introduces fans to the world of dog sledding. And that’s to say nothing of the miles of snowshoe trails that offer unfettered glimpses of the Wallowas’ regal, snowcapped peaks.
As the name implies, Wallowa Lake State Park sits at the southern shore of Wallowa Lake. The park hosts 113 full-hookup sites that remain open year-round, but we’d understand if you seek something warmer: Average temperatures can fall to 18 degrees each January.
Good news: The park also hosts two yurts—the only two wooden yurts in the Oregon State Parks system, according to Havel. Each circular structure hosts a futon couch and bunk beds, along with a fire pit, covered deck and picnic table outside.
No matter your favorite outdoor activity, you’ll find it somewhere in Central Oregon. The region’s towering Cascade peaks offer skiing and snowshoeing opportunities all winter long, while the Deschutes River hosts paddlers year-round—and the high desert delivers plenty of hiking trails, even in the dead of winter. (The Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area is among the most popular winter hiking areas, given its relatively low elevation, bustling network of trails and ample wildlife-spotting opportunities.)
Bend is the region’s beating heart, with the Deschutes River snaking through town, easy mountain access via the Cascade Lakes National Scenic Byway and all kinds of natural wonders just minutes from town.
Tumalo State Park hosts plenty of year-round camping, with 23 full-hookup sites and 54 tent sites available all year long. But as the high desert temperatures fall each night, the park's seven yurts (two are pet-friendly) keep campers cozy and comfortable. Even as temperatures fall to freezing, the vinyl-sided structures provide electricity and heat, along with a futon, bunk beds, fire pit and picnic table.
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