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The Wooden Shoe Tulip festival starts in early March and runs through early May. The driving route to the festival is well marked from I-5 near Woodburn. With 40 acres of tulips, 100 acres of open space, and countless family activities, there is more than enough fun for everyone. Be prepared to purchase a ticket to park and enter and pay for food and kids activities. Even considering the costs, you won’t be disappointed!
The Colubmia River Gorge is full of popular waterfalls but there are plenty of less well-known but impressive waterfalls around the state. Even the Willamette Valley even has hidden treasures to offer.
Wether you are headed to Mount Hood or Mount Bachelor, you are bound to find some of the best blue-bird days around! Mount Hood boasts the longest ski season in North America and Mount Bachelor keeps the lifts turning well into the spring.
Mount Bachelor is easily camper van friendly. Thier huge parking lot is complete with electric hook ups and festivities. Bring your grill, sunscreen, coolers, sunglasses, lawnchairs, and friends and settle in for a few days! You won’t regret it!
Odell Lake sits on the South side of Oregon Highway 58, just East of Willamette Pass summit. The Pacific Crest Trail runs adacent to it and Willamette Pass Ski Area faces it. We have driven by Shelter Cove Resort a hand full of times and each time CD tells a story about spending an afternoon reading a book there in 2004 while thru-hiking the PCT. Finally, we decided to stop in and check it out! Whether you are looking for a PCT resupply or a winter get-away, the Shelter Cove Resort won’t disappoint!
Hike the PCT Northbound from Mexico or Southbound from Canada
Cross Oregon Highway 58 after a day of skiing at Willamette Pass Ski Resort
Look for the sign, just East of Willamette Pass summit. Depending on snow conditions, parts of the road to the resort may be one lane but traffic is light and there is room to back up and pull over if needed. Go roughly 2 miles on the paved road to the resort. It is well marked.
10 reasons to stop in a Shelter Cove if you are just passing through.
The scenery does not disappoint.
Grab a snack and soda. The camp store is fully stocked with everything from soda and beer to frozen meals and PCT resupply items. The Hook and Tackle restaurant is closed in the winter but worth checking out in the summer for sure.
Scout out the cabins for future reference! Really, check them out, they look sweet!
Plan a fishing or kayaking adventure. The lake is easily accessible and inviting for sure.
Sit by the bonfire after a day of playing in the snow. Check out the fire pit by the lake. It was roaring when we stopped by.
Chat with the locals. The women at the store has been working there for 20 years and confirmed CDs hunch that he stopped there when hiking the PCT. The book lending library that he remembers is no longer there but she provided a historical perspective on the recent remodeling and shared memories of the old store front.
Kick your feet up. Even in the winter, there are plenty of deck chairs to take a load off after a fun day outside!
Look for wildlife. We didn’t see it but I am sure they were there!
Get in the holiday spirit! I don’t know if the pixie lights are there in the summer but in the winter they put out a welcome feeling of holiday spirit!
Take a deep breath and enjoy a moment of feeling part of the world, despite a pandemic! This place gives off good vibes as soon as you drive up!
PCT Camping Area
Cabins, Cottages, RV sites
Boat Launch and Marina
Hiking: Willamette and Deschutes National Forests
Alpine skiing: Willamette Pass Resort
Fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding
Subscribe to follow our adventures. CD is in the garage cutting wood for our new van conversion. We teamed up with Roost Vans to do a DIY electrical system – so stay tuned!
Oregon may not be as well known for winter sports as other states but don’t let that fool you. January is a great time for an Oregon winter day-trip!
Cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing are all great choices at Walt Haring sno-park! Here is everything you need to know!
Where is Walt-Haring sno-park?
You can find it just East of Willamette Pass on Oregon Highway 97.
From Eugene: Take 58 East to 97 South. It is on your right, just North of Chemult.
From Bending: Take 97 South and look for it just North of Chemult.
From Kamath Falls: Jump on 97 North
Is there a trail system?
Yes! There is a complex system of cross country skiing or snow shoe trails. The map shows these as groomed but we didn’t see any indication that grooming had been happening.
In any case, there is a big trail system. I recommend looking at the map and understanding that there are two main loops, however. Each loop varies in length from approximately .5 to over 2 miles and the first two loops are connected to all other loops by a subtle connector trail. We were having so much fun that we found ourselves over an hour an half away from the parking lot and still going further into the woods! The only way back was to keep following the loops out and wait to head back or to turn around.
I can’t remember the last time we turned around while hiking but today was the day!
What should I know about the trails?
The trail is well marked by blue diamonds. Where the diamonds are absent, there are yellow ribbons in the trees. I could pretty much always see a marker ahead.
The distances on the map are for each individual loop, not the distance from the trail head. I can’t stress that enough!
Trail names and distances are absent from the trail markers after you get past the initial two loops. Trails are only marked by blue diamonds. No other trail markers are present.
The first loops (upper and lower runner) start at the campground. There is a lot of opportunity to be in the sunshine. The loops further from the trail head are in the forest and a heavier canopy makes it shady and cooler.
What is the terrain?
It was relatively flat at the beginning and then hills and valleys as we got back the two initial loops. Views of Diamond Peak were limited by the trees had personalities and there wasn’t anyone else in site!
The snow was too sunbaked for skiing but it was perfect for snowshoeing, however.
Do I need 4 wheel drive?
I would say “no” but here is how it was plowed today. We were alone when we pulled in but two trucks and trailers arrived later and quickly got stuck in the unplowed part of the parking lot. I found this parking lot very interesting as it was plowed for driving but if you parked where it was plowed it blocked the road. In any case, we did not use our 4 wheel drive but can see where it may have come in handy!
Chains are required on Willamette Pass if you come from the West.
What amenities are there?
A warming hut! A nice warming hut was just a few feet from where we parked. It is complete with a picnic table and wood stove. Be sure to come prepared with wood!
Bathrooms. They were open but posted that they are not maintained in the winter.
Picnic tables. Besides the one in the warming hut, there were picnic tables near the parking lot and at every campsite, of course. There was too much snow on them for us but there were plenty around and I can see where they would be useful on a sunny winter day.
Next time, I am bringing wood and friends (post-Covid, of course) and setting up shop in the warming hut. A fire in the wood stove and dinner in the hut would be the perfect end to an Oregon Winter Day Trip!
Next up is further progress on our Sprinter Van Conversion. We are working with Roost Vans on our DIY conversion so be sure to stay in touch and see how it goes!
We decided to follow yesterday’s wildly successful sledding trip with a second trip to the mountains. This time we headed towards Willamette Pass, hoping to get a parking spot at Gold Lake Sno-Park. We arrived around noon and there wasn’t an open parking spot in site so we pushed onward. Approximately 7 miles later we found Crescent Lake sno-park. The parking lot is smaller than Gold Lake but obviously much less popular. Among the half a dozen cars there, at least three were attached to snomobile trailers and one was clearly park for the long haul. I had intended to opt for snow shoes today but once I saw the groomed and relatively flat route, we decided to try the cross country skis again.
Here are a few things to know about Crescent Lake sno-park.
1. There are snowmobiles and plenty of space for everyone.
The kids loved seeing the snowmobiles on the trail. I liked seeing the signs marking distances to towns and services along the snowmobile trails as this was reminiscent of winter in the the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you have a snowmobile, this may be one place to check out!
2. The terrain is perfect for beginner cross country skiers.
I am not talking about the kids here, they have picked it up just fine. My cross country skiing skills are marginal at best, however! These trails were perfect. We skiied on the groomed trails and in through the woods. I got tangled up a few times but nothing too serious. The kids progressed from beginners to experts as they provided me with tutorials about every kind of homemade nordic ski technique you can imagine.
3. The lake is a short distance from the parking lot.
The lake is a short 1/2 mile from the parking lot if you access it through the campground entrance. The kids spent a fair amount of time chopping ice chunks from the shore and toss into the lake. I warned them about breaking through the ice and ending up with wet socks. In the end, I was the only one with wet socks. They stayed dry and had tons of fun!
The boat ramp is also adjacent to the Crescent Lake Resort, which appeared to be closed for the season but still accessible to vehicles and a somewhat popular way to access the lake in the winter.
4. The other nearby sno-parks have thier own personalities and the Pacific Crest Trail is right there in the middle of it all!
Approximately 2 miles before Crescent Lake parking, there is Junction sno-park. It has an unbelievably huge parking lot, which happened to be mostly empty. I think it may be a hot spot of snowmobile parking but am not really sure. Gold Lake was packed with cross country skiers and snow-shoers. The parking lot was much larger than Crescent Lake but was narrow and completely full. Don’t worry if you start into the parking lot and it feels narrow. Once you get to the end of the lot, there is a no-parking section that is labled “bus turn-around”. It worked great for us on this busy day!
Waldo Lake has a relatively small parking lot that I assume gets rather crowded. We stopped there to make dinner on our way out. It was dusk and there was only one other car but it was obvious that it is a popular spot during the day. The trail was wide and well packed from use. The kids grabbed the snow tubes and found some amazing sledding while I cooked soup in the van. Once it got dark, I pulled the van around to shine the headlights on the trail for them. They explored snow caves and hit some serious sledding jumps! I think Waldo Lake may be our next place to check out for a day but we may try to go early, late, or on a non-holiday weekday to avoid crowds.
The Pacific Crest Trail is right there for all of the PCT section hikers out there! My husband thru hiked the trail in 2004 and remembers Willamette Pass as one of his favorite sections! The trail was well marked but there was not any winter parking with direct trail access from the road.
These days of playing in the snow are keeping me going for sure! Remember to get your sno-park pass before you head out! You can learn more here!
Oregon sno-parks are designated Winter Recreation Areas. You should purchase a sno-park pass ahead of time. Information about passes can be found here.
Ray Benson sno-park is near HooDoo Ski Area in the Deschutes National Forest and is one of the more popular sledding, cross country skiing, and snow shoeing spots. The parking area is large enough to allow space, even on a busy day. The trail system is extensive and, although many people tend to flock to one area, there is plenty of room to spread out if you wish. Here are 5 ways to enjoy an afternoon at an Oregon sno-park.
1. Try out your new cross country skis!
Ray Benson offers a complex trail system. You can chose to stick to the groomed trail or venture into the woods. Either way, it is guarenteed to be a good time!
The trail is shared with snowmobiles, families snowshoeing, people hiking, and most likely some rogue sledders but don’t let that deter you, there is plenty of space. I chose the off-piste route on the way down as it turns out that I am still totally out of control on cross country skis. I wrongly assumed that somehow my skills improved since ten years ago when I last hurled myself, arms flailing, down a trail in Montezuma, Colorado.
2. Get some exercise with the reliable stand by, snowshoeing.
I can always count on snowshoeing for safe, effective, and fun exercise! Whether you are on the trail, off trail, or hucking a tiny cliff, snowshoeing is a guarenteed to be a good time. Remember your poles for the best work out and the best chance of making it back to the parking lot without tripping and taking a header.
3. Join the gang of sledders.
We steered clear of the crowds due to Covid but there was still plenty of amazing sledding. Our preferred vehicle are snotubes that were given to us by my grandma for Christmas a few years ago. If you chose a tube, consider inflating it to its maximum capacity. The extra inflation really steps the fun up the next level!
We chose to sled mid-day in the sun and again at 3:30 after the sun was behind the trees. The move from sunny and 40s to shady and 30s provided a super speed icy track to really put the sledding over the top for the kids while also just pushing my mom anxiety up a notch. Sledding was the biggest hit of the day for sure!
4. Set up for tailgating.
What is better than a campstove and chairs were set against the backdrop of moutains and fresh snow? Cheese and crackers, lunch hot off the griddle, and a couple of servings of hot chocolate with marshmallows seemed to keep my crew in top condition. Next time I think I will expand the menu and include myself when packing mugs for the hot chocolate.
5. Come prepared to stay all day.
An afternoon at Oregon sno-parks require spare socks, spare gloves, different boots for different sports, spare hats, layers, windbreakers, down jackets, fleece … the list goes on and on. I never would have packed like this in Colorado but Oregon is different. The snow is wetter here. If you have seen it, you know what I mean. So, come prepared because everyone will want to stay all day and they minds well be dry and warm!
Please follow our adventures as we convert our latest Sprinter van into a camper for our family of 4!
It has been hard to get motivated to go exploring so far this week. I am not sure if is because of the holidays, the sugary snacks, or the rain, but we it seems like we just need a push to get out there. We have already hit our usual local hikes, so we widened our driving radius a bit and headed a bit out of town. William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge is managed by The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is popular for spotting Elk, bird watching, and hiking.
Woodpecker Loop Trail
The woodpecker loop is our usual go-to trail. You walk through forests, near ponds and streams, through grasslands, and even catch distant views of fields and mountains. Today did not disappoint!
The trail had even been updated with information stands. You pull open a little door and a laminated card with information about the trees, plants and wildlife is inside.
The woodpecker loop trail was not as muddy as the picture of the woods. As far as mud goes during December in the Willamette Valley, this trail is one of the better options. The trail is gravel and mostly higher than surrounding land. Don’t let the rain deter you!
The woodpecker loop connects to the Mill Hill Trail. We typically do the two loops together. The Mill Hill Trail is mostly wooded and runs along a large wetland. We have come close to seeing a herd of Elk on this trail in the past but no such luck today. Hundreds of geese were our main wildlife sighting. Halfway through the Mill Hill Trail today, the sun came out and we could all see our shadows for the first time this week. We past three or four other groups of hikers in the hour and a half that we were there. Each hiker was wearing a mask and looking just as happy as we were to be walking in the sunshine.
If you happen to find yourself looking for a day hike in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Finley Wildlife Refuge is one option. Stop by the general store for a souvenir, snack, and a chat if you have time as well! (in non-Covid times, of course!)
Oregon’s Pacific Ocean beaches are scenic, spacious, and accessible. They are not exactly known for being warm and sunny, however. The benefit of this is that you can enjoy the same beach activities during winter as you can during the summer. So we chose this weekend to pick up a new hobby.
Skimboarding was a hit! Everyone had a turn. Most of us were semi-successful and at the end of the day, each of us was smiling!
Next stop was Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. It felt great to trade a turkey dinner for a few laps up the dunes. There were two cars in day use parking when we arrived and none when we left. Don’t let the footprints in the sand fool you, we were mostly alone on the dunes on Thursday and only accompanied by distant ATVs on Friday. The kids were free to dig, climb, run, build, and explore as far as they could go. How bad can a little sand in the van be anyway?!
Camping Near the Pacific Ocean
Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park was open and with plenty of empty tent sites. Every site in the RV loop was full but we only found one tent and one other camper in our primate campsite loop. Tent sites are $21. We didn’t have reservations and late check in was a breeze. We walked form our campsite down a wooded path and to the day use parking lot to get one more shot at the dunes, do some star gazing, and toss in a fishing lure a few times.
The moon was nearly full. The dunes were empty. Hardly anyone was camping. The day use lot was closed. It was a great time for star gazing!
We didn’t catch anything but we enjoyed trying. The dunes run down into a lock with accessible shorelines and a dock for fishing. Next time, we will bring the kayaks and get out there to see what we can catch!
Don’t worry, I still cooked a turkey. It was just a few days late. Spending our pandemic holiday outside was just what we needed! We weren’t isolated but didn’t need a mask since hardly anyone else was there. Now, I will lend my thoughts to Christmas and how best to hold off the feelings of sadness and loss that comes with holidays during COVID 19 times. The guilt of being together versus the lonliness of not being together may temporary be reconciled by fresh air and exercise. Stay safe and happy holidays everyone!
The day use area consists of a parking lot and a viewing platform. Once you see the view, it may be hard to resists the hike.
A marked trail leading to the ocean is easily to access from the parking lot. There are two main hiking options. One is a 5 mile long loop and the other is a 2 mile, out and back trail to the coast.
We started our hike around noon, hadn’t eaten lunch yet, didn’t pack water or snacks and opted for the shorter of the two trails. For those of you that have hiked in dunes before, there is a constant false sense of distance. Even with knowing that ahead of time, we were all surprised when we rounded a corner and still had not made it to the coast. It is longer than it seems but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.
Wooden posts mark the trail through the dunes. The trail through the forested sections is obvious. Even on a hot July day, the beach was nearly empty when we arrived. I can’t imagine it ever gets much more crowded. If you are hoping to avoid crowds and get some exercise, this is the place!
2. Wear Shoes.
The sand can be hot! When you are not walking on hot sand, you may be walking on hard packed forest trails. Don’t leave your shoes at the car and chose your footwear carefully!
3. Bring Water and Snacks For An Afternoon At Oregon Dunes Day Use Area.
This seems obvious but we are famous for being underprepared or overprepared. I can’t decide if we are over confident, lazy, or impulsive but it is not unusual for us to check out a hike and end up 2 hours down the trail without snacks.
We started this hike by walking to the viewing platform, then onto the dune, then down the hill, and so on. I think you get the idea! Hiking on the dunes and into the forest was just too much fun and we didn’t want to stop once we started.
4. Be Prepared For Signs Giving Instructions In Case Of An Earthquake and Tsunami.
For those of you that have spent much time on the Oregon coast, this shouldn’t be too surprising. I typically read the sign and keep walking. By the time I hit the ocean on this hike, I don’t think I could have evacuated very quickly in the event of a tsunami. We all weigh our risk, I guess.
5. Dress For Exposure To The Elements.
In addition to shoes, I would recommend the following items:
The Oregon Beach Bill was signed into law in 1967 and guarenteed public beach access to the 362 miles of Oregon coastline. The impact of this is obvious when you look at an Oregon map. The western shore is dense with beaches and parks. Here is a small sample of Oregon beaches between Newport and Waldport.
This is one of our favorites. It is part of Brian Booth State Park and it has it all!
Ona Beach parking area is framed by Beaver Creek to the south and picnic areas to the west. There is space to launch a kayak, toss out a fishing lure, or have a picnic. You will find plenty of picnic tables with room for lawn games if you chose. You can follow the creek to a sandy beach or cross a foot bridge to the Pacific ocean. The Pacific Beach is wide open, clean, and not crowded.
Accross the road is the second half of Brian Booth State Park. Beaver Creek State Natural Area is east of Highway 101. There are two designated boat launches within a mile from the highway. You can also find a boardwalk and hiking trails.
Driftwood Beach has a restroom and a short wooden walk way down to the beach. It sits up above the beach abit so be prepared to walk down a short but relatively steep trail to the beach. The beach seems to go on forever in either direction. There is perfect sand and wide open space.
There was plenty of wind when we were there. It may be a great place to fly a kite! The parking lot is long and narrow so I was unable to see the beach while cooking lunch in our van. I had a cell phone signal though so it was easy to let everyone know when lunch was served!
You won’t find this one on the map! This is a small gravel parking lot north of Ona Beach. From there, you walk down an embankment to the ocean. It seems to be a local’s favorite. It gets crowded with people walking dogs and riding bikes after dinner and the parking spots are hit or miss. We had it ourselves one day and could barely find a comfortable parking spot the next. Houses tower high above the beach on either side of the access and Seal Rock can be seen to the south.
Packing List for Oregon Beaches
Bring layers. If you have not been Oregon beaches, you will likely be surprised about the temperatures. We took a day trip in July and went from 90 degrees in the Willamette Valley to 67 degrees at the coast.
Bring plenty of snacks and drinks. We always stay longer than we plan.
Our second time at the Dee Wright Observatory was even more impressive than our first. We ended up there by default when the campground we aimed for was full. Oregon trip planning isn’t really something that I do very well. I actually don’t tend to do any trip planning at all.
Since we have been unable to get to our cottage this year, I have been trying to fill in the gap by buying another kayak and googling every freshwater lake in Oregon.
Oregon Trip Planning: Santiam Pass
We packed everything from kayaks to remote control trucks and headed to Big Lake Campground, near Sisters, Oregon. Most of the campground is first come, first served. It was mid-week and I was foolishly hopeful. The campground was full. For those of you interested in Big Lake Campground, it shares a driveway with Hoodoo ski area and is adjacent to Big Lake Youth Camp, which happened to be one of CD’s re-supply stops when he hiked the PCT. The campground was crowded and the sites were small. Other than feeling bad about driving all that way and not getting a campsite, I wasn’t too disappointed to not camp there.
Camping everywhere between there and Sisters was full. We headed back west on 242.
McKenzie Highway runs between Sisters and Belknap Springs and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I recommend this route as long as you are not in a hurry, enjoy driving twenty miles per hour, and are not prone to motional sickness.
If you chose this route, the pay off is one of the most interesting lava fields I have seen.
It wasn’t long before we caught our first glimpse. The lava runs right up to the road to the north and towers high above it but to the south there is just the usual landscape.
We hoped to camp at Lava Camp Lake Campground. Be careful not to confuse this with Lava Lake Campground, east of Bend. The entrance to Lava Camp Lake Campground is just before McKenize Pass summit when headed westbound. The entrance is difficult to find and is a dirt two track on the south side of the road. You follow this for approximately two miles to a day use area and a hand full of camp sites. Most sites are not on the lake. I wouldn’t have wanted to drive anything higher or much longer than our Sprinter down the road and when we got there, the campsites were full, of course. It is National Forest and I am sure some people slept in day use area parking but we chose a brief walk and drove on again.
Less than a half of a mile up hill is one of the most unique places that I have been.
We pulled into the parking lot of Dee Wright Observatory, I opened the door and set up the stove. It was well passed dinner time and we all needed a break and a second to think of what to do next. I was lighting up the stove when some people a few spots away shouted: “you must have the same idea as us.”
It took for a moment to see what was going on but then I realized that this couple was setting up a tent on the sidewalk, a table next to thier car, and two camera tripods. Another couple at the other end of the parking lot were sitting in thier car playing cards and eating chips. Everyone was there to see the comet NEOWISE.
Dark Skies, Oregon Trip Planning
Here we were at the top of McKenzie Pass, surrounded by 8 miles of black lava rock and not an artifical light in sight. It was nearly dusk. The kids and CD went for a hike while I made dinner. We moved the kayaks to the sidewalk and turned the van around for prime coment viewing. We just happened to find a great camping spot!
The excitement in the parking lot was obvious. People were chatting and pointing while be attentive to social distancing. It was helpful that there are two large parking lots and there was never more than six or eight cars at a time.
Between the cool temperatures and the wind, there were few mosquitos. We opened our van doors and watched the sky. We saw the comet in between camera flashes. It was good for the soul.
Cars came and went until midnight or so and then it was quiet and dark. We slept until 9:00 and woke up feeling like we had landed on the moon!
From the observatory you can see glaciers on the Three Sisters, views of Mt. Washington, and random trees growing out of lava flows. There is a paved walkway with signs discussing different features of the lava flow.
CD is pretty much always looking for PCT access. Approximately a 1/4 mile west of the observatory, on the north side of the road, there is PCT day use parking. You can hike southbound and head towards the observatory or northbound and head for Belknap Crater. We did both and they were both amazing! The landscape is so unique. Wildflowers, red dirt, and trees touch fields of black lava. The lava towards 10 or 20 feet above the ground at times and it feels bizarre to imagine how it just stopped flowing and piled up in such dramatic fashion.
The trail is well marked. Footing on the lava is a bit tricky but the dirt trail is easy walking. For this PCT day hike you don’t need much more than a parking permit, sunscreen, snacks, and camera. Enjoy!
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