Tips for a Successful and Fun Snowshoe Excursion Near Willamette Pass, Oregon

My dad and my in-laws are hardcore ski bums. You know, the type of avid skiers that get up at the crack of dawn in frigid weather to make sure their day at the slopes is as long and value-packed as possible, and they do not under any circumstance hang out in the lodge partaking in any apres-ski activities.

Needless to say, while my husband and I both have enjoyed skiing over the years, neither of us enjoyed it enough to invest the time, money (lots of it), and energy it takes to get a dog-sitter lined up and our family of four out the door in the middle of winter. Yet, we wanted to find an inexpensive way to enjoy the mountains in winter, so we thought we’d give snowshoeing a try. We’ve gone on three snowshoeing excursions now near the Willamette Pass, including one with the family dog, and while each trip has led to some lessons learned we keep heading out again. 

Where To Go

Gold Lake Sno-Park, Willamette National Forest, Oregon

This popular snow park is located equidistant between Eugene (1 hour, 14 minutes) and Bend (1 hour, 16 minutes) on Highway 58 at the highest peak in the Willamette National Forest. It features a network of loop trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, a popular sledding hill, and several warming huts and shelters (closed for the 2020-2021 season). Dogs are also allowed on these trails, which is a great option if you’d like to bring your family dog along. Sno-Park permit required. Click here for a map of trails. 

Salt Creek Falls Snow Trail & Diamond Creek Falls Loop, Willamette National Forest, Oregon 

Another stunning snowshoeing option, very close to Gold-Lake trails and a 1+ hour drive from both Eugene and Bend, is the Salt Creek Falls Trail. Salt Creek Falls and Diamond Creek Falls are popular hiking destinations year-round, and in the winter months, the falls transform into pure magic. You can embark on an easy 1.4-mile round-trip snowshoe trek to take in the breathtaking frozen falls and then hit up the nearby sledding park for a fun-filled family day. More avid snowshoers can pursue additional routes through Diamond Creek Falls trails, too. Leashed dogs are allowed. Sno-Park permit required.

A frozen waterfall is a sight to behold!

Odell Lake, Deschutes National Forest, Oregon

Stunning Odell Lake and the Odell Lake Resort are located near Willamette Pass on the “Deschutes side” within the Deschutes National Forest. Driving time is 1 hour, 23 minutes from Eugene, and 1 hour, 10 minutes from Bend. The trails are open to people staying at the resort as well as day-use visitors with a purchased permit. Day-use visitors can access the groomed trails and take in the stunning lake views. Snowshoes are also available for rent at the lodge, but they are limited in children’s sizes so call ahead. Dogs are not allowed on the groomed trails but they can visit the picnic area near the lake. Day-use permit required. 

Tips for a Successful Snowshoe Outing

  • Pick a fair-weather day to get started, and always double-check conditions ahead of time. Twice, now, there has been a very thin snowpack, and a few weeks later it was snowing buckets. (Keeping in mind, though, that when the weather is perfect the trails may be packed.)
  • Reserve snowshoes ahead of time as they can sell out.
  • Don’t leave too late! On a pleasant weekend, it’s likely the trails (and parking lots) will be packed.
  • Bring all meals, snacks, warm drinks, and COVID-19 supplies for the day (most lodges & shelters are closed due to coronavirus).
  • If you’d like to bring your dog, make sure that dogs are allowed on the trail, and what the specific rules are. We received inconsistent info about this.

Additional Snowshoeing Tips for Families

  • Double-check your snowshoes to make sure that they are the correct size and that all buckles and straps work. (The last time we went snowshoeing the rental place tried to send me off with toddler-sized snowshoes for my teenaged daughter, and last year we discovered my son’s buckles were broken after hauling everything out to the trailhead.)
  • Don’t leave too late! On a pleasant weekend, it’s likely the trails (and parking lots) will be packed.
  • Wear warm waterproof boots and get dressed in your snow pants before you get there. Wrestling kids into their gear in the parking lot often does not make for a positive start.
  • Bring all meals, snacks, warm drinks, and COVID-19 supplies for the day (most lodges & shelters are closed due to coronavirus).
  • For many kids, snowshoeing is just a hike in the cold, so it can be hard to motivate them. Bring plenty of incentives for the trail (M&M’s or trail mix with chocolate) and consider an agreed-upon reward for afterward like hitting the sledding hill.
  • If you’d like to bring your dog, make sure that dogs are allowed on the trail, and what the specific rules are. We received inconsistent info about this.
  • Bring a friend! If you can coordinate with another family, bringing a friend for your child works wonders, the year we invited my daughter’s bestie she forgot to complain the entire time because they were so busy chatting.
Bringing a friend for your child is probably my #1 tip for a successful outing!

Snowshoeing With Dogs

When we first got our pup, we hired a dog sitter for the day to watch him, thinking we couldn’t take him on our winter excursion. We’ve now learned that snowshoeing with dogs is not only possible but also great fun for many dogs. A few considerations:

  • As with all dog excursions, make sure to bring all supplies such as waste bags, leash and harness, a collapsible bowl, and extra drinking water.
  • After doing some research, you may choose to get your dog a winter coat, depending on your dog’s breed, the thickness of his/her coat, and how adventurous you plan to be. Since we were going with our kids, we weren’t out too long, and it wasn’t especially frigid so this likely wasn’t necessary.
  • Consider getting dog booties if your dog will tolerate them. (For us, they were a total bust, and we sent them back.) Others have had better results with a paw wax, like “Mushers Secret,” and checking paws regularly. 

Where To Rent Snowshoes

Berg’s Ski & Snowboard Shop 
367 West 13th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401541
(800) 800-1953 toll-free or (541) 683-1300

A good option if you are coming from the Eugene area.

Oakridge Bike Shop – Willamette Mountain Mercantile 
48080 OR-58
Oakridge, OR 97463
(541) 782-1800

This is a good option if you are traveling down Highway 58 from Eugene, Cottage Grove, or Creswell as it is en route to the pass. They are happy to take reservations over the phone and will have your rentals available for curbside pickup without entering the shop.

Odell Lake Lodge & Resort
21501 East Odell Road
Crescent, Oregon 97733
(541) 433-2540

If you’d like to pick up your gear near Odell Lake, the Odell Lake Lodge & Resort rents equipment, but they are limited in children’s sizes so make sure to call ahead about availability if you are planning a family snowshoe trip. The time we went they only had one set of children’s snowshoes, and the buckle was broken.

Pine Mountain Sports
255 SW Century Drive 
Bend, OR 97702
(541) 385-8080

This Bend area rental place tends to run out of gear on the weekend, so, make sure to plan ahead!

Sunnyside Sports
930 NW Newport Avenue
Bend, OR 97701
(541) 382-8018

Same as above, this Bend area rental place tends to run out of gear on the weekend, so make sure to call ahead.

Despite a few setbacks, meltdowns, and lessons learned, on the drive home from our last family snowshoe day, moods were light. After warming up, the kids were bubbly and happy, and even singing together in the backseat. With all that is going on in the world, it was so lovely to be in the mountains. And I would definitely go again, incorporating a few lessons learned, to make the experience even better next time.


Copyright © 2021 Tournesol Adventures. All rights reserved.

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