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Snow & Sun When, You Hit It Right

Central Oregon has plenty of both

Published in the November 2009 Issue Published online: Nov 14, 2009 Travel LANE LINDSTROM

Snow & SunWe missed it by that much.

Central Oregon brags about getting 300 days of sunshine a year. We just happened to snowmobile there during two of the other 65 days of not-so-sunny skies.

Had we waited just a couple of days we would have hit the area under glorious blue skies and several inches of new snow. Sucks to be us.

However, one of the measuring sticks of how good a snowmobiling area is, is that it is still fun despite challenging conditions. When it comes to central Oregon, and more specifically the Mt. Bachelor area, you can count on it.

South SisterSure, every snowmobiler wants the utopia of sledding-fresh powder and bluebird skies. But we can still manage to have a good time if we have at least one of the two-that would be the snow part. And that there was around Mt. Bachelor with plenty more falling from the sky during the two days we rode. Depending on what part of the area you were in during late February, anywhere from 6-15 inches of snow fell in about two days. And while we tend to be a bit skeptical when we see the snowfall figures ski resorts tout, when Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort claims it received 531 inches of snow last winter, well, we tend to believe that one. We experienced a small part of that snow as it blanketed the Cascade Range in central Oregon. Just to verify the copious snowfall, we did an Internet search of the local snotel sites and found that at one site there was 133.9 inches of snow on the ground on April 4 while at another snotel site there was 117.4 inches on the same day on the ground.

The nearly continuous snowfall during our central Oregon venture forced us to stick to the groomed trails more than we would have liked, but we still managed to get off trail and play in the trees, which offered the best visibility. There wasn't a lot of open hillside playing going on because of the poor light but our good snowmobiling sources couldn't stop raving about all the magnificent hillclimbing and boondocking that there is along this section of the Cascades.

Spectacular Stretch

Central OregonCentral Oregon is home to what we consider the most spectacular section of the Cascade Mountain range, which stretches from border to border in the state. Yes, there's Mt. Hood in the northern part of Oregon's Cascades and it is one awesome mountain-but it's one. In central Oregon you have the three Sisters (North, elevation 10,085 feet; Middle, 10,047 feet; and South, 10,358 feet), Broken Top (9,175 feet), Mt. Bachelor (9,065 feet) and several other mountain peaks that form the backbone of the Cascades.

The cool thing about the trail system in this part of Oregon is that there's a groomed trail (or you can find your own route) to the top of many of the area's smaller mountains (mostly those in the 6,000-7,000-foot range). So while you can't ride to the top of any of the Sisters or Mt. Bachelor, you can gain some elevation and get a great view of all those and many others along the Cascade Range. Combine that with the usual abundant snowfall and it's a great snowmobile vacation. Utopia.

Broken TopWe covered a lot of territory on our first day near Mt. Bachelor, first heading to some of the most popular play areas by Tumalo Mountain, Moon Mountain and Dutchman Flat. Because of the conditions, our little band of riders had to pick and choose where we played off trail but it turned out we found a few pockets of untouched snow in the trees. One of those areas was between the 170 and 180 junctions on Trail No. 7. At the one edge of the play area there was a decent vertical rise that wasn't very tall but it was fun to bust up through and drop off.

Not far from there is a somewhat hidden hillclimb area on an unnamed mountain/butte (basically north of Tumalo Mountain) that we managed to track up. The snow was great on that hillside and there was decent visibility so we could hammer the throttle without too many worries. Had there been bright skies, well.

There is another bigger play area near Moon Mountain and some fairly technical riding as you head north toward Three Creek Lake Sno Park.

Wary Of Wilderness

Mt. BachelorAlong much of the western edge of the Mt. Bachelor riding area is a big Wilderness so you have to pay attention to the map to steer clear of those areas. It's even clearly noted on the trail map that Wilderness violations bring a $5,000 fine and six months in jail. Yea, it's not worth the risk.

Other areas we hit our first day include playing along Quinn Creek near Hosmer Lake, riding near Red Crater, zipping up to the top of Sheridan Mountain and poking around on various hillsides and along ungroomed forest roads. It was a virtual white out on top of Sheridan Mountain but you could tell there were some great boondocking opportunities in the trees all around the shelter up on top.

Crane Prairie ReservoirWe did catch a break in the clouds on our way back down from Sheridan Mountain, enough so that we caught a brief glimpse of Crane Prairie Reservoir and Lookout Mountain, both to the south-areas we'd have to explore another day. The Waldo Lake and Crescent Lake riding areas are also south of Mt. Bachelor and trails connect those two systems with the Mt. Bachelor trail system so you can ride as long as you find gas.

Our trip also took us to the Wanoga Butte Viewpoint and along the trails on the eastern side of the Mt. Bachelor trail system, where the traffic was a bit heavier than on the west side near Elk Lake, Lave Lake and the unplowed but groomed Cascade Lakes Highway. That stands to reason as the sno parks that serve the Mt. Bachelor area are on the east side of the trail system.

Parking Your Truck

South SisterThree sno parks-Edison, Wanoga and Dutchman-provide parking for snowmobilers coming from Bend. Dutchman is the most popular and fills up fast as it's used by not only snowmobilers but skiers, snowshoers and dog sledders. If you want a spot in Dutchman Sno Park, you'd better show up early. It's not very big so it doesn't take many rigs to fill it up. Dutchman is right across the highway from Mt. Bachelor Ski Area and is where plowing is stopped on the Cascade Lakes Highway.

The Wanoga Sno Park is about eight miles away by sled and is the first sno park winter enthusiasts get to when coming from Bend but it's also about 800 feet lower in elevation, which could be the difference between rain at Wanoga and snow at Dutchman. The Moon Country Sno-Mobilers have a nice warming hut at Wanoga. Area snowmobilers are working hard with the national forest service to get another sno park built between Wanoga and Dutchman at Kapka Butte, which would give winter recreationists another high elevation parking area. The project is still in the works but snowmobilers are hopeful the sno park will be built.

Travel infoThe new sno park would help alleviate some of the pressure on the other parking areas near Mt. Bachelor. There is no doubt that is not only one of the most popular snowmobiling spots in Oregon, but for all winter recreationists from cross country and backcountry skiers to snowshoers to dog sledders. However, the more than 250 miles of groomed trails allow snowmobilers to quickly get away from the crowds and find some space all their own.

No mention about snowmobiling in central Oregon would be complete without hitting on the Paulina Lake and Newberry National Volcanic Monument, which are both south of Bend across U.S. Highway 97. Those are also prime riding areas worth a visit-we'll get to those on another trip, hopefully soon.

We're also hoping our travel plans can get us back to the Mt. Bachelor area soon so we can experience fun in the snow and sun.