I’m itching for summer. Not even summer, actually. Moderately not-freezing temperatures and a few days without snow flurries would be enough to lift my spirits. But, alas, it’s still winter. I can’t really complain, nor can I argue with the calendar. While we’ve had a few sneak-peeks at the springtime thaw, it’s anything but temperate out. The weather is playing by the same rules it always does, but this year it’s bumming me out.
Things weren’t always this way. When I was a kid, winter meant snow days, Christmas break, and ski days with family. This fancy-free life lasted through college. When school ended and a “real job” began, things changed. Other than the occasional ski vacation, we mostly had to become weekend warriors. We prayed that powder days would coincide with our days off. When they didn’t, we’d cross-country ski the trail system near Mt. Rainier or take a cold and rainy hike in town.
Basically, we made the best of it. We took every chance we could to get outside and play, because time was limited. But something changed when we had kids.
We decided pretty early on that I was going to stay at home with the kids. Lucky for me, I’ve started a career that I can mostly do at home. Unlike a traditional office job, I actually have the flexibility to get outside during normal work hours. Despite all the “free time” I have during the day, it’s been hard this year to feel the joy of winter.
Kids just change things, and I’m pregnant with kiddo number two. I’m not allowed to ski past a certain point, so as to make sure I don’t fall and hurt the baby. Plus, getting out with a toddler is a circus. There are diapers and snacks to haul around, naptimes to coordinate with, and a dog to keep track of at the same time.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m completely happy with my role, and we do get outside a lot.
And please trust me when I say it’s not an issue of being a fair-weathered parent. I dragged my poor son through the elements almost daily while writing Day Hiking: Bend & Central Oregon. To this day, he loves putting on his boots and tromping around in the rain. He’s used to dirt under his nails and mud on his shoes.
He’s an adaptable little kid, but it’s still a kid. As much as I can bundle him up, there’s still a limit to how long a toddler can withstand winter winds and sideways sleet. When the ground is as slippery as a skating rink, sometimes it seems easier to figure out something to do inside.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to still get outdoors in Central Oregon, even in the middle of winter. Start by heading east. The eastern side of Central Oregon is lower elevation, drier, and more exposed. It typically retains less snow. Check out the Badlands Wilderness Area, Maston Area near Cline Butte, or the trails around Crooked River Ranch.
Note: Carrying your kid while snowshoeing or skiing is generally not a good idea. It’s not super safe due to slippery conditions, higher speeds, and the cold weather. Better to bundle your kids up and find a natural area for them to run around.
If you’re trying to wrangle a toddler and a dog at the same time (and if your kids likes dogs), take a walk from the Good Dog Trailhead. Everyone can run around off-leash, and the trails connect to the Deschutes River Trail. Plan on doing more playing than hiking.
As the months go by and the sun beats down on winter’s leftovers, new terrain is exposed. Early spring is a good time to scope out lower elevation waterfalls as they trickle into rivers below. Despite the damp conditions, early hiking season in Central Oregon is typically still a tad too cold for mosquitoes. Don boots that you don’t mind getting sloppy, but leave the deet at home.
Each week reveals new possibilities and areas to explore. Bolstered by snowmelt in late spring, lakes get deeper and rivers get wilder. Major recreation roads, such as Cascade Lakes Highway and McKenzie Pass, typically open in June – sometimes in May. This doesn’t guarantee that the trailheads are accessible, but once the snow gates are open, you’re welcome to explore. Start with the lower trailheads and move your way up in elevation as the days get warmer.
I’m happy to announce that getting outside in Central Oregon is going to be even easier this summer, as my new guidebook will be coming out just in time for the start of hiking season. Look for Day Hiking: Bend & Central Oregon online and in stores a little before Memorial Day. Get your preorder in now to get one of the first copies as soon as it’s released. With up to date maps, directions, specs, and descriptions, it has everything you need to explore this area’s most beautiful hikes.
Enjoy the last week of winter!