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Favorite Winter Hikes

Published: February 14, 2020

 

Bundle up, pull on a warm hat and boots that can handle the mud – you're going winter hiking! Getting outside when its cold, wet and maybe even snowy has its own rewards. View nature through its winter lens, the bare bones of trees, dark moss, glittering ice and silent woods. 

Here are some favorite hikes during the winter season – in sunshine, rain or snow. Whichever path you choose, make sure to plan ahead, pack out what you pack in and say hello to fellow adventurers you meet on the trail. Follow all the tips on this outdoor Adventure Checklist and make the most of your time in Oregon's outdoors!

Spencer Butte

Hiking Spencer Butte by Taj Morgan
Hiking Spencer Butte by Taj Morgan
 

A year-round favorite, this short but steep, switch-back trail summits Spencer Butte at 2,000 ft. From Spencer Butte Park at the South Willamette Trailhead, the hike is just under two miles. The majority of the trail is beneath a thick Douglas fir canopy and buffered by lush ferns which eventually give way to rock and scrub brush. Expect other hikers along this very popular path which is tantalizingly close to Eugene – making it the go-to favorite for locals. When the ground is dry, you may encounter trail runners. During the wet season, be prepared for mud, puddles and rivulets crossing the otherwise well-maintained path. From its rocky and open crown, survey sweeping views of Eugene and the South Willamette Valley. In cold, wet weather it may be raining at the trailhead and snowing at the top! Or you might find yourself above the clouds, looking down at the billowing gray mist swirling below – or perhaps you'll be warmed in the glow of winter sunshine and rest with your face titled up to the golden rays. Whatever nature serves up, the experience is often breathtakingly beautiful. 

Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah

Mount Pisgah by Melanie Griffin
Mount Pisgah by Melanie Griffin
 

If a good view from the top is the reward you seek, you'll also want to hike Mt. Pisgah in Burford Park. On the edge of Eugene and Springfield, Buford Park is a diverse natural area crisscrossed by 17 miles of trails. With a choice of trails, this is a great destination for winter hikes. Depending on your mood, abilities and weather, you can charge straight up Mt. Pisgah on the main graveled path or you can choose a meandering trail looping along the mountain base. Many of the trails traverse wide open meadows, so on a clear day you are bathed in maximum sunshine. However, in less charitable weather it can mean exposure to the rain or wind. Dogs are permitted under voice command on many of the trails, while some trails are shared use with horseback riders. This is also a popular birding destination. As this is a Lane County Park, be prepared with a park permit at the trailhead.

Middle Fork Path

Clearwater Park winter sunrise by Melanie Griffin
Clearwater Park winter sunrise by Melanie Griffin
 

At Springfield's Clearwater Park there is plenty of parking and easy access to the Middle Fork Path. The flat, paved path runs four miles along the Willamette River and connects to miles of other paths for ambitious hikers wishing to extend their adventure. The smooth, wide path is ideal for wheelchairs, jogging strollers and bicycles, so be alert to those moving at a different pace. Please stay on the path and back from the river's edge which can be swollen and fast moving as a result of winter storms. The Middle Fork Path experience is made all the better by its close proximity to Main Street's restaurants. After a brisk walk along the river, settle in with rewarding craft beer at Plank Town Brewing Company or cozy up with a hot cup of coffee at the Washburne Cafe.

Sweet Creek Falls

Hiking Sweet Creek Trail by Emily Forsha
Hiking Sweet Creek Trail by Emily Forsha
 

In the Coast Range, just minutes from Mapleton, Sweet Creek Falls is an excellent winter hiking destination. A family-friendly trail interspersed with four trail heads makes it easy to customize the length of your hike. Just like the many access points, small but lovely waterfalls and shallow pools are at intervals along the trail, so no matter where you start you'll enjoy nature's sweet displays. Be prepared for a series of catwalk bridges skirting the creek which are loved by children but might frighten some dogs. Bring hats and gloves, as the trails are shady, and please stay off the slick mossy rocks to avoid an unpleasant, unplanned polar bear swim.

Amanda's Trail at Cape Perpetua

Amanda Trail on the Oregon Coast by Melanie Griffin
Amanda's Trail on the Oregon Coast by Melanie Griffin
 

The forested rocky coastline is a beautiful place to hike in the winter. This approximately three mile trail is moderate to difficult as it winds through forest and then plunges uphill to the summit of Cape Perpetua with amazing ocean views. On a clear day look for whales as you climb Amanda's Trail. On a foggy day, prepare for a damp and more rugged hike. The trail and a memorial statue along the trail, is dedicated to Amanda, a blind Coos Tribe woman in the 1860s who was forced to walk the coastline as Oregon's native people were relocated. The Cape Perpetua trailhead parking is within the Siuslaw National Forest and requires a federal recreation pass or day use fee.

Salt Creek Falls

Salt Creek Falls Observation Area in Winter by Taj Morgan
Salt Creek Falls Observation Area in Winter by Taj Morgan

 

When winter snows blanket the mountains, Salt Creek Falls is one of the best snowshoeing destinations. A maintained Sno-Park includes parking and restroom facilities and a short, if snowy, walk to an ice-encrusted waterfall. If the snow hasn't yet arrived, or has already melted, a winter hike here is still spectacular because this is Oregon's second tallest waterfall. Adventurers can also hike to Diamond Creek Falls from here. Afterwards, drive into Oakridge for a cozy seat at the local pub or an additional ramble through Oakridge's lush Greenwaters Park.

Take Care Out There

Snowshoeing at Salt Creek Park by Taj Morgan
Snowshoeing at Salt Creek Park by Taj Morgan

 

While our temperate climate usually delivers just clouds and occasional rain, we can sometimes get snow down to the valley floor. Check the weather report and road conditions before departing. Dress for changing weather conditions with warm layers and a rain jacket. Pack water and snacks, and make sure you have blankets and supplies in the car. Always let someone know where you are planning to hike and what time you except to be back. If you wish to snowshoe, check the snow levels at one of the regional Sno-Parks. With a little preparation, you'll be ready to explore the rewards of winter in Oregon's outdoors!

Top photo: Snowshoeing Salt Creek Falls by Samantha Inouye

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Author: Taj Barnhart Morgan

Taj Barnhart Morgan is the Director of Content Strategy for Travel Lane County. A journalism graduate from the University of Oregon, Taj has two decades of special event management and hospitality marketing experience in San Diego, CA and Maui, HI. Passionate about mothering, and back to her Oregon roots, she is discovering the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region all over again through the eyes of her daughter.