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Winter and Spring Backpacking

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Most people consider backpacking something for just the summer, but winter and spring offer many opportunities. The weather can be bad and snow closes many hikes, but it is possible to find good places to go backpacking. The lack of other people makes up for some of these difficulties. Even very popular places in the summer can be deserted in the winter.

There are two problems. If it's raining all the time, even with the best gear, it's difficult to have fun. And if there's snow, it's difficult to find where the trail is, if the snow is soft your feet sink in although skis or snowshoes help, and if the snow is hard it can be difficult where there are steep places.

We're not talking about snow camping here, which is a totally different subject. For that you need warmer gear, snowshoes or skis, white gas or inverted canister stove,...

Some good winter hikes

  • Deschutes River on the East side where it's much drier and it's at low elevation so there's not a lot of snow. There are times when this is brutally cold or it's impossible to get to because the Columbia Gorge is icy so consult weather reports.
  • Eagle Creek Low elevation so usually snow free. This can be over-run with people if the weather is at all nice. There are places where water drips down from up aove and can form impassable ice sheets.
  • Salmon River This trail is usually snow free in the spring. About an 8 mile trip that can be extended further by adding the Old Salmon River Trail Section.
  • Olympics North Coast Usually snow free. It can be very rainy and stormy so consult weather reports. You generally have to time it with tides, so there's about 7 good days, 7 bad days,... consult tide tables. About 6 hours from Portland.
  • Siouxan Creek Low elevation canyon hike. A little higher elevation so not open all the time.
  • McKenzie River Trail Portions are open in to the winter. Beware of bikers. Up to 26 miles one way.
  • Metolius River Trail Fairly low elevation, should be accessible around Late March. This is East of the Cascades so drier than Portland, but because it isn't that far East, it's not as dry as, for example, the Deschutes River.
  • Rogue River Trail Low elevation canyon open almost all the time year-round. 41 miles one way. About 4.5 hours from Portland.
  • Mill Creek Wilderness This is East of the Cascades so drier, but it's at a little higher elevation so it's snowy until March or so. Also, because of the elevation it's not as dry as lower down on the Deschutes. There are other possibilities in the Ochocos.


Some Spring Backpacks - snow melts off April through June or so:

  • Ramona Falls Ramona Falls is fairly low elevation but crossing the Sandy before they put the bridge in can be tricky. Earlier in the season maybe you can find somewhere between Lolo Pass Road and the Ramona Falls trailhead, when there's still snow preventing cars. They often close the road at the Sandy River.
  • East Zigzag via Burnt Lake Earlier maybe you're lucky getting to Burnt Lake. At some point it's possible to get up to East Zigzag. There are other similar routes on Zigzag Ridge.
  • Herman Creek Herman Creek is another low elevation river canyon, but a little higher than Eagle Creek. Also, much less popular. Depending on the snow level, maybe you can get up Nick Eaton Ridge, Indian Point, up to Wahtum Lake,...
  • Badger Creek Badger Creek is a mid elevation river canyon, maybe open in April. It's on the East side of the Cascades so drier than Portland. The roads are always "open" but may be snow covered. It's easier from Tygh Valley. If there isn't too much snow, maybe you can get all the way to Badger Lake or some of the ridges above.


Other Longer Options that Require More Individualized Planning

  • Hells Canyon/Snake River Trail. About 6 hours from Portland.
  • The Lost Coast. About 9 hours from Portland, in Northern California. igorkoltunov climbwild
  • North Fork John Day Wilderness
  • Olympic National Park Many of the River Valleys are fairly snow free, including the Bogachiel, Dosewallips, Duckabush, Hoh, and Queets rivers. The Enchanted Valley is open pretty early and there are more bear reports from there than just about anywhere.
  • Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness - drive to Troy, OR and hike up the Wenaha River. Usually open in April or May. Or Northern areas near Dayton open in June. Early season is best before it dries up.


In order to decide where to go, you need good weather information:

  • NOAA 10 day weather forecast has maps showing precipitation amount and temperature for 10 days
  • NOAA 7 day forecast what's good about this is you can scroll around on the map and select a location to get the forecast for that spot
  • NOAA Radar shows where the rain was in the last few hours - better for deciding when to go out for a walk
  • NOAA snow model shows the amount of snow on the ground. This is centered on Mt Hood, but you can scroll around anywhere in the U.S. One problem is it gives the amount for about 1 square mile areas, so it's not going to be very good for narrow ridges, but you can take that into account. And, it's a model so it's only so accurate, but it gives you an idea.


Some portlandhikers.orgs threads that discuss this:

Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.