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I’ve always wanted to try snowshoeing, but the timing has never worked, and I had no idea what to do or where to get gear. Then our recent work with a local newspaper, Free for All News, opened a new opportunity to us: we were invited to participate in an activity with Willamalane Parks & Recreation District. I browsed Willamalane’s guide, chock full of activities, including outdoor trips like a guided snowshoeing hike at Gold Lake Sno-Park. This was my chance! I needed a photographer, so they also welcomed my partner in crime (and daughter), Camille.
Before I jump into the fun, I want to let you know that Willamalane has a couple of upcoming winter trips…if you like what you see here, I highly encourage you to book a trip with them!
Snowshoeing at Gold Lake Sno-Park
Gold Lake Sno-Park is located on Highway 58, about 26 miles east of Oakridge, Oregon. There is a large parking lot with bathrooms and a small lodge run by the Willamette Backcountry Ski Patrol. Off the parking lot is a network of trails that lead to snow shelters, scenic overlooks, and the Pacific Crest Trail. The Willamette Pass Ski Area is right across the highway with amenities including hot food.
Our Willamalane Parks & Rec trip planned for a 3-mile snowshoe hike to the Odell Lake overlook, with a stop at the Westview Shelter for lunch. It is advertised for beginning- to moderate-skill levels, with a slight elevation gain. This particular trip includes both transportation and the snowshoe rentals. This sounded like a perfect trip for two beginners!
Before the Trip
Before the trip, there is a mandatory meeting at Willamalane’s Bob Keefer Center to learn about dressing properly for the weather in layers. Don’t miss this meeting!! It’s very helpful, and the guide, Wayne, is very knowledgeable and willing to share information. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, but still learned a lot from Wayne. Particularly, how to prepare for a possibly rainy day in the snow. Those are conditions I usually avoid! Most notable was his advice to avoid cotton clothing; synthetics wick the moisture away and keep you warm even when wet. Good advice considering our weather report was predicting rain!
The day of our trip finally arrived. Camille and I were so excited! We’d pulled together the best gear we could while hoping for a dry day. Trips are limited to 8 people, plus the driver and guide. Our trip included 7 people, so it was a nice-sized group. Transportation is included for trips on a Willamalane bus. The bus seats 13 people plus the driver, so we each had plenty of space.
After about 90 minutes, we pulled into the sno-park’s parking lot. We were all eager to get going, so we geared up and headed for the trailhead.
Our first stop was at the Westview Shelter, a 3-sided snow shelter built in 1986 by the Forest Service. The Westview Shelter is 1 mile from the parking lot, but before we knew it, the sloped roof came into view. The shelter includes a cast iron wood stove with room for four people to sleep above in a loft. It is available for anyone to use in the winter, first come, first served and should be shared with everyone. Volunteers stock the shelter with wood during the summer, use it sparingly so it lasts all winter! The shelter is open from November 15 to April 30.
Snowshoe to Odell Lake
After leaving the shelter, our next destination is a scenic spot over Odell Lake. By now, it was raining lightly, but the 40°F day and the exertion kept us all warm. The next part of the trail wound slightly uphill through the woods. Even as a beginner, I found this portion of the trail to be easy to moderate. I did pull off for a breather a couple of times, but this wasn’t a big deal; almost everyone stopped at one point or another. Our driver, Bri, brought up the tail and waited for anyone who needed to stop. If we started to get too far apart, then the entire group stopped to wait. Wayne and Bri ensured that no one could get lost or separated from the group.
The trail through the forest was lovely and, except for the crunching under our snowshoes, quiet. The mist fell gently, but didn’t spoil the day at all. Sometimes, we stopped just to listen. A winter forest sounds different than a summer forest, and I enjoyed the solitude.
After what seemed to be only a few minutes, but was actually more like 45 minutes, we reached Odell Lake. They say the view is incredible on a clear day. With the misty rain and heavy skies, we had only a glimmer of the scenic view, but it was still beautiful. This was the pinnacle of our trip, and it was worth it.
Returning to Gold Lake Sno-Park
Our return trip was mostly downhill, and faster. We stopped again at the Westview Shelter, this time for lunch. Somehow, even though we’d hiked about 2 miles, the snowshoeing felt easy and fun.
Back to the Lodge
We were given free reign to go at our own pace on the way back to the parking lot. Our group stretched out in 2s and 3s, chatting with new friends or bonding with old ones. Camille and I stuck together, finally walking side by side as we talked about how much fun we were having, even with the rain.
Overall…is it worth it?
My husband’s first question was “Is it worth the price?” The listed price of this trip through Willamalane is $49 within the Willamalane district, and $59 for those living outside the district. Considering that the price includes an expert guide, along with transportation and the snowshoe rentals, I think the price is very reasonable. Plus, the trip was amazing! So YES, wholeheartedly I would go again. It was a very relaxing day, with few responsibilities except for making sure my snowshoes were on tightly enough. Wayne and Bri took care of every detail for us.
If you’ve ever wanted to try snowshoeing, I highly recommend booking a spot on a Willamalane trip to go snowshoeing at Gold Lake Sno-Park. Trips are for anyone 10 and up, but if you have a highly responsible kiddo who will stay with the group, Wayne says he can make exceptions. My son is about to be 10, and I’m already looking forward to going next year with him.
If you go, and I hope that you do, here are the details:
Price: $49 in district, $59 out of district, in 2020
Included: guided tour, transportation from Bob Keefer Center to sno-park, snowshoe rental & poles
BYOL: bring your own lunch and water
What to wear: NOT COTTON! If you can avoid it, of course. My daughter did wear jeans, but underneath she had fleece weatherproof leggings that kept her warm and dry. Wayne will go over everything you need to know at the pre-trip meeting, but in short…a base layer, a middle layer, and a waterproof top layer, all synthetic fabrics (not cotton!). Camille and I managed to find layers that would work from our own clothing, but REI and Costco are great places to look for layers.
Gear to bring: a simple backpack to hold snacks, extra gloves, etc. Wayne recommends a water bottle as it’s less likely to freeze than a water bladder (like a Camelbak).
Bathrooms: there are vault toilets at the trail head
Sno-park permit: if you decide to do this trip alone, a parking permit is required by Oregon DMV. The permit fees pay for clearing snow and maintaining facilities. Permits are $4 per day, $9 for 3 days, or $25 for a season. If you book a trip with Willamalane, they take care of this for you.
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