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Who Needs a GPS? Getting out of town to explore Sisters by ski 

click to enlarge outdoors_threecreeklake.jpg

It is easy to get stuck in ruts, even when it comes to outdoor adventure. With so many opportunities for both groomed and backcountry skiing so close to Bend, it can sometimes be hard to justify the gas and time it takes to head out of town and explore some new areas. But for the skier who is out on the trails more than a few times a week, changing up the scenery is definitely worth the effort.

This weekend, I made the trek out to Sisters to explore the Three Creek Lake Nordic Trails. You can access this Sno-Park by taking Elm Street south of Sisters until it turns into a Forest Service road. Follow it for a total of about 11 miles until you reach Upper Three Creek Lake Sno-Park. There is a Lower Three Creek Lake Sno-Park and there are also two parking lots at the Upper Sno-Park.

The road signs led me to pull off into the first parking lot for the Upper park. There were no signs or trail maps in the parking lot and so I naively set off on the first trail marked with fluorescent streamers. It quickly turned into a logging road. I spent the first two miles in denial that I was on a road, and the last one pushing myself around "just one more bend" in hopes that I would come out into a beautiful meadow with views of the Sisters and Black Butte in the distance.

The vista never appeared and so I slogged back to the parking lot on a crusty trail with skinny skis. Despite the stumps jutting out of the snow every few yards, there were a number of gigantic ponderosas and for a while there I felt as if I was having a true wilderness experience, probably more because I didn't have a map and had very little idea where I actually was than anything related to the remoteness of my locale. My wilderness delusion was eventually denigrated by the sound of Christmas trees being chopped down and hauled off to happy homes and the barks and slobbery greetings of more than one golden retriever who found me on the trail. Overall, this was a very random, but enjoyable little jaunt.

To do this trip right, park in the "upper" Upper Three Creek Lake Sno-Park. The trails leave from the right of where the road is closed in the winter. You will see a sign at the trailhead with mile estimates and trail names. A good day trip would be to ski 2.5 miles out of the Jeff View Shelter and have lunch, take in the views of North Sister, Black Butte and on a clear day, even Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, and then enjoy a relaxing ski down. There are a few short side loops to explore offering scenic vistas, and for the ski marathoners out there, there is the 6.5-mile trail out to Three Creek Lake (that is 13 total), definitely doable in a day if you make an early start and have plenty of food and water.

You can print off some homespun trail maps from the Sisters Chamber of Commerce website: www.sisterscountry.com.

After checking out Three Creek Lake, head over to Ray Benson Sno-Park, south of sithe Santiam Pass and about one mile from Hoodoo Ski Area. This park is a lot more popular and crowded, and both snowmobile and Nordic trails leave from the parking lot. It is possible to skate ski on the motorized-use trails. Although it tends to be socked in, on clear days skiers can enjoy views of Mt. Washington and Three Fingered Jack.

One recommended day trip would be to take the South Loop Trail out to Brandenburg shelter, a six-mile journey altogether. There is another large warming shelter in the parking lot to look forward to on your return.

Hoodoo also has a Nordic Center with 18 km of Nordic trails worth checking out, especially if you are a skater looking to train on some different trails. On most non-holiday Tuesdays and Thursdays, the Nordic trails at Hoodoo are free, but note that these are also the days that the trails go ungroomed, so if it has snowed the evening before, skate skiing could be a lot more challenging.

Visit www.sisterscountry.com for a number of other adventure ideas that are only about an hour from Bend. Many of these trails are accessed on remote Forest Service roads that may or may not be plowed; so always let someone know where you are going to be on the safe side.

Full Moon Reminder

Winter solstice is next Tuesday and there are lots of reasons to celebrate, not the least of which is the slow accumulation of more sunlight in the evening hours. But who needs sun when there is a full moon to light the way out to one of the shelters in the Swampy/Meissner trail system? Gather up a group of friends and be ready to howl at the moon with at least a few hundred others who have the same idea.

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