Winter Trail Adventures, Family Style | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
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Winter Trail Adventures, Family Style 

Escape Cabin Fever at a Sno-Park Shelter!

  • Carrie Morales Carney

Central Oregon can be a winter paradise, especially for kids. But even the most active families can find themselves stewing around indoors, weary of the usual winter routines. What if you could cure cabin fever by trekking to...a cabin?

Oregon Sno-Parks offer endless trails for winter fun, with log cabin-like shelters tucked into remote corners. Many rustic shelters are equipped with cast iron stoves and stacks of wood for stoking fires. In Central Oregon, the Meissner, Edison, and Nordeen shelters make perfect destinations for family-friendly winter outings.

Any Sno-Park adventure requires a few essentials. First, keep a Sno-Park pass visible in your front window when you park. These can be purchased at local outdoor gear retailers, or the Cascade Lakes Welcome Station. Second, be ready for changing weather conditions with extra layers, headlamps, water and snacks, and matches for lighting the stove at the shelter.

Trails are usually well marked, but it's smart to tuck a compass and trail map into your pack. Smartphone apps like All Trails are handy, too – users can download maps and find their location by GPS, even with spotty cell service.

Howl at the moon at the Meissner Shelter

click to enlarge Local Bend kids, Oliver and Emma Jewett, enjoy a day at Meissner Shelter with their dad, Jeff Jewett. - SARAH JEWETT
  • Sarah Jewett
  • Local Bend kids, Oliver and Emma Jewett, enjoy a day at Meissner Shelter with their dad, Jeff Jewett.

Meissner Sno-Park, located 14 miles up the Cascade Lakes Highway, wins the award for most accessible shelter. The well-groomed trails make it easy for kids to learn Nordic ski basics, or for parents to tow toddlers on ski trailers.

Under the light of a full moon, trails glow and shimmer. Skiers chase their moon shadows down Tangent Loop and over to the Meissner shelter, about 3 miles round trip. Along the way, gather the troops to turn off the headlamps. Let your eyes adjust, then look up! Take in the starry sky, then howl at the moon like a family of coyotes. You may or may not get a coyote to answer, but this memorable moment could turn into a family tradition.

At the shelter, the woodstove inside keeps things cozy, and expands your snack options, too: pack in roasting sticks and fixings for hotdogs and s'mores to toast over the fire.

If a night adventure feels daunting, try a late afternoon alpenglow or sunset trek. No matter when you go, remember to contribute to the Meissner Nordic Club donation box at the trailhead, as a thank-you for their excellent grooming services!

Power up with the pups at Edison Shelter

For a quieter experience, Edison shelter is off the beaten path, but easily accessible. Snowshoes are a good choice on these ungroomed trails, and dogs are allowed to romp freely alongside their families. Head to Edison when snow conditions seem cruddy—snowshoes don't require fluffy new snow.

To find Edison Sno-Park, travel 19 miles west from Bend on Cascade Lakes Highway, then 4 miles south on Forest Road 45.

Science fans will appreciate the trail names here: Lightbulb Loop, High Voltage and Supercharger, for example. The Edison snowshoe trail loops past the shelter, about a mile in. For a longer trek, take the Tesla snowshoe trail, or power on up to the AC/DC Shelter (located at the junction of the Alternating Current trail and, you guessed it—the Direct Current trail).

The blue and yellow reflective trail markers are fixed high on the tree trunks to stay visible when several feet of snow cover the trails. - SUZANNE JOHNSON
  • Suzanne Johnson
  • The blue and yellow reflective trail markers are fixed high on the tree trunks to stay visible when several feet of snow cover the trails.

There's plenty of space to blow off steam on the way to the shelter, and you might even spy a lava tube cave opening. The rolling terrain at Edison Sno-Park is a good place to teach kids to navigate—the trails are marked, but still require some attention to stay on track.

Two suggestions for a successful Edison adventure day: BYO fire-starting materials, since this shelter is less frequently used. And remember to pack a few doggy waste bags, to pack everything back out with you.

Scan the High Desert panorama at the Nordeen Shelter

Families ready to cover greater distances can start at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park, located 17 miles up Cascade Lakes Highway. Miles of ungroomed trails for snowshoes or skis branch out from the trailhead, but the most direct route to the shelter is the Nordeen Loop. This 5-mile roundtrip trail winds through dense, old pine forests with just enough ups and downs to keep it exciting.

The Nordeen Shelter sits at the edge of a high ridge, facing east. At 5800 feet in elevation, the panorama view stretches over the forest and highway to highlight our high desert geology and geography. Horse Ridge rises up beyond the Badlands, the Newberry Crater can be glimpsed through the trees to the south and volcanic buttes scatter the land in between.

The original shelter was named for Emil Nordeen, a local legend in the Nordic skiing community. After it burned to the ground, the ski community came together to rebuild a new shelter in 2007. This history makes it a perfect spot to teach kids how to tend fires carefully, so that years from now these sturdy shelters will still provide fun destinations for winter adventures.

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