For the past 26 years, Wanderlust Tours has offered people in Bend, Sunriver and Sisters the opportunity to explore untraversed territory in Central Oregon. While the company offers a slew of tour opportunities, from volcanoes to craft beverage tours, one of the most unique and awe-inspiring experiences is the Snowshoe and Bonfire Tour—a part of the Wanderlust itinerary since day one.
During the winter, the most exciting after-work plans typically consist of dinner and a movie. Courtney Braun, sales manager and naturalist guide for the past eight years, considers the nighttime snowshoe tours an ideal opportunity for people to get out and try something different.
"Few things compare to the peacefulness of the forest," she reflected. The night tours take about four hours total, with over two hours out on the snow. "We don't take any trails, so we forge our own paths out on the snow," Braun explained. "We do this based on the ability and the desires of the group. I would say an average trip is between 2 and 3 miles."
The same level of accommodation goes for time spent at the bonfire. While standard "fire time" is around 30 minutes, it depends on how the group is feeling. "If the vibe is more time snowshoeing, less time fire pitting... we can accommodate that!" Once adventurers reach the bonfire, they're rewarded with dessert from Sparrow Bakery and spiked hot cocoa (spiked with a generous amount of Hazelnut Espresso Vodka from Bend Distillery). Generally speaking, groups range from four to 14 people, though more can be accommodated for special events.
“One of my favorite parts of the job is seeing the sense of goofiness – of playfulness – that people feel when they’re exploring uncharted territory.”—Courtney Brauntweet this
Sometimes additional, non-paying guests join in on the fun. Braun shared that some of the most incredible experiences she's had on the tours involved surprise visits from rare wildlife. "We see tracks and actual wildlife," she shared. Once, her tour group had the pleasure of spotting a Sierra Nevada red fox, believed to be one of the most endangered mammals in North America, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Most snow-loving Bendites are familiar with the Pine Marten Lodge, one of Mt. Bachelor's sunset dining spots. A member of the weasel family, roughly the size of a cat and covered in light and dark brown fur, the rare pine marten is typically only spotted in Europe. One clear night several winters ago, as the group sat in silence around the bonfire, admiring the stars, a pine marten emerged from the shadows to join them. "It was a pretty cool little critter," Braun remarked.
Aside from the opportunity to see rare wildlife, Braun noted that the magic of being alone and isolated—exploring uncharted territory in the dead of night—is an experience truly unlike any other.
"One of my favorite parts of the job is seeing the sense of goofiness—of playfulness—that people feel when they're exploring uncharted territory. When they're the first people to walk through fresh powder." Guests from all over the country join in on the tours, Braun said, leading to a balanced mix of locals and tourists—some who have never seen snow. "It's almost like a return to childhood," she said. "It's a very unique feeling. It's like being in a different world."
An educational and awe-inspiring snowshoe tour and secluded bonfire undeniably make for an unforgettable evening.
Tours begin at the end of November and go through late April, weather permitting.
Bonfire Snowshoe Tours
Select weekends starting Nov. 29, through April.
Starting at Wanderlust Tours office
61535 S. Hwy 97, Suite 13, Bend.