Tired of waiting for enough snow to downhill, I began this year’s season with a snowshoe outing at Swampy Sno Park, just outside of Bend, OR.
While the overly-enthused are in denial of the desperately poor ski conditions and rock skiing at Mt. Bachelor, I’m waiting for more coverage. In the meantime, snowshoeing conditions are good enough for those of us who need some snow play, yet aren’t willing to risk our lives (or skis) to barely-covered obstacles.
As we impatiently wait for Mother Nature to give us more of the wonderful white stuff, snowshoeing offers fun, exercise, and a bit of winter wonderland. Thus, my friend Kim and I ventured out to Swampy Lakes Sno Park to check out the conditions. Swampy is just off the Cascade Lakes Highway out of Bend. The entrance to the park is clearly marked, has plenty of parking, and the lot is generally (but not always) well plowed.
Trailheads are well-marked, with a good map and signage. However, while trails are covered with about a foot of snow (enough to tromp through), expect to hoist yourself over downed trees that need at least another two feet of snow for smooth sailing.
Kim and I took off on the Porcupine Loop Snowshoe Trail, savoring the sight of flakes falling from the sky as we took in some much-needed post-Thanksgiving exercise. We vowed to eat veggies and salads for the rest of the week.
The going was slow, given all the leg-lifting needed to clear fallen logs. Perfect toning for the glutes. We followed trail markers, winding through snow-covered pines, which sheltered us from the fierce winds our more adventuresome friends were braving on the higher slopes of Mt. Bachelor.
We happily tromped to the new Swampy Shelter, which is so deluxe I wanted to spend the weekend there. The warming hut has a wood stove, enough windows to keep it from feeling cave-like, and — better yet — doors to keep out the cold. If only the USFS had spent more of the summer clearing trails.
On our return, we zig-zagged up a long, steep hill, which was a real workout. I was too happy to complain but wouldn’t recommend this route for beginners or those expecting a gentle stroll. In all, we did about 5.6 miles round trip, which is just right for a first season outing.
For easier terrain at Swampy, try the beginner-friendly Short Snowshoe Loop or the Long Snowshoe Loop for more distance, minus hills. I checked out both of these routes with a larger group of friends and broke trail on the Long Snowshoe Loop, which is nearly impassable in parts due to downed trees. Still and all, if the snow bug has hit you, it’s well worth a trip to Swampy for a day in the snow.
Note that you need a Snow Park Permit for this park. You can buy a $5 day pass or a $28 season permit at several locations around town, including snowshoe rental shops.
Snowshoers are asked to stay off of the nordic ski trails, as it ruins the smooth tracks skiers need for gliding.
Do take it easy when coming up and down the highway. We passed a three-car slide-off on the way down, thanks to a fine layer of black ice. No sense hurrying only to find yourself in a ditch.
Here is another a great Swampy Lakes trail map.