The winters in Oregon and Washington aren’t predictable. We can sometimes get up to a foot of snow at sea level and get hammered with intense winds or ice storms. Other times, it just drizzles with hardly any severe weather at all. Depending on what part of the area you live in, generally, you can still hit the road safely in the winter and take a fun road trip. Here are some ideas for the best wintertime road trips in Oregon and Washington.
Located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state, about 117 miles east of Seattle, is the small Bavarian town of Leavenworth. You’ll swear that you’re in Germany, rather than nestled smack dab in the middle of Washington State. The town looks like a charming postcard with its architecture, street signs and street names, seasonal lighting, and festivals. You can take a sleigh ride through the quaint streets or spend the day trying to capture the moments on your camera. Make sure you enjoy a strong beer paired with an authentic Bavarian pretzel!
Pacific Coast Highway
The Pacific Coast Highway is a legendary Pacific Coast road trip that should be on everyone’s bucket list. You can travel as far south as time allows, traveling down into California if you want. From the misty shores of Washington beaches, dramatic rock cliffs on the Oregon Coast, and even the picturesque sunsets of California, it’s the perfect wintertime road trip. You may encounter lots of rain, so pack accordingly, but it’s not likely that you’ll experience much snow or ice.
Crater Lake National Park
As a winter destination, Crater Lake National Park is usually covered with snow and forgotten by visitors who prefer the heat of summer months. In other words, winter visitors get the park to themselves in one of its most beautiful settings and enjoy genuine peace and quiet. If you like to snowshoe or cross-country ski, it’s perfect! If not, you can cozy up next to a fire in a rented cabin or yurt and take in the breathtaking views and serenity.
About 10,000 years ago, the Newberry Volcano helped shape the Central Oregon landscape. If you’ve never visited the Boyd Cave outside Bend, you’re in for a treat! One hundred feet below the Earth’s surface and about 1,800 feet into the Earth’s core, the cave provides a stunning window into the natural wonders of our planet. Once you’re done exploring Boyd Cave, walk or bike along the beautiful Deschutes River. Finish the day with your favorite pint at McMenamins in front of a crackling wood fire.
Not far from Bend’s splendor is the winter wonderland of Mount Bachelor, which reaches 9,065 feet and averages about 450 inches of annual snowfall. With 3,700 skiable acres of powder nestled between giant conifers, it’s a skier’s dream! If you don’t ski, don’t worry. How about trying some snowshoeing or sledding?
Columbia River Gorge to Mt. Hood
Drive the Historic Columbia River Highway making sure you stop at Horsetail Falls and Multnomah Falls. If you’re lucky enough to see them frozen, it’s a splendor you’ll never forget and a picture of a lifetime! You can also walk a short trail to Ponytail Falls, where you can hike behind it. The access is relatively easy, and it’s a breathtaking experience. From there, check out Hood River and Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort or Timberline Lodge. With snow-caked trees, tall snowbanks, and plenty of trails and ski runs open, both places are a snow lover’s paradise!
Remember, before you set out on your winter road trip, be sure to pack an emergency kit and check road conditions with the Department of Transportation. Also, check in to ensure that places are open during the pandemic and be ready to comply with local COVID policies.