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Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Ashland is Basecamp

Ashland is Basecamp

For winter recreation, sunup to sundown, check out these key stops on the Southern Oregon winter backcountry trail

Story by KM Collins


As Jack Frost starts to whisper in Southern Oregon’s ear, visitors and locals are planning their winter recreation itineraries and as usual, Ashland is ground zero. Whether you want to access the seasonal downhill amenities of Mount Ashland, travel as far as Crater Lake to zip around the rim on cross-country skis or just plan a series of townie temperate trail runs, find a cheat sheet below of our top recommendations for all the region’s winter highlights, how to get outfitted, and where to stay. Happy winter to all!

Mount Ashland

Distance from Ashland: 21 miles

Contact: Mount Ashland, 541-482-2897

Besides the usual alpine skiing and boarding, Mount Ashland (affectionately known locally as Mount A) is iconic for, beginner programs and access to winter backcountry recreation are also available. With a new magic carpet (think uphill skier conveyor belt) guests on the hill, especially novices, don’t have to worry about mastering riding lifts before they can start practicing dissenting slopes. Although Mount Ashland is known for its steep, expert runs, they are also making skiing accessible for the next generation with this million dollar investment. Andrew Gast, General Manager said, “The Magic Carpet makes it easy and fun for first-timers to learn at Mount Ashland and it’s just steps from our hallmark historic lodge.”

For powder hounds looking for hidden stashes off-piste, Public Lands website notes Southern Oregon as possessing a surprising number of options less than 30 degrees in pitch (translation: beginner friendly). Options include descending Mount Ashland’s south face as a gateway into the Siskiyous, Mount McLaughlin’s steep and expansive views, Crater Lake’s Caldera terrain between Watchman and Hillman Peaks, Brown Mountain accessed through Summit Park, Mount Shasta (the tallest volcano in the lower 48), and Pelican Butte.  

For a premier cross-country ski experience off the flank of Mount Ashland, check out Grouse Gap Nordic Ski Trails. Between accessing Grouse Loop Trail and Summit Trail, enjoy novice-to-expert terrain. See the Forest Service webpage for a detailed play-by-play of mileage, bowls, and hut access. This trail network is also used by snowshoe enthusiasts.

To know before you go, check out Mount Ashland’s conditions page the night before and morning of, before heading up the hill. Mount Ashland’s uphill use policy and mountain safety page are also a must-read prior to adventuring.

Crater Lake Caldera

Distance from Ashland: 75 miles

Contact: Crater Lake National Park Service, 541-593-3000

Did you know sledding, snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing are all possible in Crater Lake National Park? With all these winter wonderland options on offer, you’ll have a hard time choosing just one. Here are some tips for best results.

Sledding: Barring the highway, the road to the Crater Lake, parking lots, and descending the rim of the Crater, sledding is allowed anywhere. Open meadow south of Crater Lake Lodge is a favorite location and exhibits ideal terrain—shallow slope, no obstructions such as trees, and it has a safe flat runout.

Snowmobiling: The north entrance road is groomed for snowmobile travel throughout the winter, typically December through March. On a clear day, sledneckers will enjoy an outstanding view of the lake at north junction. Off-route travel is prohibited. A round trip from Diamond Lake Resort (where snowmobile rentals are available) to Crater Lake is 36 miles.

Downhill skiing and boarding: While lifts and groomed trails don’t exist and dropping below the rim is prohibited, the southwest side of Garfield Peak east of Park Headquarters is the most popular area to skin. Participants should be experienced in traversing avalanche terrain and possess the appropriate backcountry safety travel training and equipment such as a beacon, probe, and shovel.

Nordic skiing and snowshoeing: None of the ski or snowshoe trails are groomed in Crater Lake National Park. From Rim Village, popular trails include Discovery Point (1.2 miles), Wizard Island Overlook (2.3 miles), Watchman Overlook (3.9 miles), Diamond Lake Overlook (3.9 miles) and North Junction (6 miles). The East Rim Drive offers less-trafficked trails. To access the 31-mile bucket-list rim trail, which circles the entire lake and typically requires a three-day journey, a permit is required. A limited supply of snowshoe rentals are available at the Rim Cafe and Gift Shop. 

For more details check the Crater Lake National Park webpage and/or the conditions line at 541-793-3333.

Get out of the snow and have a special overnight treat at Crater Lake Lodge or the Cabins at Mazama Village. Enjoy spectacular views under a cover of Ponderosa Pines and snuggled up in a rustic accommodation. Annie Creek Restaurant and Gift Shop supplies family-friendly cuisine and provisions for all tastes.

Sans Snow Trail Experiences

Distance from Ashland: Varies

Contact: Rogue Valley Runners, 541-201-0014

Mild winters in the city of Ashland are the perfect time and atmosphere to get your trail on. While the mountains are cloaked in snow at higher elevations, a temperate, low elevation in town draws a lot of trail runners, bikers, and walkers to live in and visit Ashland, year-round. Here’s a list of some favorite townie traverses. 

Lithia Park: The park itself contains a network of trails and unique amenities or points of interest. Starting from the entrance near the Lithia Spring Fountain on the north side of the park and traveling all the way to the swim reservoir is nearly a 1.5 mile walk. Along the way a runner (or walker) passes a children's playground, rose garden, Japanese garden, two duck ponds, Pioneer Hall, an ice rink, community center, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and many homes with elaborate Tutor architecture.

Lithia Loop Trail: Starting from Granite Street parking or Lithia Park’s Duck Pond, encircling Reeder Reservoir, Ashland Creek and its west and east forks, this decomposing granite rock 28-mile path is a favorite quick hit for ultra-runners or bikers. Travel time on a bike is 3-5 hours. 

Bear Creek Greenway: Starting in Ashland Dog Park and traversing to Central Point’s Dean Creek Frontage Road, this continuously paved 20-mile footpath offers a variety of travel options. Road biking, running, walking, skateboarding, scootering, and one-wheeling are all available recreation options. This separate route from cars allows for safer family-friendly inclusion like strollers, baby joggers, and children’s bike trailer opportunities. Bird watching and wildlife viewing surprises are around every corner.

Table Rock Trail: 24 miles north of Ashland, outside Central Point, a 2.8 mile hike that ascends 853 feet in elevation leads to an exquisite mesa atop beautiful, textbook basalt columns. Where the other hikes mentioned in this section are easily accessible within city limits, Table Rock offers a deviation from the urban and takes you into a quiet, remote-feeling desert oasis.

A handful of other smaller trails and parks are available for winter use throughout Ashland and Southern Oregon. See the City of Ashland’s Maps and Trails page for details on other options.

Contact Rogue Valley Runners at 161 E. Main, Ashland, or 541-201-0014 for regional suggestions on trails and conditions. They offer weekly running group meetups and have a focus on ultra-running. World famous co-owner Hal Koerner is an accomplished ultra-runner, who co-authored the book Field Guide to Ultra Running, available for autograph and sale instore

All-Weather Angling

Distance from Ashland: Varies

Contact: Ashland Fly Shop, 541-488-6454

As the cold of the season thins the crowds, wet your line on Southern Oregon waterways. With extra layers to counter the chill of winter, braving the cold can mean more still, more desolate waters, which often translates to better catches. The most sought after catch? Winter Steelhead and Trout. The waterways? The ever quintessential Rogue River, Umpqua River, and Lost Creek Lake.

Rogue River: From Gold Hill to Grants Pass and up the Applegate River confluence, a cousin of the Rainbow Trout, Steelhead start driving upstream in December and are present until spring. The Upper Rogue near Prospect holds OG Rainbows as well as Brook, Brown and Cutthroat Trout. Spinners, spoons, PowerBait all make for effective bate.

Umpqua River: When anglers get tired of the popularity of the Rogue River, they graduate to the Umpqua. Possessing some of the healthiest winter runs in Oregon, Steelhead populate the main, south and north forks.  From Early January to the end of April, try your luck with plugs, side-drifting with corkies, Salmon roe or yarn and plunking when the water is off color. To understand how much love and respect the fishery yields, read Lee Baker’s riveting and well researched, A Temporary Refuge. Bank access can be limited, please respect private property.

Lost Creek Lake: For the stillest of waters, head to Lost Creek Lake. Trolling with wedding ring/worm combinations behind an oval egg sinker, flasher or dodger and lure combinations, and spinners and spoons like Little Cleos all often produce. For bank anglers, check out the dam. Beta supplied from a 2019 Visit Oregon article by Chris Santella.

Looking for more waterways? Try the Klamath, Ana River, and Lake of the Woods.

For videos and blogs with tips, tricks, and fishing porn, checkout Ashland Fly Shop’s website. The vlog series, Rogue on the Fly is especially entertaining and informative.

Ashland Rotary Centennial Ice Rink

Distance from Ashland: Centrally located

Contact: Ashland Rotary Centennial Ice Rink, 541-552-2258

Offering a range of programs from Frozen Tots, Recreation Skate, Cheap Skate, Hockey (adult and youth), Stick & Puck, Group Skating Lessons, field trips and more at affordable pricing, this community ice rink ushers activities for all. Rentals available. Concessions are provided Friday-Sunday.

For operations and details on opening day, call 541-488-5340.

Southern Oregon Nordic Club (SNOC)

Distance from Ashland: Centrally located

From classic, skating, and backcountry to Telemark, the SONC serves the greater Rogue Valley by organizing lessons, group skis, and outings. Their normal ski season starts by early December and sometimes as early as the first of November, depending upon snowfall. Snow cover at usual venues typically becomes thin by mid-March prompting skiers to travel to nearby Crater Lake or Mount Shasta. Telemark skiers interested in climbing reroute to Mount McLoughlin and Mount Scott to extend their ski season into April, May, and beyond.

SONC Volunteers groom the Hyatt Lake BLM Campground and Buck Prairie Nordic trails.  Timing and extent of grooming depend on conditions. Check the latest grooming report on their website and be aware that snow conditions are dynamic.

Ashland Mountain Adventures Shuttle

Distance: Many pickups around town including hotels

Weekends and Presidents Day through the end of March. Call 541-499-2298 for 2024 details.

Snow globe worthy accommodation

Union Creek Resort: Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Crater Lake, the Resort is across the street from Beckie’s Cafe and a quarter mile from Farewell Bend’s Sledding Hill.

Distance from Ashland: 94 miles

Diamond Lake Resort: In addition to Diamond Lake Resort’s proximity to Crater Lake and access to Snowmobiling, this traditional resort overflows with traditional Oregonian charm enhanced by the bounty of winter.

Distance from Ashland: 96 miles

Callahan’s Mountain Lodge: Want to experience mountain charm from the convenience of Ashland? Callahan's Historic Mountain Lodge is the perfect choice.

Distance from Ashland: Centrally located

The Plaza Inn and Suites at Ashland Creek: If you are looking for something in the heart of the city, with whimsical wallpaper, Tutor-modern decor and the sound of running water from Ashland Creek flooding every open window, look no further than The Plaza.

Distance from Ashland: Centrally located

Ashland Springs Hotel: The 1920s Victorian trimmings of this unique, must-see accommodation will inspire and delight those who love to saturate in the history and glamor of another time.

Distance from Ashland: Centrally located

Lake of the Woods Resort: A wide variety of cabins are available to rent as well as RV spaces. The perfect location for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and ice fishing.

Distance from Ashland: 39 miles


For a more relaxed approach to recreation, Ashland offers outstanding holiday events like the Festival of Lights and the Rogue World Music’s Annual Winter SoundWalk.

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