If you’re thinking of visiting Oregon in winter, you’ve come to the right place. Most visitors flock to the state during the warmer months, forgetting that there is no shortage of things to do in winter all throughout Oregon. From winter sports to hot springs, Oregon is chock-full of winter activities to fill your itinerary.
As you begin planning your trip, here is everything you should know from driving in Oregon in winter to the best things to do.
Oregon Weather in Winter
Winter weather in Oregon can generally be broken down into two categories: the west side and the east side of the Cascade Range. During the warmer months, the west side is the picturesque lush forests and coastline.
From November to March, the western half of the state sees upwards of 60 inches of rain throughout the season.
The higher you go in elevation, the more snow you’ll encounter. Willamette Valley cities, ranging from Eugene to Portland, often see some patches of snow and ice every year. Mount Hood gets plenty of snow every year, making it a great winter day trip from Portland.
Once you cross the Cascades into central Oregon, snow and cold temperatures are guaranteed. The landscape shifts from lush green to arid desert. The further east you move, the chillier temperatures you’re likely to see. Temperatures rarely rise above 45°F (7°C) and can drop as low as under 20°F (-7°C).
In short, west of the Cascades sees more rain during winter while east of the Cascades sees more snow. The higher up you go in elevation, the more likely it is that you’ll encounter snow.
In fact, Crater Lake National Park is one of the snowiest places in the country. This makes it one of the best places to visit in Oregon if you want to experience a true winter wonderland.
When visiting Oregon as a winter destination, make sure to pack for both rainy and snowy weather.
Getting Around Oregon in Winter
During any time of year, an Oregon road trip warrants having your own vehicle handy. If you’re flying into Portland to kick off your journey, it’s easy to rent a car from the airport.
It’s not possible to simply get around the state without a car. That said, when driving to Oregon in the winter, drivers should be prepared to encounter rainy or snowy road conditions.
In the base of the Willamette Valley and along the coastline, you’re more likely to drive in rainy and cloudy weather. If you’re driving along Highway 101, go with caution. The road is curvy and can be slick if it’s just rained. The clouds can quickly worsen visibility. It’s best practice to drive slowly.
If you’re crossing the Cascade Range, you’ll need winter tires or chains. You will also need to be comfortable driving in snow and possible icy conditions. Regularly check the Oregon Department of Transportation’s website (ODOT) for the most up-to-date road conditions in the direction you’re heading.
If you’re getting around during an Oregon winter, it’s also wise to travel with some helpful tools just in case you get stuck. A shovel, a small bag of sand, road flares, and jumper cables are great items to add to your packing list.
If you need to rent a car for your winter trip to Oregon, you can browse Rentalcars.com to compare prices across major companies.
Which Month to Visit Oregon?
Winter lasts in Oregon from November to March. The best months to visit to make the most of your visit to Oregon in winter are December, January, and February. Here’s what you might encounter when visiting during any of these months.
Oregon in December
December is a pleasant time to visit Oregon because the snow is fresh and holiday lights light up major cities throughout the state.
That said, if you’re headed to Oregon looking for great snow for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding, expect to encounter early-season conditions.
Temperatures across the state are slightly milder than they are later in winter so it may not be the best time if you’re envisioning a winter trip to a snowy cabin.
Oregon in January
Oregon weather in January tends to stay between 35°F-50°F (2°C-10°C). You can expect frequent showers and cloudy grey conditions. Dress for wet weather if you’re planning a winter on the Oregon Coast.
Snow across the cascades has thickened to make for great skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing conditions.
Oregon in February
February brings consistent winter weather to Oregon. Winter sports in the Cascades are in full swing. Most days in western Oregon are cloudy, with the occasional chilly and sunny day.
February is also the month when the Portland Winter Light Festival takes place in the state’s largest city, which is a highlight of the winter season.
Most people flock to the mountains with a base in Hood River or Ashland where the conditions for outdoor spots are beginning to reach their peak. Temperatures across the state are fairly similar to those in January.
What to Wear When Visiting Oregon in Winter
If you’re traveling all over the state in winter, you may find yourself packing for a range of winter weather. Without a doubt, you’ll want rain gear. Rubber boots, a warm and waterproof jacket, rain pants, and a beanie for warmth are a necessity.
Consider packing a couple of layers to wear beneath your waterproof outer layer for extra warmth. Mittens and extra socks could be a good idea too.
When you head into the snow, make sure you have warm and waterproof clothes that are guaranteed to keep you warm while enjoying Oregon snow. Exchange your rubber boots for snow boots. Swap a thick winter jacket for your raincoat.
Again, pack some extra thermal layers beneath your waterproof gear. Err on the side of overpacking as you can always remove layers easier than adding them.
Things to do in Oregon in Winter
Both weather and activities look a little different depending where you land in Oregon during winter. Here, we’re breaking down the state into the most popular areas to visit during the cooler months and listing some of the coolest things to do in Oregon in winter.
Portland & Mt. Hood
Most road trips through Oregon begin and end in Portland. As the largest city in Oregon, there is plenty to do within the city all year round.
Local bars and restaurants often have heated outdoor patios where you can still enjoy live music and a local craft beer without shivering. If you head into the Columbia River Gorge, you’ll encounter frozen waterfalls and light snow dustings that make for enjoyable hikes.
A short drive (or you can take a guided trip such as this full-day tour or this full-day tour) from Portland is Mt. Hood, the tallest mountain in the state. If you’re a winter sports enthusiast, you’ll most likely find yourself on one of the mountain’s five ski resorts.
Mount Hood Meadows and Timberline Lodge are the two most popular. The lodge at Timberline is an enchanting 1938 accommodation that offers a cozy and historic respite from chilly winter weather.
There are plenty of places for snowshoeing or winter hiking near Mount Hood. Trillium Lake is by far the most popular. During parts of the winter, the lake freezes over enough that you can walk out onto the water for incredible views of Mount Hood covered in snow.
Bend is a favorite destination for both locals and visitors. Despite its popularity, this central Oregon city remains laid back. During the winter, temperatures in Bend drop substantially and snow piles on nearby mountains.
Mt Bachelor and Hoodoo Ski Area are two popular central Oregon destinations for skiers and snowboarders. There are also many places in and around the city to snowshoe and cross-country ski.
While visiting Bend in winter, you can still hike to waterfalls nearby or rock climb at Smith Rock State Park. Misery Ridge Trail at the park is one of the best hikes in Oregon and tends to stay accessible year round. That said, expect chilly temperatures.
You’ll want to pack layers and dress for winter weather even if there isn’t snow on the ground. It’s not uncommon to see a light dusting of snow or frost on the ground at Smith Rock during the winter. All these activities are possible in winter due to Bend’s location in Oregon’s High desert on the eastern edge of the Cascade Mountains.
Not far from Bend, you’ll find the Paulina Lake Hot Springs – which is an excellent destination if you’re keen to head to some hot springs in Oregon. It’s part of the Newberry Volcanic Monument and visitors have to snowshoe into the springs.
Belknap Hot Springs and Breitenbush Hot Springs are another two options that offer a warm and relaxing retreat from central Oregon’s snowy conditions.
Crater Lake National Park is located in southern Oregon and consistently ranks among the snowiest places in the United States, seeing about 40 feet of snow every year.
This bright blue water is an impressive sight year-round, but especially when the entire surrounding landscape is covered in snow. Most people visit Crater Lake in summer, so winter is a great time to see the park while avoiding crowds.
The south and west entrances remain open all year long, but the Rim Drive closes during the winter. However, you can still strap on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis to explore the Rim Drive by foot. Some visitors opt for the 3-day journey around the entire rim, but most do an out-and-back hike.
Make sure you watch the weather before visiting Crater Lake. Winter weather conditions can shift suddenly resulting in road closures that prevent visitors from driving up to the rim. If you are able to drive to the crater rim, make sure your vehicle is properly equipped to drive in snow and go slowly.
Eastern Oregon boasts one of the lesser-known Oregon destinations to visit in winter. This vast desert landscape is blanketed in snow through most of the winter. The Wallowa Mountains in northwest Oregon are called the “Alps of Oregon”.
Their snow-capped peaks are an impressive sight. They include the Eagle Cap Wilderness which offers plenty of amazing opportunities for backcountry cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Oregon’s Painted Hills and John Day Fossil Beds National Monuments are two eastern Oregon destinations that are stunning year-round. In winter, you can avoid the usual crowds and appreciate these beautiful landscapes. Spend a night in Baker City to enjoy a winter sleigh or train ride through a small, snow-dusted town.
Road trip along the Oregon Coast
Each segment of the Oregon Coast offers something unique. Along the northern coast, you’ll find Cannon Beach and Seaside. While immensely popular in summer, the crowds thin during winter allowing visitors plenty of space to explore these towns.
They’re filled with local shops, restaurants, and lodging with amazing views. The Seaside Aquarium is a popular place to visit for kids and adults alike.
Continuing south, you’ll come to the central coast where Depoe Bay sits. This small and quaint town is well-known for its whale watching during the winter months. There is an official Whale Watch Week toward the end of December. It falls in the middle of the migration of 25,000 grey whales that pass by the shore from mid-December to mid-January.
Even further south brings you to small towns like Coos Bay, Bandon, and Florence. All with great access to the rugged southern Oregon coastline.
Winter storms create massive ocean swells that send towering waves crashing against the oceanside cliffs. Winter storm wave-watching is a favorite activity, with Shore Acres State Park being one of the best spots.
Winter in Oregon is no less lively than other times of year. Many different types of landscapes and activities help visitors build an itinerary that’s perfect for them, Hot springs, winter sports, snowy sightseeing, and more await visitors who set their sights on Oregon this winter.
Are you planning a winter trip to Oregon? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!