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Snowshoeing at Big Springs—A Real Joy

Updated: Jan 16

January 11, 2024—Winter recreation got off to a slow start in Oregon. It wasn’t until the first full week in January the snow really started to accumulate in the Cascades, allowing ski resorts to fully open and snowshoers and cross-country skiers the opportunity to finally venture out and take advantage of an adequate snowpack.

I decided to head to the Big Springs Sno-Park and get in some easy snowshoeing for the first of the season. I overindulged in too many sweets over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and packed on a few more pounds than I would have liked, so I wasn’t ready to tackle snowshoeing around Clear Lake or hiking up Maxwell Butte, two of my favorite snowshoeing locations in the Santiam Pass area. Besides, I had never snowshoed Big Springs and felt the need to explore the area and write about it so I could inform other snowshoers.

Getting to the area took two and a half hours, but travel time will vary depending on where others are coming from and weather conditions. The sno-park is located off Hwy 22 on the right and just west of the Santiam Junction. It’s the first sno-park you come to. There is a large parking lot and a restroom. A sno-park permit is required, which you can buy at Dick’s Sporting Goods or your local Bi-Mart. It’s also approximately 500 feet before the Maxwell Butte Sno-Park on the left, so if you initially miss the turnoff, you can immediately turn around in the Maxwell Butte Sno-Park; otherwise, you’ll need to turn around at the Santiam Junction, 14 miles farther east.

When I arrived at the Big Springs Sno-Park, I discovered that no trails had been laid out, probably because it was a Thursday and the area had just received its first major snowfall of the season, dumping three feet of soft powder. That meant snowshoeing at Big Springs wasn’t going to be so easy. I literally had to make my own trails. The trail markers and numbers were in place, but crusted snow obscured the trail numbers, and the trail maps were up too high to read—in an average snow year, the signs are easier to read because the snow level is higher.

I had Strava to guide me until it crashed for some reason and wiped out the route I had covered and put me back at the parking lot, which was not where I was. This isn’t the first time Strava has done this. Fortunately, I always carry a compass with me.

With each step, my feet sank two feet into the snow up to my knees (in some places it was above my knees). I couldn’t walk like I normally do when snowshoeing. My snowshoes were lifting snow while at the same time they and my legs were shoving snow forward. Snowshoeing was slow going and very tiring on my legs. However, it provided a great workout for my quads. The drawback was I couldn’t cover as much distance as I had planned.

The terrain at Big Springs is basically flat, making the area great for beginners. There is a slope, but it’s ever so slight. There are easy trails for beginners and more advanced trails for experienced snowshoers. Trails wind through woods and open patches, so it’s very scenic. I want to return later in the season once the trails have been laid out to explore more of the area and make it out to the seasonal lake in the area.

I definitely recommend giving Big Springs a try, especially if you’re short on time, as it’s the closest designated snowshoeing area from Salem. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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