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Snowshoeing at Potato Hill Provides Spectacular Sights

Updated: May 5

February 19, 2024—Snow in Oregon has been hit or miss this winter. The snow level for much of the winter has been at relatively high elevations much of the year. That has limited the areas I can snowshoe. With that in mind and needing to get outside during a four-day Presidents’ Day weekend, I decided to drive up to Santiam Junction to check out the snow conditions and get in some snowshoeing.

I dealt with light rain for much of the drive up to Santiam Junction until it finally turned to snow flurries six miles before the junction. The snowpack at Santiam Junction was considerably low for this time of year—only 26 inches—and not looking all that great, though I did spot a few vehicles at the Maxwell Butte Sno-Park. I journeyed on, hoping that I would find a deeper snowpack 300 feet higher in elevation at Potato Hill one and a quarter mile east of Santiam Junction.

What makes Potato Hill a popular destination for snowshoers is that it offers spectacular views of Mt. Washington and Three Finger Jack when skies are clear. To have those views does require hiking about 600 feet up the hill. Once at the top, you discover that the climb was worth it as Mt. Washington dominates the landscape. However, I wasn’t very hopeful of seeing either Mt. Washington or Three Finger Jack since the sky was overcast, but at least I would get a good workout climbing the 600 feet. When I arrived at the Potato Hill Sno-Park, a few fellow snowshoers were busy gearing up for the climb.

I headed up the hill under a dry sky and little wind. This was only my second snowshoe trip of the season, so I wasn’t in the best of shape for the climb. But as I was in no rush to reach the summit, I took my time. As luck would have it, the clouds began to clear, and the sun started to come out. It looked as though I might have views of Mt. Washington and Three Finger Jack after all.

Upon reaching the summit, I was treated to stunning views of both the Cascades and Mt. Washington. Clouds, however, still shrouded Three Finger Jack. Wispy clouds rode up over the southern face of Mt. Washington before drifting gently down the northern face. With the clearing of the clouds, wind from the south began to pick up, which explains why the clouds had cleared so dramatically. I had planned to have lunch on the summit, but the wind and lowering temperature caused me to change my plans.

I got my photo shots of Mt. Washington and the Cascade Range and had hoped to wait it out to see if the clouds dissipated over Three Finger Jack, but the wind was just too strong. I decided to seek shelter from the wind a little lower from the summit and started heading back down the hill.

When I reached the lower trailhead to the Hash Brown Trail, I looked at my watch and noticed I had only been snowshoeing for a little over an hour. Having driven almost three hours to get to Potato Hill, I wasn’t ready to drive back home. Besides, my legs didn’t feel tired, so I decided to hike the Hash Brown Trail back up the hill.

In hindsight, I might have rethought my decision. Early into my hike, my body felt fine as I climbed up and down mounds of snow. However, about an hour into my hike, my legs began to tire from all the up and down trekking while ascending Potato Hill. Still, I was determined to make the climb, not wanting to turn around and abandon the hike. I didn’t want to quit, so I continued.

The trail was anything but a straight line, weaving all around the woods. When I thought that I was getting closer to my destination, looking at Strava proved me wrong. I would round a bend in the trail that put me in view of the summit only to have the trail change direction and take me away from the summit. This went on for two hours. My right knee and back began to ache, but I inched ever closer to the upper Hash Brown trailhead. Finally, after snowshoeing well over two hours on the Hash Brown Trail, I reached the upper trailhead and started my descent down the hill.

On my way down, I was treated to a view of Three Finger Jack. I was tired but gratified I had completed the climb back up the hill.

My truck never looked so good! I was exhausted but pleased with myself for pushing myself and completing my most strenuous snowshoeing adventure to date.

In the past, I have hiked up Potato Hill and then taken the Hash Brown Trail from the upper trailhead back down the hill to the parking lot. I think that I’ll do that from now on. Having to climb up and down snowbanks while going downhill is a lot easier on the body, thanks to gravity, than climbing up and down snowbanks going uphill.


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