Blaze Your own Oregon Trail

Living in Los Angeles is perfect because it’s almost always sunny and 70 all year long. If I want to find snow it’s close by, and so this winter my travels brought me to snowy Central Oregon – just a two-hour plane ride away. Bend, Oregon is a nice change of scenery. The crisp, bone-chilling air felt fresh with the towering ponderosa pines surrounding Sunriver Resort. My two-story 900 square foot lodge suite with private balcony was the perfect place to find tranquility, especially sitting next to a cozy gas fireplace while staring at miles of snowdrifts.

While summer is the most popular vacation season for Sunriver Resort (especially for golfing, horseback riding, fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting, and floating along the Deschutes River), the destination also entices skiers and snowboarders due to the resort’s proximity to the slopes of Mt. Bachelor, one of the top ten largest ski resorts in North America. Nestled in the pristine Cascade Mountains, you can find endless outdoor adventure, or enjoy the indoor brewery tours and luxurious pampering at Sunriver Resort’s award-winning spa.

Sunriver Resort is a destination in itself with 3,300 acres of forest and meadows, 11 restaurants, suites, lodge-style rooms, vacation homes, and condos. At the main lodge, we sampled many meals at Carson’s American Kitchen, with whimsical, fun menu items and snowy nature views. Chef Travis Taylor wowed us with dishes like Buffalo Carpaccio, Duck Nuggets, Crispy Bacon Brussels Sprouts, and S’mores Waffles. I savored succulent fish, from Pan-Seared Rainbow Trout at dinner, Salmon Lox Benedict at breakfast, to stellar Craft-Beered Halibut and Chips for lunch. We also partook in one of the private tasting dinners at Carson’s American Kitchen, where we indulged in a chocolate-themed six-course dinner prepared with local ingredients and wines from Coppola Winery. While roasted rabbit was a new dish for me, the salt crusted wild salmon (expertly cracked and cut to release the tender fish) and the handmade Pacific Spot prawn noodles with a shoyu egg were some of my favorite courses.

The most shocking Oregon discovery, especially for a city girl, is that not only can you drink the water straight from the tap, but Central Oregon is volcanic. The water has its own free naturally occurring filtration system through the porous volcanic rock. The water percolates back and forth through the gigantic volcanic mounds to the river.  The water then picks up minerals that give it its signature, natural alkalinity and unique tasting profile. The tap water tasted better than the best bottled water I’ve sampled.

Outside the resort, we explored the town of Bend and dined at the super popular Wild Rose, a Thai restaurant presenting dishes and spices from the Chiang Mai area. The chef-owner’s signature dishes (like khao soi), flavors, and secret recipes (flavorful tom kha) were passed down from his father and grandfather. In Bend, there is also a wide variety of cute shops, galleries, and restaurants to poke around in too.

One evening we found ourselves admiring the winter sunset from Worthy Brewing Company, a huge brewery and restaurant packed with happy diners sampling craft beers and creative pub grub. Every beer tasted delicious from their own Powder Keg, Stoker Red Ale, and Peace Pipe Porter. Perhaps it’s the pristine water used from the Cascade Mountains in Bend? Their facilities are quite impressive with an outdoor Biergarten, a greenhouse and hop yard on site for growing estate and experimental hops, and a Hopservatory with a large telescope.

After a full day of winter adventures, a nice way to unwind is at Sunriver Resort’s Sage Springs Club and Spa. My body was expertly melted and relaxed with a luxurious personal fertility massage with indigenous products, followed by a soak in a Jacuzzi complete with twinkly stars on the ceiling and frog noises.

Find a different winter adventure

Most people who visit Bend, Oregon come to ski or snowboard at Mt. Bachelor, but why not try a new snow activity? Take a magical wintry 1.5-mile trek to Benham Falls to view the rapids of the Deschutes River, located between Bend and Sunriver. Dramatic cascades can be seen from multiple viewpoints and the snow paints an enchanting scene everywhere you turn.

Throughout our forest walk, I kept seeing this bright green “wolf lichen” on the trees, so beautiful in its color that it is a real standout, but I later learned the glowing fungus is poisonous! Once the natives used the “wolf hair” as a trap. They would stuff a dead carcass with the lichen so when a wolf came to feed they would be found dead nearby devouring the stuffed animal with poison and thus, an easier hunt.

One of the most memorable weekend activities was snowshoeing at night under the stars with Wanderlust Tours through a wintry old growth forest in the deep ungroomed snow. After trudging along the blustery snowdrifts in the liquid dark night with only a headlamp glow to guide our way, the wind would dissipate as we walked deeper into the forest. The expert naturalist guide stopped us along the way to share fun facts about the forest, its animals, and the night sky. We learned how natives survived and even sampled lichen from the trees that looked like hair. Midway on our trek, a hand-carved snow fort with a bonfire was waiting for us in the middle of nowhere. A bonus was the spiked hot chocolate and snacks provided to warm our bones. Although I felt like my nose might fall off, a long hot shower was a welcome treat after this ultimate snowshoeing apres-ski event.

The highlight of our trip was a chance to try dog sledding with Oregon Trail of Dreams, a company owned and operated by Rachael Scdoris, a world-renowned athlete who completed her first Iditarod finish in 2006. Rachel is the first legally blind person to complete the 1,049+ mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska. Before taking off with an expert musher (sled driver) at Three Sisters Wilderness, we bonded with the dogs that were waiting to be selected for each ride. The Alaskan Huskies were so loving and seemed to want attention and pets.

As soon as we were packed snug in the Iditarod sled with blankets to keep us warm, the ten dogs ran with excitement at speeds of 12-13 mph passed snow-covered trees in the Deschutes National Forest. The ride was exhilarating as I gazed in amazement at the beauty of the wilderness, while the winds whipped and the snow pelted my face. There was almost near silence except the dogs panting and the sled dragging gently on the snow. My heart was probably pumping as fast as the dogs’, as they surprised me with a backdraft of occasional dog fluffies (farts) and pooping mid-stride.

Our fun, personable musher controlled the sled and disciplined one dog who kept turning around and yapping at another dog. I took great delight in helping him call out the dog’s name to behave, like I was a teacher talking to a student. The musher provided an informative running commentary about the dogs, their capabilities and training, the commands to make them go, how to stop the sled, and what husky life is like at home.

Thrilling and beautiful, the energy of the dogs came alive as they do not like to stop or be anchored. The dogs wanted to keep pulling, likely due to their racing adrenaline. After about 30 minutes, we returned the way we came and the “musher” let me ride standing up on a little bar at the back of the sled, which was just as joyful a way to experience this wintry wonderland ride. Trips run from $130-$150.

Find your own Oregon adventure. Blaze your own trail.

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