Gray Butte Hike: Wildflowers & Views

Scenic views all around

The hike to Gray Butte, located in the Crooked River National Grassland near Terrebonne, Oregon, is great to walk in the spring because of the wildflowers.  I went here in May and we saw quite a few colorful flowers. The habitat is sagebrush steppe with scattered western juniper trees.

View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail 9May2018

View of Mt. Jefferson from Gray Butte trail

I have been here twice with Leslie Olson, one of my favorite guides with Bend Parks and Recreation. One time we went on Cole Loop Trail #854 and the other time we went on Gray Butte Trail #852. The roads to the trailheads have sections that are rough but passable. We did out-and-back hikes of around four to five miles total distance. They are listed as easy to moderate hikes. Here’s a map that shows both trails.

McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead 9May2018

McCoin Orchard at Gray Butte trailhead

A piece of history

My most recent hike began at Gray Butte trailhead, elevation 3,800 feet, near the McCoin Orchard. The orchard was originally planted by Julius and Sarah McCoin in 1886. The property was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930’s. At one time there were 100 fruit trees here – apple, pear, plum, etc. Grassland range specialists saved the surviving trees in the 1980’s. When I was there, the trees were in full bloom.

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Snowshoeing at Swampy Lakes

Swampy Lakes Short Snowshoe trail, Bend, Oregon 14Feb2017If you want to go snowshoeing close to Bend, check out the trail at Swampy Lakes Sno-Park. It’s a short ways away from the more popular Virginia Meissner Sno-Park and is tucked in the shadow of Mount Bachelor. There are plenty of parking spaces but make sure you purchase a Sno-Park Parking Permit before you go.

Both Virginia Meissner and Swampy Lakes Sno-Parks offer trails for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and fatbiking. Some of the other sno-parks in the area also have places for snowmobiling.

Swampy Lakes Short Snowshoe trail, Bend, Oregon 14Feb2017

Short Snowshoe Loop

We walked 1.75 miles on the easy Short Snowshoe Loop but there are a couple other trails  that are longer and more difficult. The more difficult Long Snowshoe Loop trail is 3.25 miles long. If you want to get some good views from Telemark Butte, you’ll have to go on the longer  Porcupine Snowshoe Loop. That loop is 4.1 miles long and it’s rated as more difficult. You can stop for a rest after 2 miles at the Swampy Shelter.

The Short Snowshoe Loop winds through beautiful pine forests and it has little elevation gain. The trailhead is at an elevation of 5,800 feet. You won’t get great mountain views but you may find the same solitude that we did last week. There were several cross-country skiers using the trails nearby but we didn’t see any other snowshoers. The trail was in great shape. We could see some fatbike tracks on our trail – they are not allowed on ski trails – so other people were out there recently. It was a nice quiet walk on a sunny winter day.

Make sure you bring the proper clothing and equipment for your trek. Go on a trail that fits your abilities – they are well-signed. There are directional signs but I would also bring a map and compass (and maybe a GPS). Here is a map: Swampy Sno-Park Trails

Fun Facts

Did you know that you can burn 450 calories an hour snowshoeing? If you run on snowshoes that increases your calorie burn to 1,000 calories per hour. Yes, people do run on special snowshoes designed for that purpose. According to Snowshoe Magazine, you burn 45% more calories snowshoeing than walking or running at the same speed due to exercising in the cold, having additional weight on your feet, and working against the resistance of snow.

Snowshoeing at Mt Bachelor: A great adventure

Mt. Bachelor
Mt. Bachelor

Thinking about trying out snowshoeing? Last weekend I went out for the first time to try out snowshoeing on Mt Bachelor as part of a free guided tour. Knowledgeable volunteers take you out for a 90-minute walk in a forested area near the ski runs. The tours leave at 10:00 am and 1:30 pm. Snowshoes are provided (thanks to REI for donating them) or you can wear your own.

A snowy Mountain Hemlock forest
A snowy Mountain Hemlock forest

The volunteers will give you a quick talk on a few of the dangers associated with this sport such as tree wells. This is the area that forms in the snow close to a tree that people can fall into and sometimes not be able to get out of. I also learned that predators like to go into them in search of entrances to the burrows of small mammals. Kind of like a vending machine area for them.

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