What’s to Love: I recently asked for a sledding recommendation on the Portland Family Adventures’ Facebook page. White River Snowpark, located about 6 miles north of Government Camp on Hwy 35, was the unanimous winner! With such accolades, I had to go check it out with my family – we were not disappointed. While many great areas exist for sledding, hiking and/or snowshoeing in winter, this may be the best of the best.
What makes this the perfect sledding destination? On a clear day, you’ll get one of the best views of Mt. Hood, which certainly adds to the allure of the area. There are plenty of parking spaces and even bathrooms, so your little ones won’t have to go off into the woods. Most likely, you’ll have plenty of snow. Although all of these elements provide a nice environment for sledding, the access (minutes walking from the car) and terrain (something for everyone) make White River the ideal spot for your next wintertime adventure.
You’ll hike in on a mellow ridge crest that provides a nice slope for everything from toddlers who want a very casual outing to slightly more adventurous terrain for older kids and adults. The ridge is long and even though crowded on busy days, there is plenty of room for everyone. If you want your own run, it’s likely you can find the space. If you’ve brought older kids, hike in a bit more (10 – 15) minutes, and you’ll see a giant hill for more aggressive thrill-seekers.
Caveats: Although very obvious, avoid sledding on the north (right-side when walking in) side of the ridge. There is a stream below, and you wouldn’t want to get swept into it. This Sno-Park is one of the busiest on Mt. Hood. If it’s a weekend, expect delays, especially if it’s a holiday, they’ve just received a lot of fresh snow, and/or it’s a sunny day.
The parking lot is huge, but be prepared with a backup plan if you can’t get a space. There are other nearby Sno-Parks that might be a good substitute. If anyone has any suggestions, please make a comment to this post.
Website: White River Sno-Park (West)
Distance from Portland: About 64 miles from Portland via 26 (Google map). Check the traffic and road conditions, it might be a better option to travel on 84 to Hood River and then head south on 35, even though it’s 98 miles (Google map).
Recommended Ages: This Sno-Park is so popular, and I think one of the main reasons is that there is something for everyone in the whole family. There were plenty of parents sending babies down tiny slopes on inner-tubes, older kids were hitting the extreme hill with their sleds, older adults were snowshoeing, hiking, and cross country skiing.
Parental Stress Factor: If your kids stay within a reasonable range, the stress factor is pretty low. Within this “reasonable range,” the avalanche possibility is near zero percent, they won’t fall into the stream, they won’t get lost, they won’t get destroyed by errant sleds, etc. Moving outside of “reasonable range,” all of the above are within the realm of possibility, so please use good judgement, even though you’re in a popular area with tons of people.
Physical Difficulty: Any wintertime activity is brutal for the parents of young children! There is so much gear to get ready, even leaving the house is an achievement – something to brag about to your friends. When you get to your location, you’ll need to put on all their snow clothes. When you’re ready to walk to the sled hills, someone will have to go to the bathroom. When you’re walking in, little kids will need to be pulled and/or carried. When little kids decide to walk, they will get stuck in deep snow. Walking up and down the sled hills, often carrying little ones, will bring a serious burn. These little things add up to a physical workout that puts a Zumba session to shame!
Family Fun Factor: We don’t get up to Mt. Hood enough these days. I have to admit that my kids were pretty whiny the entire day. They are simply not used to the cold wet snow and the thrill of a 15 second ride just didn’t seem to do it for them. The most fun we had was digging a snow cave.
However, if they would have had more friends their own age, it would have been a totally different experience. So my recommendation to your family is to either bring along friends or meet friends there. If you do this, the Family Fun Factor will increase exponentially.
Pet Friendly: This is a great place to bring the family dog! Due to high traffic and the sheer amount of dogs, it’s a good idea to bring a leash.
Weather Considerations: Check the conditions before you leave. You may need to have tire chains at the ready! Personally, because of the incredible view, I would try to save this for a nice sunny day; however, is that really going to happen in February?
Insider Info: You’ll need a Sno-Park Pass, which is only $3.00 (January, 2013) for the day, $7 for a 3-day pass, and $20 for an annual. Do the math and select the pass that’s right for your family. Here is some additional information about winter travel and sno-parks in Oregon.
This snowpark is also a good spot for casual snowshoeing, hiking (if well packed on the access trail), and even beginning-level snowboarders. There were also plenty of people cross country skiing. The more you hike in, the better it gets for skiing.
Lots of fun things to do in Hood River after a long day of sledding. On our trip, we took 26 and basically ended up in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam for what seemed like 10-15 miles. On the way home, we took 35 into Hood River. We ate and enjoyed some beverages at the Full Sail Brewery. If you’re looking for a family skiing destination, especially for beginning skiers, I recommend Cooper Spur or The Summit.
Family Tips: If crowded, people will come flying down the hill without much thought as to where their sled will actually go. Even a top-notch sledding maniac cannot always predict where their sled will end up – it’s kind of like a fumble in football. Therefore, encourage your child to exit their sled quickly and walk up far to the side of the common sledding pathways. I saw a lot of kids just walking right back up the hill into the sledding lanes – many got run over.
It’s a good idea for each kid to have his/her own sled. If kids have to share, you’re just asking for a big headache while on the slopes. Bring extra food, water, and clothes to change into after sledding. It’s likely they’ll get wet and cold.
Many families don’t travel up to Mt. Hood very often, and I could tell that many kids were not prepared. Your kids will need snow pants (rain pants can work with long underwear underneath), a warm hat, gloves that won’t easily come off and will keep hands dry, boots, and a warm jacket. My favorite trick to keeping gloves on is have the child put the gloves on and THEN put their coat on over the gloves. The sleeves of the jacket will help hold the gloves in place. If gloves come off and their hands get wet, your sledding adventure might be over before it gets started!
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Leach Botanical Gardens on May 20th, 2010
Horsethief Lake State Park on July 10th, 2012