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Originally published Saturday, December 22, 2012 at 11:04 AM

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Snowshoers flock to Bend area

When it comes to winter recreation, there's an outdoors axiom that goes something like this:

Statesman Journal

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BEND, Ore. —

When it comes to winter recreation, there's an outdoors axiom that goes something like this:

If you can walk, you can snowshoe.

While that might be overly simplistic - a person needs correct equipment and clothing before heading out the door - there's no easier or cheaper way to enjoy the coldest months than strapping on a pair of snowshoes.

And whether you're new to the sport or an old hand, few places are better for that inaugural foray into the snow than the winter paradise near Bend.

The area not only has numerous accessible snowshoe trails, but it also features a professional guide service.

Included below is a quick-glance guide to hitting the snow near Bend, including options to do-it-yourself or find a professional outfit.

Cascade Lakes Highway

About eight years ago, Chris Sabo noticed an increasing number of conflicts between snowshoers and skiers at the sno-parks along Cascade Lakes Highway 46.

Most of the anger came from skiers unhappy that a snowshoer had blundered across and ruined part of their track.

"For years, there was increasing conflict," said Sabo, trail crew supervisor for Deschutes National Forest. "And it started to create a lot of tension because the popularity of snowshoeing has gone through the roof."

The solution was to build snowshoe-only routes, marked by a blue diamond with the symbol of a snowshoe inside. Today, there are four sno-parks with snowshoe routes and 20 miles of trail.

Each park is off Cascade Lakes Highway and has its own character.

Meissner Sno-Park (milepost 14; elevation 5,350 feet)

The closest to Bend and most popular destination, Meissner Sno-Park, is home to more than five miles of snowshoe trails, as well as backcountry shelters.

Sabo said the park sometimes gets 500 to 600 visitors on a busy weekend. Trails are groomed each Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Be sure to check snow conditions before making the trip early in the winter, as the park is at a fairly low elevation.

Swampy Lakes Sno-Park (milepost 16; elevation 5,800 feet)

Fairly close to Bend but with more trails and a more wilderness feel, Swampy Lakes is one of the most popular spots for a quick day of snowshoeing.

There are more than nine miles of snowshoeing trails with connections to the Meissner and Dutchman trail systems. Outback shelters also can be found on the Swampy Lakes Trail system and make a fun goal.

Dutchman Sno-Park (milepost 22; elevation 6,250)

With views of surrounding mountains and trails that wind through old-growth hemlock, the trails from Dutchman typically are considered the most scenic.

Dutchman is, however, a multi-use facility that fills up quickly and becomes a lunching place for many snowmobilers.

"There are separate trails," Sabo said, "but you will hear snowmobiles on most weekends."

Sabo added that one of the best routes in this area heads to Todd Lake. There are more than three miles of official snowshoeing trails. On a nice weekday, Dutchman is tough to beat for snowshoeing.

Edison Butte Sno-Park (four miles south of milepost 19; elevation 5,000)

The lowest of the sno-parks, Edison takes a bit longer to fill up with good snow. Despite that, this park is popular because it allows people to bring their dogs onto the trial. The other three sno-parks prohibit dogs.

Edison Butte also is unique because it's not located right on the side of Cascade Lakes Highway. It can be found by reaching milepost 19 and turning onto Road 45 for four miles.

There are more than four miles of snowshoeing trails but no backcountry shelters.

Snowshoeing in luxury

The idea of a guided snowshoe trip is, on the surface, a bit strange.

Outfitters usually thrive in sports such as whitewater rafting or fishing, where employing an expert is necessary just to get started.

Wanderlust Tours in Bend, however, has taken the relatively easy activity of snowshoeing and turned it into an under-the-stars luxury experience.

For $75 per person, the outfitter customizes a nighttime trip that includes all the snowshoeing gear required and a guided wilderness trek under the starlight.

The kicker? The trip includes dessert from a French bakery, hot cocoa (spiked with peppermint schnapps or Bailey's Irish Cream) and a bonfire built in an amphitheater of ice and snow.

Not bad for roughing it.

Wanderlust also offers cheaper, daytime trips that go for $55 for adults and $50 for kids.

"We try and customize the trip to the group, teaching people about snowshoeing while showing them an amazing time," said James Jaggard, general manager for Wanderlust Tours. "We try and get them out, away from the crowds and into the wilderness."

Whether you're looking for a do-it-yourself tour along the Cascade Lakes Highway or a luxury trek into wilderness, Bend is a near-perfect jumping off point for a snowshoe adventure.

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The original story can be found on the Statesman-Journal website: http://stjr.nl/UHn4gq

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

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