Odell Lake nordic trails beckon

Snowy, quaint paradise awaits at this Willamette Pass destination

Heidi Hagemeier / The Bulletin /

Back in the day, when I regularly experienced a phenomenon known as “free time,” my default plan was to wake early, cram my rig with gear and zoom toward the mountains.

Those summer days completely consumed by mountain biking or hiking were wondrous. Those winter forays on all manner of skis were divine. Yet they were so common that I'm not sure I fully appreciated them.

Fast-forward a few years, add in a husband and child, and such an outing is now more of a treat, one that involves negotiation: Who needs to exercise, who must log a few hours of work, who has a birthday party at the pool. These days are no doubt just as fun, but outdoor adventure isn't what it used to be.

So it was with outright glee recently that I slipped my cross-country skis into the car for an all-day expedition with one of my favorite gal pals.

We had been tittering about it for weeks: A day devoted to cross-country skiing at Odell Lake.

Just off state Highway 58 on the east side of Willamette Pass, Odell Lake is known for its winter activities. There are two all-season lodges right along the lake, both of which rent cross-country skis and snowshoes.

Unmarked and marked ski trails abound, including some groomed by the resorts. These trails wind through gorgeous forest, sometimes with views of Diamond Peak, and offer relative solitude.

It all awaits about 65 miles south of Bend, an easy day trip.

We didn't enjoy mountain views this weekday, as last week's storm was busy churning out fresh, fluffy snow. It started falling just beyond Sunriver and continued for the entire trip south.

But it made our destination all the more picturesque. We pulled off the highway at a wood sign for Odell Lake Lodge. Blankets of snow coated the scene as we curved through the pines and across a bridge spanning Odell Creek. At the end of the road is a wood lodge with a large deck that overlooks the partially frozen lake.

The Odell Lake Lodge was built in the 1940s. One room off the main entrance holds the restaurant, complete with a shiny espresso machine in the corner. Another features a stone fireplace, a prominent elk trophy above it and leather couches.

All this coziness, however, would have to wait. We had some skiing to do.

Odell Lake Lodge charges $5 per person for the trails it maintains. We paid and snagged a map. We also learned the trails hadn't been groomed in three days.

With that, we ventured off into the blowing snow.

The trails were loaded with 8 inches to a foot of new white stuff. Skiers and snowshoers had obviously been using them recently, however, and we gamely zipped off.

U.S. Forest Service blue diamonds appear regularly on trees, as do wood markers no doubt put in place by the resort. They led through towering evergreens to a wide-open meadow.

Then we made a slight climb back into the forest. It was the hill the proprietor at the resort warned us about, but for a longtime skier it seemed fairly gentle.

Our chosen route on the maintained trails didn't take long. We canvassed the system without hurry in about an hour and a half. At one point we detoured off the trails along the railroad tracks, which run along the Diamond Peak Wilderness boundary. We weren't worried about getting lost — we easily ducked back to the trail, and even if we hadn't found it we knew the tracks would eventually lead back to the resort.

Soon, we were back where we had started. My mind wanted more skiing, but my stomach was ready for lunch.

Even on a quiet day, the restaurant was open. We hung our damp hats and gloves on pegs above the fireplace. As we awaited house-made guacamole and a BLT, I scanned the lake with binoculars left by the table.

After we ate our fill, we debated whether to go back out. Surely there were more trails to conquer.

Yet it was impossible to deny the pull of the leather couch, crackling fire and icicle-framed views of the lake. I ferried my beer into the living room and proceeded to unwind.

We never did go back out. We looked at black-and-white photos on the wall of family Christmases at the lodge in the 1950s. We mused it would be nice to stay the night, play a game of backgammon and enjoy a drink with friends.

We vowed at some point to return. Then as we loaded up our gear, I started thinking about my family.

The gentleness of the resort's trails would make for a great beginner outing or a lovely family day — that hill would get the blood flowing a lot faster when pulling a ski trailer with a kiddo inside. Perhaps my 4-year-old is about ready to try on nordic skis. We could all duck into the restaurant at the end for hot chocolate.

More adventures await. Next time, we'll enjoy it as a family together.

If you go

Getting there: From Bend, drive south on U.S. Highway 97 for roughly 46 miles. In Crescent, turn right on Crescent Cutoff Road. A highway sign indicates it's the route to Davis Lake and state Highway 58. Continue on the road for approximately 12 miles, crossing the Cascade Lakes Highway, until hitting Highway 58. Turn right and drive west for about five more miles. Odell Lake Lodge & Resort will be on the right. The drive is about 65 miles and it takes about an hour and a half one way. The roads are plowed, but it's worth bringing a four-wheel-drive vehicle on this trip.

When: Through March, Odell Lake Lodge is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. midweek

Difficulty: Easy to intermediate

Rentals: Ski and snowshoe rentals are available at Odell Lake Lodge & Resort and at Shelter Cove Resort

Cost: $5 per person for access to trails maintained by Odell Lake Lodge & Resort

Contact: odelllakeresort.com or 541-433-2540

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