Winter Sports

Everything You Need to Know about Oregon Sno-Parks

History, permits, and where to go during peak snow season

By Julia Silverman and Gabriel Granillo

The snow continues to look mighty fine upon Oregon’s majestic mountains, and it looks like we’re in for a proper winter wonderland. Yes, snow season is indeed upon us. Skiers, snowshoers, and winter-sporters of any variety, rejoice! But not before picking up an Oregon sno-park permit, which is needed at designated parking areas from November 1 through April 30—lest you want to get hit with a pesky $30 fine. 

Introduced in 1977 (when the fee for not displaying a permit was just $10), Oregon's sno-park permit system raises funds used to plow lots for public recreational use. It was pushed for by snowmobilers, who had gotten more organized as a group in the early 1970s when then-state Rep. Norma Paulus introduced legislation to restrict the use of snowmobiles in Oregon’s backcountry, and supported by ski area operators. (The parking lots at Timberline, Ski Bowl, and Mt Hood Meadows are technically sno-parks.) 

The state started with 64 designated winter-recreation parking areas, which have been exploding the heads of grammar nerds and offering opportunities for snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, snowmobiling, and more for more than 40 years. Today, there are 100 sno-parks in Oregon, which vary in size, amenities, and activities available. Some offer little more than a plowed parking area and a good-looking hill, while others feature warming huts, shelters, maintained trails, and more.  

Sno-park permit details

  • Permits are available online, at any Oregon DMV office, and by permit agents at resorts, retail shops, and sporting goods stores.  
  • Cost is $4 for a one-day permit, $9 for three-day, and $25 for a year, though nongovernment vendors can also charge a service fee. 
  • Permits can be moved from one vehicle to another.
  • Sno-park permits issued in California and Idaho are honored in Oregon, and Oregon permits are honored in those states. (Washington has a different system.) 

For a full list of all sno-parks in Oregon Sno-Parks, click here. Below are a few of our favorites.  

For a reliable standby 

Everyone’s first stop, White River West Sno-Park has the advantage of a giant parking lot (though it fills up with cheerful tailgaters on snowy and/or bluebird winter weekends, but there’s spillover parking at White River East, across the way). The main attraction here is the sledding hill that faces away from the namesake river. Usually, families prescient enough to bring snow shovels with them have dug out fun obstacle courses in the snow. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers might prefer to tromp past the sledding hill and up into the backcountry canyon that rises from the north end of the sled hill, with the river on your right. Two miles in gets you great views of the mountain, and a good turnaround spot.  

Off OR 35, about four miles north of the US 26 interchange, about 60 miles from Portland 

For super-snowy years

Just under 30 miles south of Hood River (and nine miles north of White River) on OR 35, the Little John Sno-Park is best avoided in low-snow years, due to its lower elevation. But thanks to La Niña, this year it’s open for business. The best thing about this location: the warming hut, complete with a fire pit, a common amenity around the Central Cascades but in much shorter supply in the Mt Hood National Forest. However, there’s a price to pay: Only snow tubes and plastic sledding disks are allowed here; you’ll have to leave that old-school Fearless Flyer at home.  

Off OR 35, about 13 miles north of the US 26 interchange, about 70 from Portland via 26 or 90 miles from Portland via Hood River

For smug snowshoers

At first blush, the Frog Lake Sno-Park seems unpromising for those seeking winter solitude, given the uncompromising buzz of snowmobiles revving their engines in the parking lot. Not to worry: The snowmobilers are headed off to the namesake Frog Lake, to the right. Cross-country skiers and, especially, snowshoers are headed off to the Twin Lakes trail at left. Skiers may struggle with the hilly terrain and want to stop at Lower Twin Lake. Hardy snowshoers, however, can keep going to Upper Twin Lake for a peekaboo view of Mount Hood. It’s six miles round trip if you make it all the way to Upper Twin Lake. 

Just off US 26, about four miles south of the OR 35 interchange, about 60 miles from Portland

For cross-country skiers who dig the groom 

Cross-country skiers have claimed Teacup Nordic Sno-Park; if you even think about venturing there on snowshoes or with a sled and mess up their tracks, be prepared for some extremely dirty looks. The 12 miles of trails are groomed on the regular by Oregon Nordic Club members, and views of Mount Hood are plentiful. There’s even a well-equipped warming hut with benches to eat your lunch upon (observe those COVID protocols, please). Because the facilities here are so nicely maintained, there is a $10 suggestion donation for use. 

OR 35, about seven miles north of the US 26 interchange, about 65 miles from Portland, or 95 miles if going through Hood River

For beating the crowds 

Escape from (some) of the madding crush at Pocket Creek Sno-Park (OR 35 between White River West and Little John), another slightly low-elevation sno-park about 30 minutes south of Hood River that includes a trail system with views of nearby Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort. Bonus: a couple of scenic creek crossings to navigate on snowshoes or cross-country skis, and one of the few sno-parks where four-legged friends are welcome. You can also try the Barlow Pass Sno-Park (OR 35, between the US 26 interchange and White River West), which has a parking lot limited to only 15 cars, or skip the Hood crowds completely and head for Oldman Pass Sno-Park (off the Wind River Highway, about 24 miles north of Carson, Washington) in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where there is a lightly used sledding hill and some quiet trails to explore—though you’ll need a Washington-specific parking permit there. 

For farther-afield adventures

Get out of Portland and get into a bit of sno-park history with a visit to the Ray Benson Sno-Park (south of US 20 on Forest Road 2690, next to Hoodoo Ski Area, about 135 miles from Portland) near Santiam Pass. Named after one of the early advocates for the formation of the sno-park system, this was one of the first such parking areas in Oregon and has access to tons of ski and snowmobile trails in both the Willamette and the Deschutes National Forests. It has restrooms, warming huts, groomed trails, and two generous parking areas. Even farther south, near Oakridge, is Salt Creek Sno-Park (just off OR 58, about 170 miles from Portland), which offers ski and snowshoe trails, as well as a family-friendly snow play area. Skiers can seek a challenge on the Island and Birthday Lakes ski trail systems, while snowshoers on the Salt Creek Falls trail are greeted with a wintry view of the namesake waterfall, Oregon’s second highest.