December 30, 2019

Outdoor REC: Winter Edition

userBy Gwen Dildine user1 Comment

After sleeping with the windows open for a second night, I decided I better not wait for the weather to act its season and go ahead and write about a few of the outdoor recreation, winter edition, activities that our area has to offer.

Because of our diverse geology and perfect position at the base of the Blues on the valley floor, go high for snow, go northwest to our state’s waterfall, or hop on your bike and enjoy a view of snow-kissed mountains. Winter outdoor recreation is more calculated than its summer counterpart. Is there enough snow? Do I really want to get the gear out? When will this fog lift!?!

Winter Sports Near Walla Walla

Typically, a real motivator for us is leaving the fog in the rear view mirror. Don’t get me wrong, it is all about perspective. I love looking down on the fog as I’m perched on a ridge in some quiet, snow-covered spot in the forest. I just want to scream when I open the blinds in the morning and can’t see across the street.

To state the obvious, Ski Bluewood provides an amazing, local opportunity to ski and snowboard. In recent years, significant investment in their infrastructure has updated and elevated the mountain experience. Whether you are needing some pointers, gear, or a latte, the good people at Ski Bluewood have you covered. Are you the non-skiing driver? No problem. Hang out in Dayton for they day. Check out the Touchet River Levee Trail and various downtown attractions.

Feel like walking in a winter wonderland? The Horseshoe Prairie Nordic Ski Area recently received updated signage and a few re-routed trails for safety thanks to dedicated Blue Mountain Land Trust Blues Crew members. Several loops throughout the ski area provide a varied experience. Bust out those snowshoes and cross country skis. The forest is waiting for you!

Who doesn’t love sledding? Claiming the title of the only designated sledding hill in the Umatilla National Forest is Andies Prairie. You can also snow camp. I admire the brave and seemingly cold folks who do such things. The sledding at Andies Prairie is far from the innocent bump on the ground that we all pine for in town. Bring your helmet and plenty of hydration and snacks.

The trek to the top is almost as exhilarating as the ride down. Leave good judgement and sense of personal safety at home. At least keep your medical insurance card in the glove box. Google thrilling and you will find a picture of someone sledding down the tall side of the bowl at Andies Prairie–the facial expression is somewhere between sheer terror and absolute exhilaration.

Although not a designated sledding hill, Rose Springs Sno-Park is definitely my favorite place to take the kids. The sno-park begins many remote snow adventures, ranging from snowshoeing to snowmobiling. There are also a few Forest Service cabins available year-round to rent. The sledding hill is conveniently located on the south end of the parking lot. A long, wide, and open area provides the entire family an enjoyable yet thrilling ride. It is a little further out of town, but enjoy any number of small towns along the way for breakfast or hot beverage on the trek home.

Photo Credit: Steve Dildine

Twin Sisters is an amazing vantage point overlooking the Columbia River. In the winter, the colors are so cool, greys and blues. It is hard to tell where the water ends and the sky begins.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

To return adrenaline levels back to a normal range, let’s explore the valley for a bit. To the north is Palouse Falls. As our state’s waterfall, its grandeur and surrounding dramatic desert landscape rivals its plunging Cascade Mountain counterparts. Most think to visit in the summer, which can actually be problematic in the heat. In the chill of winter, the bowl of the falls looks much like a giant salt-rimmed margarita glass. Naturally, the view is equally as pleasing.

Keep the wheels turning while on holiday break. The Mill Creek Recreation Trail and Fort Walla Walla Recreation Trail to name a few are great options for protected cycling and walking. With all the holiday buzz, a little fresh air does wonders to calm everyone’s festive nerves. I might be projecting; I admire those who can plan, execute, and maintain sanity this time of year. Escape to any number of walking paths–it will at minimum help justify that extra cookie.

An option for those traveling west of town for the holidays, Twin Sisters is a great place to stretch legs and even better location take in the view. I guarantee that you will come up with the best New Year’s resolution ever watching the mighty Columbia River round the corner at Wallula Gap and head straight for the ocean. It doesn’t get much more dramatic.

To end with a more traditional outdoor activity in the light of the holiday season, never underestimate the beauty of the South Fork Walla Walla Trail. This trail is just too close and too fantastic not to enjoy throughout the seasons, even when the seasons seem confused about which one is on duty.

Photo Credit: Gwen Dildine

The Horseshoe Prairie Nordic Ski Area epitomizes winter wonderland. With trails to suite both experienced and beginner snow sport enthusiast, its proximity to the valley and access from the highway make this a go to spot in the winter.

Wonder What's Next

There is plenty to do and see. With a little more snow, new opportunities will follow. As we all start to reflect on another year gone by and look forward to big goals for the future, an outing in the wild provides perspective. I am so thankful for all our adventures this year, and even more thankful for the opportunity to share those experiences with you. Please join us in 2020 as we continue exploring. Happy holidays from the Outside Walla Walla team!