By Mariah Wilson

Winter is upon us and with it comes an abundance of delightful cold-weather pursuits. For the adventurous traveler and snow enthusiast, there’s no reason to hibernate this winter. Just a three-hour drive east of Eugene, in the Deschutes National Forest, one of Oregon’s most beautiful winter oases awaits. Elk Lake Resort, a niveous nirvana with some of the most breathtaking backcountry the state has to offer, is the ultimate Central Oregon snow-cation destination.

Among the most favored of the Cascades Lakes, Elk Lake has been a popular spot for recreationists since 1920, when a wagon road was built between the city of Bend and the scenic lake. Better known today as the Cascades Lakes Scenic Byway, this road is closed in the winter, making the lake inaccessible by car. Luckily, there are several much more exciting ways of transporting yourself to the lake in the deep of winter. The easiest way is to have one of the resort’s Suburbans-turned-snowcats pick you up and convey you to the lodge. Your snowcat shuttle will pick you up at the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, located north of the Mt. Bachelor ski area, and ferry you through miles of pristine wilderness blanketed in snow.

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For a more leisurely and tranquil trek to Elk Lake, try Nordic skiing or snowshoeing the 11-mile groomed trail from Dutchman Flat to the resort. The peaceful, powdery beauty that surrounds you as you traverse the backcountry terrain will leave you transfixed, and ready for a weekend of winter fun. Those who own their own snowmobiles, and who prefer a more adrenaline-infused journey into the wild, are welcome to travel to the lodge on their snow machines. And for a truly unique experience, Oregon Trail of Dreams offers winter sled-dog rides that ensure you will arrive at the resort in style. A team of Iditarod sled dogs, along with a professional musher, will whisk you through a winter wonderland of snow-covered pine trees while you stay cozy and warm in the sled behind. That half-day marathon trip to Elk Lake covers 26 miles round-trip and includes lunch at the lake.

Once you arrive at your destination, there are plenty of activities to enjoy in this picturesque setting. Snowmobile and snowshoe rentals are available at the resort; however, if you wish to ski, you must bring your own or rent a pair at Mt. Bachelor before heading to the lake. Plenty of fresh powder and hundreds of miles of trails that wind through designated wilderness areas and national forests await you once you choose your snow equipment of choice. You can break new trails through fresh snow on terrain that is ungroomed or, for an unforgettable experience, journey across the lake itself––it freezes over in the wintertime. For the kids, and adults who are kids at heart, sleds are available at the lodge.

For angling enthusiasts, Elk Lake is a prime location for ice fishing. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks the lake with 50,000 trout fingerlings––30,000 brooks and 20,000 cutthroats––each year in June. The lake also supports an abundant, naturally reproducing population of kokanee. The best spot for catching these freshwater fish is at the south end of the lake near the lava flow, where the water is deepest. And the lake’s magnificent mountain views provide the perfect backdrop for your ice fishing escapades, with the Three Sisters towering over the north end of the lake and Mt. Bachelor dominating the eastern horizon.

After an eventful day of romping in the snow, the historic Elk Lake lodge is the perfect place to warm up and unwind. Constructed in 1923, the lodge possesses a rustic charm with a modern twist, thanks to recent renovations aimed at improving the facility. Travelers can enjoy an intimate dining experience in the lodge restaurant, which now serves locally sourced gourmet and home-style meals prepared by classically trained Executive Chef Asa Kenney. Also featured at the restaurant is a wide variety of local microbrews on tap, as well as an ample selection of regional wines.

If you plan on staying at the lake for the weekend, the resort offers a variety of lodging accommodations. These range from rustic, one-bedroom cabins with propane lanterns and foam mattresses to upgraded, classic cabins with full kitchens, multiple bedrooms, satellite TV, and Wi-Fi.

This winter, satiate your appetite for adventure by spending an unforgettable weekend in a breathtaking winter wilderness. Whether you ski in for a meal or stay for the weekend, this great escape will defeat your seasonal doldrums as you experience one of Oregon’s most popular lakes after most of the warm-weather crowds have vanished. Let it snow!