An oft-missed snow park between Eugene and the Cascades, Potato Hill Sno-Park is a fun spot for a little snowshoe adventuring. It’s an easy detour if you’re headed across Santiam Pass, found 2 miles east of the Highway 22 junction, adjacent to Highways 20/126.
Highlights include well-marked trails and gorgeous views of Three Fingered Jack and Mt. Washington. The snow park has two trails totaling 6.2 miles. Choose the Hash Brown Loop (all puns intended, apparently) for a pleasant 3-mile walk through an old-growth forest.
The trail receives little to no traffic, so expect a quiet, snowy walk under the canopy of Douglas Firs. The trail does connect with the Nash-Potato Hill Snow Trail, which links via a shuttle to Little Nash Sno-Park.
The other option is the more involved Jack Pine Road trail. This path climbs up Forest Service Road 830 (known as Jack Pine Road). It’s a straightforward hike, with a mix of living forest and dead trees.
Back in 2003, the B&B Complex fires that burned over 90,000 acres of forest hit this area. Today the charred tree skeletons remain, adding an atmospheric contrast to the surrounding white and green. This also opens the path, and allows hikers to take in more of the surrounding view.
Head straight up to the summit ridge of Potato Hill, check out the nearby volcanic peaks, and maybe pause for a snack and some hot chocolate. You won’t see many people up here, so it’s a wonderful spot for a reflective pause in the wilderness. And from up here you’ll be able to see everything from Black Butte and the Three Sisters, to Mt. Jefferson.
From the summit, you can backtrack along the western edge of the ridge, and hike down to intersect with Hash Brown Loop Trail. Or you can make the trek a there-and-back, and simply walk back down Jack Pine Road.
Note that the forest fire left a scattering of stumps in the area. Heavy snowfall will hide these, so be cautious about moving too swiftly, especially downhill, to avoid whacking knees and ankles. The trails are well-marked, but it’s advised that one brings a map and compass, as the solitude of the trail means help is often far away.
The best season (according to the reviews of friends who have hiked here) is January through March. A Sno-Park Permit is required between Nov. 1 and April 30. They cost between $4 (daily) to $25 (annually) and must be obtained in advance.
The sno-park is just off Highways 20/126, 2 miles east of the Highway 22 junction. The nearest town is McKenzie Bridge, OR, and here are the directions from there: Drive 32 miles northeast on Highway 126, then turn right to go south into Potato Hill Sno-Park at the entrance to Forest Road 890. The area is signed, and there’s a parking area on right side of road. If you hit Lost Lake, you’ve gone too far.
Parking instructions from the U.S. Forest Service: "Pulling into and out of the lot can be dangerous, especially if you are crossing traffic to do so. Try to avoid crossing traffic at this area if possible. Watch for pedestrians in the sno-park."
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