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  • Radford Bean

A Magnificent Day of Snowshoeing at Maxwell Butte

Updated: May 7

March 4, 2023—New snow had fallen up in the Santiam Pass, so a friend, her daughter, and I grabbed our snowshoes, suited up in warm clothing, and drove up to the mountains. Our destination was Maxwell Butte, just 3.5 miles west of where Hwy 22 and Hwy 126 intersect. There are 25 miles of trails in the Maxwell Butte Sno Park area that range from easy to more difficult. Most of the trails wind through the forest.

From November 1 to March 31, a permit is required to park at Maxwell Butte. The permits can be purchased at most sporting goods stores and local BiMart stores. A one-day permit costs $4.

There were a few vehicles in the parking lot when we arrived mid-morning. It’s a popular location for cross-country skiers and snowshoers, but today’s visitors seemed more intent on snowshoeing. There was a light snow falling, which added to the magic and the beauty of the morning.

I’ve snowshoed Maxwell Butte before; it’s a favorite location of mine. But this was my friends’ first time, and to say they were mesmerized by the beauty would be an understatement.

Throughout our snowshoe trip, the snow would change back and forth from a light snowfall to a heavier snowfall. Conditions for snowshoeing were outstanding! We encountered deep powder that was an absolute joy to walk in. Fortunately, the trails had been groomed and well marked.

There are two warming shelters on the trail system: north and south huts. The north warming hut provides a nice view of the mountains. However, with the cloud cover and falling snow, it was highly unlikely we’d see any mountains today. It was the north warming hut we were aiming for because it’s fully enclosed and has a wood stove to warm up one’s chilled body. Visitors can stay overnight in the shelter. There are raised platforms to lay a sleeping bag on and an enclosed outhouse.

The hike up to the north warming shelter isn’t an easy hike. The trail is rather steep in places, and the soft, deep snow made the going harder. We probably could have made it to the warming hut sooner, but we kept stopping to take in the beauty of the area. Young fir trees were bent completely over by the snow piled on top of them. The snow was so light and fluffy that you couldn’t make snowballs from it.

By the time we reached the north shelter, it was snowing heavily. Other snowshoers were also inside the warming shelter where they planned to spend the night. My friends and I struck up a conversation with them while getting warm and having something to eat. Led Zeppelin and other oldies rock music played in the background. This was my kind of crowd. The other snowshoers were the usual friendly people I’ve come to expect from snowshoers and offered us some treats.

We remained in the shelter for close to an hour before heading back out. We were going to take the road down to the south warming shelters, but that road down was not maintained, and the deep powder up to our knees made it difficult to walk. We maybe got two hundred feet before we decided hiking down the road would be futile and chose instead to stick to the groomed trails.

It wasn’t until we were nearly back at the parking lot that we encountered others out on the trail. Most of the day it seemed we had the trails to ourselves.

This day I saw some of the best snow I have probably ever encountered in all my years snowshoeing and downhill skiing in Oregon. It’s hard to put into words the beauty of that day, so I have to show it with pictures.

If you want to learn more about the Maxwell Butte snowshoe area, I recommend the following:

Willamette National Forest website

Snowshoe Route Oregon by Shea Andersen and published by The Mountaineers Books.

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