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5 spectacular snowshoe spots

With a big, fat snowpack sitting on top of the mountains that surround our valley, this would be a good winter to finally learn how to snowshoe.

Snowshoers often say, "If you can walk, you can snowshoe," and while that's true to an extent, snowshoeing is a lot tougher than walking, so get ready for a good workout.

It's not something that will require lessons, but it does take a bit of practice, because you'll be using different muscles than you're probably used to using. And while snowshoes are easy enough to put on in your living room, if they come loose two miles onto the trail, when snow is packed into the bindings and your fingers are cold, it's best if you've practiced putting them back on a few times.

Before going out and buying a pair of snowshoes, rent a pair at one of the local outdoor stores such as Black Bird Shopping Center, Northwest Outdoor Store or Ashland Outdoor Store. Then pick a beautiful destination, pack a mess of snacks and a bring a thermos of something hot and tasty.

Here are five suggestions for great places to snowshoe. Please note that a sno-park permit is required to park at most places in the mountains this time of year. You can pick one up when you go to rent your snowshoes. And don't forget a camera.

1. Mount Ashland

Mount Ashland offers fairly easy access for beginners and almost endless possibilities on connecting roads and trails for experienced snowshoers. The easiest place to start is the ski area parking lot. Park here and follow the road toward the Grouse Gap shelter and the top of Mt. Ashland.

2. Fish Lake

The high ground along Highway 140 halfway between Medford and Klamath Falls is a winter wonderland, with great snowshoeing on trails and roads near Fish Lake, Lake of the Woods, Brown Mountain and Mount McLoughlin. Fish Lake is a good place to start, with parking near Fish Lake Resort. Cross-country skiers love this area, too, so if you see ski tracks, do the skiers a favor and avoid demolishing their trail.

3. Greensprings

Near the Greensprings Summit on Highway 66, east of Ashland, you can hike in just about any direction and find joy. There's parking near Soda Mountain Road where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the highway. From there, you can hike the Greensprings Mountain Loop Trail, a six-mile hike to the north takes you to Hyatt Lake, or three miles to the south is Hobart Bluff. If you're in good shape, you can hike to the fire lookout on Soda Mountain. To do that, turn right on Soda Mountain Road and follow the one-lane gravel road for about 3.8 miles to an obvious turnout. In winter, the last 1.5 miles of the road is not plowed, and sometimes you have to start hiking from the bottom of the hill. A high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicle with chains might be a good idea.

4. Crater Lake

While it's a bit longer of a drive than the other four destinations, Crater Lake is unbeatable for snowshoeing. On Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m., you can do a free, ranger-guided snowshoe hike, and the park will loan you the shoes for free. Make reservations at 541-594-3100. If those times don't work for you, you can go any day of the week and rent snowshoes and poles at the Rim Cafe and Gift Shop at Rim Village. But call before you go, because Crater Lake often gets too much of a good thing, and the road into the village is often closed — like it was this week — until park workers can get it plowed. Most people hike or ski along the rim of the lake, but if you're bored of that view (yeah, right), a list of winter snowshoeing trails in the park can be found online at http://1.usa.gov/23574vM.

5. Pacific Crest Trail

The PCT runs for many miles through the mountains above the Rogue Valley, with trailheads near Pilot Rock, Mount Ashland, Crater Lake, Hyatt Lake, Lake of the Woods and Howard Prairie Lake. If you like hiking the PCT in summer, give it a try in winter, when saplings are bent to the ground and animal tracks make it clear that the winter forest is a busy place.

Reach Mail Tribune features editor David Smigelski at 541-776-8784 or dsmigelski@mailtribune.com.

Many miles of the Pacific Crest Trail run through the mountains above the Rogue Valley, offering excellent snowshoeing opportunities. Mail Tribune / David Smigelski
A group of snowshoers recently took advantage of ample snow for an outing at Fish Lake. Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta