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Wild Side: The five best nearby snowy excursions

Look at that. There is snow up in them thar hills! As long as I am not stuck in it, freezing because of it, or caught in an avalanche, I love getting out in the white stuff. With the recent snow and blue bird forecast, now is a great time to do it.

For me, there is something so refreshing about being out in the snow. Life slows down. Immersing myself in the bright, soft snow helps me quiet my mind and clear my thoughts. Of course, driving and playing in the snow requires the right vehicle (tire chains!), the right gear, good road conditions and directions. Never go out in the snow without taking all necessary precautions, and make sure you purchase a Sno-Park Pass if required.

Here are five nearby snow day destinations:

Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

Head up Highway 66 or Indian Memorial Road into the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument for great snowy adventures right next to Ashland. Table Mountain is a really fun sledding hill that can be easily accessed from the Hyatt Prairie Road. There is a nice warming hut next to the hill and restrooms. If you are interested in nearby cross country skiing, Buck Prairie Sno-Park has 10 miles of trails just off Indian Memorial Road.

Mount Ashland

Even if you are not a black diamond downhill racer, there are plenty of opportunities to get out in the snow atop the mountain with Ashland’s namesake. On the way up the Mt. A access road there is a pull off with great sledding called Bull Gap Sno-Park. For a snowshoe and cross country ski adventures, the backside of the mountain offers endless opportunities. Just continue past the parking lot to head up to the top of the mountain, or keep going on the 20 Road to the Grouse Gap Shelter. Maybe you can even warm yourself with a fire.

Diamond and Crater Lakes

Head up Highway 62 past Prospect and you will find some snow. I would normally spend some time extolling the wonders of snowshoeing at Crater Lake, but the government shutdown has put the kibosh on that. If harmony miraculously descends on our nation’s capital city, let’s hope that extends to re-opening Oregon’s only National Park for rim-side guided snowshoeing. Maybe some cleaner bathrooms, less vandalism and safer conditions as well.

Diamond Lake has a super fun tubing facility with an uphill tow that promises to be a hit with the kids. While it costs $25 per person, there is something nice about not having to schlep back up the hill. I have already told my kids the story about how “back when I was a kid, I had to walk uphill both ways ” If you are looking for a basic sledding hill, the Farewell Bend Sno-Park is right nearby and a great option.

Castle Crags and Mount Shasta Backcountry

There is no way I could do justice to all the incredible snowy recreation options at Mount Shasta or the Castle Crags area near Mount Shasta City. But I have had some of my most memorable snowshoeing in this area. You can go into the Castle Crags State Park and take the trail up toward Castle Dome. But there are just stunning cirque lakes to the west of the state park in the Castle Crags Wilderness area for those of you looking for a wild backcountry snow adventure. I have been up the South Fork Road (Upper Sacramento River) to off trail backcountry snowshoeing.

Page Mountain Sno-Park

If you are out in the Illinois Valley, the Page Mountain Sno-Park is a great option for winter fun. Nestled in the mountains above Cave Junction off the Happy Camp/Grayback Road, this is a beautiful setting to have a winter outing. Unfortunately, vandals have harmed some of the facilities, but the snow is still there and you should enjoy it.

Joseph Vaile is executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild, 541-488-5789, www.kswild.org). His Wild Side column appears every three weeks.

The south side of Mount Ashland offers tremendous winter recreation and awesome views of Mount Shasta. Photo by Shane Stiles (www.shanestilesphotos.com)