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Black Butte Ranch – Winter Edition
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The Lodge at Black Butte RanchWhat’s to Love:  Are you making your plans for the winter holiday season?  Portland Family Adventures highly recommends Black Butte Ranch during the Christmas holiday season.  Black Butte Ranch comes alive during the festive holiday season. Close your eyes and imagine their properties and roads lightly dusted with some fluffy dry snow perfect for tooling around the resort on cross-country skis and quite possibly, sledding on some of the golf course hills.  Even in winter, Black Butte Ranch delivers the best in family fun.  Please check-out this reprinted article from our experience last year.

Inside The Lodge at Black Butte RanchThe Lodge was decked-out with holiday decorations including some lovely paintings by Tom Browning.  Of course, there was a giant Christmas tree, lights, a fire out back, and a bunch of gingerbread houses on display.  In the spirit of the Christmas holiday, Black Butte Ranch continues their tradition of providing family-friendly events including:  carriage rides pulled by two beautiful horses, breakfast with Santa, a bountiful Christmas buffet featuring an amazing menu and a special buffet option just for kids, snowshoe tours, morning yoga, dance fitness classes, and an indoor pool at the Glaze Meadow Recreation Center.  Many of the amenities are still available during the winter months including the Spa, The Lodge restaurant and Aspen Lounge, and the daily activities for kids at The Recreation Barn.

The rental shop is open and provides some high quality gear for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.  We heard the led snowshoeing trip is better for older kids, so we decided to rent some cross-country skiing gear and headed up to Hoodoo Ski Resort.  The person working in the rental shop gave us a nice tip about the “Ray Benson Snow Park,” which is on Hoodoo’s access road but not on their property.  Therefore, we were able to ski in the snow park for the cost of a daily snow park pass ($4)!  This was an excellent outing, which we topped-off with a visit to Hoodoo’s tubing hill – “The Autobahn.”  For more info on cross country skiing at Ray Benson Snow Park, read “Family Tips” below and check-out the action-packed video clip!

I talked about this in my previous article, but it’s certainly worth mentioning again.  Geographically, Black Butte Ranch is in the “sweet spot” for Central Oregon fun.  Granted, you can park your car, not leave the ranch, and have an excellent vacation. In the winter months, your family will probably want to get out to avoid cabin fever.  I recommend a day trip starting with an 8-mile drive into the town of Sisters, Oregon.  Head over to the Sisters Coffee Company for some coffee and/or hot chocolate.  Walk across the street to the delightful “Paulina Springs Books,” which is a cute little bookstore!  Every time we’ve been in Sisters, we’ve made a stop at these two spots.  Take some time to walk around town – there are some interesting little shops, restaurants, and parks.

Once you’re ready to move on, head another 30 miles to Terrebonne, Oregon, which is home to the awe-inspiring “Smith Rock State Park.”  In winter, you might have to drive on some icy/treacherous roads, but experiencing this destination painted with a beautiful white snowfall is well worth it.  Make sure you have snowshoes and/or snow boots.  Take a hike down through the snow all the way to the river, which is only about 1/2 mile, but pretty steep going down.  Walk some of the stairways right next to towering rock climbs – if you look closely, you’ll see bolts with hangers in the rock.  Smith Rock is the birth place of American Sport Climbing.  For more information about visiting Smith Rock to climb with kids, please read my article!

After Smith Rock, drive another 30 miles to Bend, Oregon and the “High Desert Museum.”  Bend is another town that demands its own article about outdoor recreation opportunities.  There are so many options when visiting year-round including rock climbing, skiing, mountaineering, mountain biking, caving, and much, much more!  If you’re just passing through, a visit to the High Desert Museum is an absolute must.  The museum is perfect for kids with many hands-on exhibits, animals, a cafe, outdoor exhibits, and a rocking little play room for kids 6 and younger.  This is definitely one of the nicest museums we’ve ever visited – certainly on par with The Dalles’ beautiful “Gorge Discovery Center.”  After the High Desert Museum, head back to Black Butte Ranch for a nice dinner at The Lodge.

Caveats:  Things are slower at Black Butte Ranch during the winter months.  You won’t be able to enjoy the outdoor pool at Glaze Meadow, which is closed for the winter season.  If you plan on eating at The Lodge or Aspen Lounge, you should probably make dinner reservations.  The carriage rides were also very popular and totally booked-up for our entire stay.

A heavy snow can cause serious travel delays, so make sure you are fully prepared with tire chains, a snow scraper, plenty of extra washer fluid, and immense amounts of patience!

Indoor Pool at Glaze Meadow Recreation CenterThe biggest caveat is that The Lodge and Aspen Lounge are the only two restaurants serving food during the off-season.  Since the Aspen Lounge is also a bar, kids cannot eat there.  Eating at The Lodge for every meal could put a financial strain on the family budget.  Thankfully, I discovered an interesting solution to this dilemma (see “Insider Info” below).

Black Butte Ranch does not salt their roads, but they do lay down some dirt and gravel mix.  Although the dirt helps, I HIGHLY recommend driving 15-20 miles per hour once in the gate.  People tend to get a bit carried away on their roads, and I did see people sliding and one accident.  Take it easy!

WebsiteBlack Butte Ranch

Distance from Portland:  150 miles.  Here is a Google Map of the entire area.

Recommended Ages:  All ages. This is an excellent spot for family gatherings and/or reunions.

Parental Stress Factor:  This is one way to take the stress out of the holiday season!  Especially during the winter months, Black Butte Ranch provides a low-stress-alternative to hectic family vacations.

Physical Difficulty:  Hiking around the ranch is on easy terrain with excellent foot paths.  If you take my advice and head down to the river at Smith Rock State Park, you’ll definitely want some heavy duty hiking or snow boots.  This is definitely a more strenuous hike, so be prepared for almost any type of weather.

Family Fun Factor:  High! Black Butte Ranch is a family resort with many options for the whole family and provides the perfect home-base for a plethora of winter activities.  If your family is not into winter sports, the family fun factor will decrease slightly.

Pet Friendly:  Yes!  Make sure you discuss the housing options with a booking agent before bringing your pet.

Weather Considerations:  During the winter months, Santiam Pass can be besieged by snow storms at anytime.  If the roads are packed snow or icy at all, plan on an extra 30 – 90 minutes of drive time from Portland.

Insider Info:  The Lodge is an excellent restaurant!  I would love to eat there for every meal while at the Ranch, but it’s a fine dining experience, which means higher prices and a bit quieter atmosphere.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s family-friendly, but sometimes, I don’t feel like chasing my kids up and down stairs while people are trying to enjoy a nice dinner together.  That’s why in summer, we preferred the restaurant at the Big Meadow Clubhouse.  It was a bit more casual, and the kids could run around on the golf course while waiting for our food.

So what is the solution to the food dilemma?  Order your food to go!  Order from either The Lodge menu or the Aspen Lounge (less expensive but the same quality) and bring your food back to where you’re staying.  That way, you can avoid some of the restaurant stress associated with eating out, and you’ll also be able to order from the Aspen Lounge menu.  We did this for breakfast and dinner.

Sleigh Rides are very popular!  When we arrived, all the spots were filled for our entire 4-day visit.  🙁  I would suggest booking your spot on the sleigh at the same time as your lodging.  This was quite a disappointment for my family, but we’ll try again next year.

Family Tips:  If you plan on hiking around the Ranch when it’s icy, purchase some over the boot traction devices – seriously.  These devices are like tire chains for your boots!  Take the time to call and check on the snow conditions on the property.  If they 6″ of snow, cross-country skiing on their property is possible, which would be a great way to get around while visiting.

The town of Bend provides some lively action for the whole family.  I hope to do a feature article on Bend very soon.  When visiting the High Desert Museum, take some time to visit downtown and the Deschutes Brewery. There are also a tremendous amount of outdoor activities near Bend.  Take some time to review the literature supplied by Black Butte Ranch, or buy the Travel Guide to Bend.

To keep in the loop about happenings around the Ranch read and/or subscribe to the Black Butte Ranch Blog.  In addition, I encourage you to become fans on Facebook and Twitter!

Technorati Tags: central, Oregon, vacation, rentals, golf, resort, Bend, Sisters, lodging, weddings, family, kids, spa, biking, Black, Butte, Ranch, horseback, riding, Hoodoo, Ski


  1. Outstanding video. Looks like a great family place to go.

  2. Vince, I've been following your website for a couple of years now. Keep up the good work! Question: was it hard teaching Reese to X-Country ski? My kids ski but I've now sidelined with a snowboarding injury so no more of that for another month. I was under the impression that going snowshoeing with the kids would be easier but X-Country looks more fun.

    • No problem getting Rhys up on the cross-country skis. He had some problems with the poles, so we just took them away. He did fine without them. He had a big smile the entire time he was skiing.

      I think kids walking in snowshoes does not sound fun. They are just too awkward for young kids; although they do make some just for kids.

  3. when in the bend area you should see Paulina Peak and Newberry the loner volcano
    which is in the heart of the 1000 volcano land

    • Hi Mike,

      I haven't been to Paulina or Newberry. We're planning a trip to Sun River this summer, so hopefully we can check them out then. Do you have a link and/or guide you can share?

  4. I have visited a ranch in the past in the season similar to this one. Awesome video you have provided here…..looks divine!

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