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Nov-12-2010 18:37printcomments

Winter Driving on Forest Service Roads

Snowy mountain road
PHOTO: Detroit & Sweet Home Ranger Districts, Willamette National Forest

(Springfield, Ore.) - Visitors to the Willamette National Forest will encounter a wide range of driving conditions from now through the end of winter. Many roads, especially those in higher elevations, have already become impassable due to ice and snow.

An important reminder at this time of year is that most Forest Service roads are not maintained for winter travel. This includes popular and scenic double-lane, paved roads such as Forest Highway 19 (North Fork Road/Aufderheide National Scenic Byway), Forest Highway 21 (Middle Fork Road), and Forest Highway 46 (Breitenbush Road).

Visitors should be aware that even a few inches of snow can obscure icy roads and soft shoulders where vehicles can become stuck. Winter storms can trigger unexpected rock slides, and falling limbs and trees; they can quickly change driving conditions on forest roads from passable to impassable in a matter of minutes.

"Winter offers visitors a range of opportunities to enjoy the Forest, especially for those who like to snowmobile, snowshoe, ski or find holiday trees,” said Stacey Forson, Recreation Staff Officer for the Willamette National Forest. “We want to help our visitors be aware of the important tips that contribute to a safe and enjoyable trip. The following tips can help you prepare for a safe visit.”
* Plan for the unexpected
* Check the latest road and weather conditions
* Let someone know where you’re going
Carry an emergency kit in your vehicle

Travelers should be prepared to spend long periods of time in the car. Blankets or sleeping bags, warm clothes, a snow shovel, water, food and other necessities are recommended as part of a complete vehicle emergency kit.

Weather can change quickly, particularly in higher elevations. Good snow tires, a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and chains are advised when driving in winter conditions. As a general rule, always adjust your speed to current conditions and drive at speeds that allow you to stop in half of the visible road distance ahead of you. Don’t forget to fuel up at the beginning of the trip.

Although GPS systems are valuable tools for navigating forest roads, they cannot always be relied on to provide the safest routes based on current conditions. A GPS system can easily lead you to a route that is impassable due to snow. Keep in mind that cell phones may not work in remote areas. Tell a friend or family member about your travel plans and stick to them.

Visit or call your local Ranger District office for the latest updates regarding weather, including snow levels and driving conditions (see list provided below). Current conditions are also provided on the alerts and notices section of the Willamette National Forest website. Helpful information about planning a trip to the Forest during the winter months can be found on our Know Before You Go webpage at

For regular updates regarding road conditions on state highways that serve as mountain passes visit Tripcheck, offered by Oregon Department of Transportation at

Source: Detroit & Sweet Home Ranger Districts, Willamette National Forest

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