Though winter at Diamond Lake is known primarily as a snowmobiler's paradise, cross-country skiers of all skill levels can find a phenomenal variety of terrain.
The lake itself is ringed by a groomed trail and sits at 5,280 feet, which means the skiing is usually enjoyable into May.
Diamond Lake Resort makes a great base of operations, especially for a weekend or longer. Winter lodging options include motel-style rooms from $59 a night and individual cabins from $119. The restaurant and café are open daily. Nordic ski rental packages at the nearby rental center run $25 a day.
Nearly 300 miles of trails in this area are groomed for snowmobiles and many are more than 20 feet wide. This configuration decreases the likelihood of skier-snowmobiler interactions, especially after you get a few miles from the lodge.
If you're after groomed, Nordic-only trails, the resort actively grooms about 18 miles with a double-track attachment. These trails are wide enough for a skate skier to fit between the two sets of groomed tracks.
The Northern Exposure loop is a good place for beginners to start. Nearly flat, this trail meanders through a lodgepole pine forest less than a half-mile north of the resort and will take one to two hours to complete.
An equally flat, three-mile, groomed trail heads south from the resort through the summer campground. At the South Shore Pizza shop (closed in winter), this trail intersects with both snowmobile and ungroomed trails, both of which follow the lake perimeter. On the west side of Diamond Lake are parallel trails: the flatter bike loop and the more challenging trail No. 1460.
The entire lake circuit is approximately 11 miles long and will take 31/2 to 5 hours. Check the weather before you head out, because parts of this trail are exposed to the wind, and whiteouts are not uncommon here in the winter.
With the hundreds of miles of summer hiking trails in the area, backcountry skiing possibilities are virtually endless. Many trails offer stunning views of the bowl-shaped Mount Bailey to the west of Diamond Lake and the spiked peak of Mount Thielsen to the east. A favorite trail of many skiers is the Silent Creek Trail, accessed from the Three Lake Snow Park, on Highway 230, 2.7 miles west of the junction with Highway 138.
"This route starts out through the trails, and you ski downhill to the creek area," says Marian Crumme, secretary of the Southern Oregon Nordic Club. "The trail then follows the creek and ends up at Diamond Lake. You get a lot of nice views along the way."
This non-groomed trail takes about 21/2 hours to complete and ends at the South Shore Pizza shop.
A seven-mile drive from the resort at Diamond Lake takes you to the northern entrance of the lake's more famous cousin, Crater Lake National Park. The northern entrance is closed in winter to auto traffic but makes for truly unique skiing.
Each New Year's Day, Southern Oregon Nordic Club leads a ski trip into the "pumice desert" north of Crater Lake's rim.
"You ski south along the main road through the pumice desert," says Crumme. "In winter, it's a multi-use trail with a wide open exposure. You get incredible vistas."
Snow covered roads make for some of the best cross-country skiing.
"The grades are consistent and don't change abruptly," Crumme explains. "And especially if it's storming, it's a lot harder to get lost."
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org