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Roadside risks: ODOT, USFS warn of dangers to parking near winter recreation spots

Unsafe parking winter rec areas ODOT
Parked cars lined the Hwy. 26/Hwy. 35 interchange near Mount Hood, east of Government camp on Tuesday

With COVID-19 'cabin fever,' sno-parks around state are filling up fast

GOVERNMENT CAMP, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Some snow-seekers heading to winter recreation areas on state highways are finding designated parking areas filled and are creating safety issues by parking on roadsides. ODOT warned Wednesday of the dangerous practice, which can lead to fines or a towing bill.

ODOT Region 4 spokesman Peter Murphy said the problem is worse this year, due to many people seeking safe COVID-19 activities amid the pandemic and feelings of "cabin fever."

But officials said the roadway parking creates significant safety hazards when people get out of their vehicles and walk across the highway to reach their destinations.

It’s also dangerous for vehicles traveling through the area and for emergency vehicles and snow plows.

ODOT said travelers in winter recreation areas should remember to:

  • Slow down and use all your best winter driving skills, especially with more snow expected over the next week in the upper elevations.
  • Watch out for people next to the road. Unexpected snowball fights, sledding and other winter activities are taking place dangerously close to the highways.
  • Be extra-alert for snow removal equipment. Vehicles parked at the side of the road prevent plows and other equipment from doing their job.
  • Find a safe place to park.
  • Expect extra congestion from holiday travelers.

"We’re seeing the problem on major state highways, including U.S. 26 and OR 35 around Mount Hood and OR 372 (Century Drive, south toward Mt. Bachelor)," the ODOT announcement said. "This problem is especially concerning on busy freight corridors."

Under state law, non-emergency parking on state highways, including shoulders, is illegal in areas marked with no parking signs. Violators risk a ticket -- and a tow.

Parking is allowed in designated areas, such as sno-parks. Oregon has about 100 sno-park sites dedicated to winter recreation parking. The sites can be found throughout the state in all mountain passes and at most recognized ski, snowmobile and snow play areas.

A list of Oregon’s Sno-Parks is available at under Travel Center.

U.S. Forest Service news release:

Stay safe this winter on national forests

Bend, Ore - People are flocking to the mountains this winter, particularly on the Deschutes and Mt. Hood National Forests, filling up Sno-Parks, ski areas, and other recreation sites on national forest lands.  While winter is a great time to explore public lands, there are additional precautions and steps to take before heading out.  Recreation staff and emergency responders ask everyone to follow these tips and stay safe this winter.

Always check weather and road conditions before leaving home.  Prepare your vehicle for conditions at high elevations, carry tire chains and keep a winter weather kit in your vehicle.  Traffic may be heavy around popular winter recreation sites, so have a back-up plan if the site you wanted to visit is full.  Consider weekday visits or local transit options rather than driving to areas, and always carpool if possible.

If a parking lot is full, do not park along the highway, in no-parking zones, or block other vehicles.  Ambulances and other emergency vehicles need unhindered access to operate safely and save lives.  Highway snowplows need extra-wide road space as they have “wing” plows that stick out more than eight feet from the right front edge of the truck to remove snow.  Vehicles blocking traffic or parked illegally are subject to ticketing and towing. 

This winter ski areas are operating with reduced capacity, modified hours, or special COVID-19 protocols.  Some ski area parking lots are filling up before 8:00 a.m.  Check the ski area’s website in advance to know about any restrictions and take advantage of advance reservations, if available.  Do not endanger others or yourself by parking or idling on highways waiting for parking spaces to open.

For more information about winter recreation visit:

Deschutes National Forest

Mt. Hood National Forest Winter Recreation:

OR Dept. of Transportation Winter Driving Guide:

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