Trail Riding in the Pacific Northwest

Written by Corie Traylor

The Northwest is paradise for lovers of the outdoors. Less than a day’s drive in any direction we can experience the pristine peace of high alpine lakes; vibrant colors of spring meadows dotted with wildflowers; snow-covered skylines framed by the Cascades; miles of sand dunes; and the incredible stillness of the desert. With so many places to explore, deciding where you want to go trail riding can be overwhelming—and sorting through the red tape or deciding if you or your horse will feel safe on the trails can be daunting. We asked a few members of the community to share some of their favorite places to ride and we’ve highlighted their recommendations below. Hopefully, wherever you live or whatever your experience level, you’ll find a new and exciting place to explore on your next outing. Happy trails! 

Terraka Mishler on her horse, Primo.

Trail Riding in Oregon

1. Fort Stevens State Park Astoria, OR 

With ample trailer parking and well-maintained trail system, and fantastic beach access, Fort Stevens has a little something for everyone. The wooded trails run along the beach and can help any hot or green horses blow off a little steam before heading out to the ocean. Parts of the trail system have been known to flood and you might have to wade through some deep puddles on your way north or south! 

The beach can be a little busy, particularly near the famed Peter Iredale shipwreck, so it can be a slightly more “stimulating” place to ride, especially on sunny days. 

You need an Oregon State Parks Permit to ride here. 

2. L.L. Stub Stewart State Park Buxton, OR 

34 miles west of Portland lies the 1,800-acre L.L. Stub Stewart State Park, which is home to 30 miles of forested, multi-use trails that are shared between hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians—and ultimate frisbee players. “There are so many miles of varied terrain which is great for conditioning rides,” says Danielle Gregoire Russell. “There are also straightaways if you would like to go a bit faster.” 

If you don’t have a lot of experience navigating on trails, it might be a good idea to bring along a friend who does. “I would recommend this place for intermediate/ advanced riders only because the trail system is a bit more complex,” says Danielle. “It would be totally fine for beginners if you have an intermediate (+) rider with you. You also need to be aware that not everyone who goes there is familiar with horses.” 

In addition to miles of trails, the seasonal Hares Canyon Horse Camp has 13, four-stall corral sites and two, six-stall corral sites, each with full hookups and access to the trail system straight from the campground. “The horse camping is phenomenal!” says Danielle. “They have a few group camp sites and then some smaller ones but the sites have large stalls/corrals and plenty of space.” 

You need an Oregon State Parks Permit to ride here. 

3. Milo McIver State Park Estacada, OR 

45 minutes from Portland and tucked alongside the Clackamas River, Milo McIver State Park is a great place for beginners. “I would highly recommend these trails for any level of riders, but advanced riders may find it boring after a while,” says Danielle. With seven miles of equestrian trails, you’ll need to do multiple loops to go on a longer ride. 

The footing stays good year-round, passing along the shore of the river, through the forest, and past open meadows. A selection of “trail obstacles” are scattered throughout the park, giving equestrians a chance to work with their horses on navigating bridges, gates, and a variety of “step over” obstacles. 

You need an Oregon State Parks Permit to ride here. 

4. Todd Creek Horse Camp Bend, OR 

Less than 25 miles west of Bend, Todd Creek Horsecamp is home to some of the most scenic riding in Central Oregon. Depending on when you go, you’ll be greeted by wildflower meadows, sparkling alpine lakes, and stunning mountain views. “This is my all-time favorite place to ride in Oregon,” says Terraka Mishler. “I love the wide open spaces, mountains, and all the lakes.” 

The camp has seven sites with four-horse corrals, a vault toilet, and a creek or handpump that can be used to water horses. There is no potable water so, if you plan on camping, make sure to come prepared. From camp, you can head out on the Metolius-Windigo Trail, which offers over 100 miles of riding with access to a variety of other trails, which you can link if you want to day ride up to one of the many alpine lakes. 

A Northwest Forest Pass is required for camping or day-use. In addition, certain trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness are now requiring a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit, which can be obtained in advance. 

5. Three Creek Meadow Horse CampSisters, OR

“There are several trails that most anyone can ride,” says Holly Anderson, “but there are also options to ride farther and on rougher trails. You can ride to Golden Lake and back, which is an easy ride, or you can head uphill beyond the lake to a couple of tarns, and even continue cross-country in order to loop back to camp.” 

The trail system offers access to shorter loops of 4-10 miles, or you have the option of riding 16+ miles to areas like Green Lakes or Tam McArthur Rim. “The Tam McArthur Rim Trail is very scenic, but it is one of the trails that, starting this year, you will need a limited access permit for,” says Holly.

The camp has space for RVs and trailers but there are no hookups for water or electricity. Nine of the sites are for horse camp only and each site has corrals, stock water, and there is access to a vault toilet. There is no potable water so, if you plan on camping, make sure to come prepared. The sites can be reserved in advance for $14/night, with an extra $4 fee on holidays.

A free, self-issued Wilderness permit is required for day-use. Certain trails in the Three Sisters Wilderness are now requiring a Central Cascades Wilderness Permit, which can be obtained in advance.

6. Moss Springs CampgroundCove, OR

A popular location for people packing or backpacking into the Eagle Cap Wilderness, the trails out of Moss Springs Campground are beautiful and, because of the length of most of the riding, Holly does not recommend that beginners ride into these areas. An eight-mile ride one way will bring you to Red’s Horse Ranch, and another half-mile of riding will bring you to the Minam River Lodge. “Once you get down into the valley by the Minam River,” says Holly, “it’s pretty difficult to want to leave, so packing in and staying awhile is a nice option. This area is only accessible by horseback, hiking/backpacking, and plane.” If you’re up for it, you can even gallop the airstrip, which is what Holly did during her last trip into the area.

The campground has two vault toilets, garbage cans, stock water from a stream, which is close to the entrance to camp, but no potable water. “The camp has a few different options as far as horse containment, and not all of the spots have corrals,” says Holly. “A lot of people do not like the gravel road that leads to this camp, perhaps it is best not to bring an enormous, heavy LQ!”

A Northwest Forest Pass is required for day-use and a $5 fee is required to camp overnight.

Looking for resources? Flying Changes Magazine is extremely grateful to Terraka Mishler for her help with this article. Terraka has been trail riding and horse camping around the Pacific Northwest for years, and started the facebook group Trailriding and Horsecamping the PNW as a way for riders to connect on the topic. It has turned into an invaluable resource for equestrians looking for information on trail rides in our area. It is also a fantastic forum for questions and answers. Terraka is the owner and instructor at Summer Glen Stables in Beaver Creek, Oregon. Thank you, Terra for your generosity and adventurous spirit. 

Ben on the Green Lakes trail in Central Oregon. Submitted by Siobhan Barker

Trail Riding in Washington

1. Goat Rocks Wilderness/Walupt Horse Camp – Packwood, WA

If you have a fit, surefooted horse, and are wanting to ride for hours, venturing into Goat Rocks Wilderness is a fantastic option. “Goat Rocks is my favorite area in Washington,” says Holly. “But most of the trails are not for the faint of heart, and in order to see the most beautiful areas, you must ride long distances.”

Walupt Horse Camp has seven, non-reservable sites. You’ll pay an $18/night fee for a site with access to a vault toilet and potable water. According to Holly, most Washington camps do not have corrals, and Walupt is no exception, so come prepared to highline or tie if you plan to stay overnight. From Walupt, you have many options for riding directly out of the camp, and have even more access only a short haul away. “During my last trip,” says Holly, “I trailered over to the Berry Patch trailhead in order to do a loop ride up past Goat Lake and Snowgrass Flats.” These trails are frequented by hikers, runners, and even bow hunters, depending on the season, and can be very busy during peak season.

You’ll need a wilderness permit before heading out onto the trails.

2. Long Beach – Long Beach, WA

Claiming to be “the longest beach in the United States,” this 28-mile stretch of sand is a fantastic place to ride. Every mile of the beach—with the exception of the 1-mile stretch along the downtown area—is open to horses and can be accessed by riding through the sand dunes.

There are no horse camps at Long Beach but, if you want to make a weekend out of a trip here, there are several vacation homes with stalls/corrals for rent in the area and several other facilities have stalls available for overnighters. 

You need an Oregon State Parks Permit to ride here.

Betsy Shultz’s photo of a valley in the Wallowas

3. Columbia Hills State ParkWhite Salmon, WA

Add Columbia Hills State Park to your spring riding “must visit’’ list. Just like most trails in the Columbia River Gorge, abundant wildflowers line each hillside and the views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams are stunning on a clear day. Because of this, the area can be somewhat crowded on weekends during the spring so try to arrive on a weekday if you can. 

The Crawford Oaks Trailhead has horse trailer parking and has access to eight miles of rolling trails with moderate elevation gain.

A Discover Pass is required for day-use.

4. Mount Adams Wilderness/Keenes Horse Camp – Randle, WA 

With access to more than 50 miles of riding, including an option to ride to the summit of Green Mountain, a trip to Keenes Horse Camp is not to be missed! If you visit earlier in the season, the meadows will be bursting with colorful wildflowers. And the views of the Cascade Mountains are panoramic from certain points on the trail. As with any area that’s lush with vegetation into the summer, bugs can be pretty bad here through the Fall. Come prepared with bug spray and netting. 

The camp has 13, non-reservable sites. You’ll pay an $16/night fee for a site with access to a vault toilet, highline posts, and access to non-potable, stock water. The road up to the camp from the south can be rough so it’s recommended that you trailer in from Randle, Washington if possible. The sites do fill up quickly later in the week and on the weekend so, if you can, plan to arrive early in the week. If you do arrive when camp is full, there is some access to dispersed camping nearby but do your part to Leave No Trace and leave the area better than you found it. 

You’ll need a wilderness permit before heading out onto the trails. 

5. Tarbell Trail Battleground, WA 

The Tarbell Trail is a 23-mile loop with a nearly endless supply of variations that allow you to ride shorter loops, or to potentially link in some of the long gravel roads for a bigger ride. You can ride to Silver Star Mountain, Larch Mountain, and Bell Mountain, or stay low and ride to the beautiful Hidden Falls. This area is popular with mountain bikers and there are a handful of mountain bike-only trails so keep an eye out. The Tarbell Trail system is well-marked and, if you do the whole loop, you can keep an eye on how far you’ve ridden since many of the signs include mileage. 

If you decide to spend a couple of days exploring the area, Rock Creek Campground has easy access to the trail system and has well-kept equestrian facilities. Each site has a two-horse corral and most are either pull-throughs or have the space for two trailers. Other amenities include water troughs, stock water, manure bins, and vault toilets. There are 13 equestrian-only sites and the camp is open year-round. 

A Discover Pass is required for overnight camping or day-use. 

Looking for Permits and Links?

Here is a list that will help you get started on any of the above mentioned adventures.

PERMITS:

Cascade Wilderness Permits FAQs:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/willamette/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fseprd688355

Oregon State Parks Permit:
https://store.oregonstateparks.org/

Northwest Forest Pass:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r6/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=fsbdev2_027010

Washington Discover Pass:
https://www.discoverpass.wa.gov/

CAMPING INFO:

LL Stub Stewart Campground reservations:
https://oregonstateparks.reserveamerica.com/camping/ll-stub-stewart-memorial-state-park/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=OR&parkId=402294#sr

Walupt Horse Camp: First come, first serve:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/giffordpinchot/recarea/?recid=31458

Todd Creek Horse Camp: info on if currently open/closed/payment method:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/deschutes/recreation/recarea/?recid=39020

Three Creek Meadow: info on if currently open/closed/where to make reservations:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/deschutes/recarea/?recid=38668

Moss Springs Campground: not reservable; info on if currently open/closed:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/wallowa-whitman/recarea/?recid=52083

Rock Creek Campground:
https://www.dnr.wa.gov/Yacolt

Keenes Horse Camp: first come, first serve:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/giffordpinchot/recarea/?recid=31328

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