The Willamette National Forest, located in the heart of Oregon's Cascade Range, offers an abundance of natural beauty and recreational activities. Horseback riding enthusiasts have plenty of options to explore the forest's diverse landscapes, from towering old-growth forests to picturesque meadows and sparkling streams. Here are some of the top horse trails in the Willamette National Forest that are a must-visit for equestrians.
1. McKenzie River Trail:
The McKenzie River Trail is a popular destination for horseback riding. This 26-mile trail follows the pristine McKenzie River, offering stunning views of waterfalls, volcanic formations, and lush forests. The trail is relatively flat, making it perfect for riders of all skill levels. With numerous access points and camping spots along the way, this trail offers an unforgettable experience for horse and rider.
2. French Pete Trail:
The French Pete Trail, located in the Three Sisters Wilderness, takes riders through diverse terrain, including old-growth forests and wildflower-strewn meadows. This 13-mile trail is moderately challenging but rewards riders with breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and access to several pristine alpine lakes. Be prepared for some rocky sections and moderate elevation gain.
3. Clear Lake Loop:
Clear Lake, nestled in the shadow of the Santiam Pass, offers a picturesque setting for horseback riding. The Clear Lake Loop is a 5.5-mile trail that encircles the lake, providing riders with stunning views of crystal-clear water and ancient lava flows. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy, allowing for a leisurely ride while enjoying the beauty of the lake and surrounding forest.
4. Fall Creek Trail:
Located near the town of Lowell, the Fall Creek Trail offers a peaceful escape within the Willamette National Forest. This 9.5-mile trail meanders along Fall Creek, crossing wooden bridges and passing by waterfalls. The lush forest scenery and serene surroundings provide an ideal environment for horseback riding. Be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife, as Fall Creek is home to an array of animal species.
5. Ice Cap Trail:
For more experienced riders seeking a challenging adventure, the Ice Cap Trail is a must-try. This 9-mile trail climbs steeply through the West Cascade Range, offering panoramic views of surrounding peaks and valleys. The trail can be rough in sections, so it is essential to have well-trained horses and advanced riding skills. However, the rewarding vistas make it all worthwhile.
6. Tamolitch Blue Pool Trail:
The Tamolitch Blue Pool Trail is a unique experience for horseback riders. This 5-mile trail leads to the stunning Blue Pool, a crystal-clear pool formed by the collapse of an ancient lava tube. The trail passes through a dense forest and offers beautiful views of the McKenzie River. While the trail is relatively short, it can be challenging in places, so it's recommended for intermediate to advanced riders.
When exploring the horse trails in the Willamette National Forest, it is essential to follow Leave No Trace principles and ensure that you are well-prepared for your ride. Pack enough water, snacks, and essential equipment, and always check weather conditions before setting out.
Whether you are a seasoned equestrian or a beginner rider, the Willamette National Forest offers an array of horse trails that showcase the diverse beauty of Oregon's Cascade Range. These top trails provide unforgettable experiences, connecting riders with the natural wonders of the forest, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.