If you live in the Medford/Grants Pass area, you don’t have to stop riding just because it’s winter. You have plenty of winter riding opportunities nearby. Here are our top five picks:
Denman Wildlife Area
During World War II, the US Army operated Camp White, a training center in what is now White City. After the war, the Army decommissioned the facility and sold most of the land, but they donated the part now known as the Denman Wildlife Area to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) for wildlife habitat. Located off Hwy. 62 only 10 miles north of Medford, the Denman Wildlife Area offers miles of trails and roads to explore, or you can ride cross country. This area features ponds, creeks, and woods, as well as ammunition bunkers and other vestiges of the Camp White era. A parking permit from ODF&W is required.
Sterling Mine Ditch
The Sterling Mine Ditch Trail, located south of Medford and Jacksonville, is over 20 miles long and offers a fascinating glimpse into local history. In the 1870s, the Sterling Mine Company hired 400 workers, mostly Chinese, to build a ditch to bring water to its hydraulic gold mining operation in the hills above the Applegate River. The ditch, 3 feet deep and 26.5 miles long, was completed in under a year. Once the ditch was in operation, ditch riders patrolled it on horseback. Their route is now the Sterling Mine Ditch Trail. The trail has five trailheads with parking for horse trailers. It is open year round, but to avoid damaging the trail, please avoid it when the ground is muddy.
Located only 5 miles from downtown Grants Pass, Cathedral Hills is a delightful trail system shared with mountain bike riders and hikers. Perimeter trails run along the hills, and cross trails create a series of stacked loops that allow you to create rides of whatever length you like. The steeper trails are reserved for bikes and hikers, but horses still have over ten miles of trails here, with plenty of options for varying your rides. The trails are well-maintained, with excellent footing, and the spring wildflowers are spectacular. The Espey Road Trailhead has parking for five trailers.
Lake Selmac Park
The horse trails at Lake Selmac are a mix of single-track and dirt or gravel logging roads that explore the beautiful forested hills around the lake. The riding isn’t difficult, and the trails are well-maintained, but the trail junctions aren’t signed. A good map and a GPS will come in handy. Lake Selmac Park is off Hwy. 199 about 20 miles south of Grants Pass.
The Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail runs along the shore of the Applegate Lake reservoir. It’s off-limits to horses in the summer, but horses are welcome from November through the end of April. This trail has minimal elevation change and good views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. However, it’s not for everybody because it has bike traffic, blind corners, and steep drop-offs in places. If you’d like to give it a try, you can park at Hart-Tish Park on the north end of the lake. The trail is a 7-mile out-and-back round trip. Applegate Lake is located about 24 miles south of Jacksonville.
You’ll find more information about these riding areas in Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2017), available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.