It’s winter in the Willamette Valley, so of course it has been raining. But today the sun is out, and you want to go for a ride. Lucky for you, if you live near Eugene you have several fun winter trail-riding options not far away.
Elijah Bristow State Park
If you live in the Eugene area, Elijah Bristow State Park is probably the first place you think of when you want to do a winter ride. The park offers 10 miles of easy, forested trails, little elevation change, and lots of loop opportunities so you can vary your rides. Plus, volunteers and park officials have been installing “trail training stations” beside the trail, so you can school your horse on the types of obstacles you might encounter next summer on more challenging mountain trails. The park is located just off Hwy. 58, south of Eugene. Take Wheeler Road to reach the large equestrian parking area.
Row River Trail
The Row River Trail is a rails-to-trails conversion near Cottage Grove. It runs over 15 miles along the Row (rhymes with cow) River and the shore of Dorena Lake. The entire length of the trail is paved, but beside the pavement is a gravel path expressly for horses. Yes, the Row River Trail is shared with bike riders, but the lines of sight are long and open, so you can see cyclists coming a long way off. And the footing is excellent, even in rainy weather. The historic covered bridges you’ll pass along the trail are an added attraction. The best trailer parking is at the Mosby Creek Trailhead, located off Mosby Creek Road in Cottage Grove.
The single-track trails that explore the hills around the Carpenter Bypass Road can get muddy and slick in rainy weather. But this pretty, forested area is also laced with gravel logging roads that offer excellent footing in winter. You can park at either the Pile Trailhead or the small Carpenter Bypass Trailhead. Both are located just off Carpenter Bypass Road, a little south of the town of Lorane.
Mt. Pisgah (Buford Recreation Area)
In summer, the trails on 1,500-foot Mt. Pisgah offer amazing views of the Willamette Valley below, plus great conditioning opportunities for your horse. In winter, some of the trails can be muddy and should be avoided when wet. But the rest of the trails, which travel through grassy meadows and shady groves of oaks, maples, and Douglas-firs are open year round. The equestrian trailhead is off Seavey Loop Road, on the south end of Eugene.
You’ll find more information about these trails and riding areas in Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2017), and Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2017). Both books are available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.