If you are an equestrian living in the Bend area, you are lucky, indeed. You have access to year-round trails that offer excellent winter riding! Here are five favorite winter trails near Bend:
Oregon Badlands Wilderness
The Oregon Badlands Wilderness is a 50 square mile area located in the high desert just 12 miles east of Bend. You can access the 50+ miles of sandy, year-round trails from four trailheads that are large enough for horse trailers. The trails travel among sagebrush, junipers, bunchgrass, and fascinating rock outcroppings. Several fun loops are possible. Because it’s a designated Wilderness Area, bikes are not allowed in the Badlands.
The Swamp Wells Trail System runs from Horse Butte on the south edge of Bend to the Newberry Crater National Monument – about 70 miles of trail in total. While the southern half of the trail network is higher in elevation and gets its fair share of snow, the trails around Horse Butte are often snow-free and offer excellent winter riding. You’ll share the trails with mountain bike riders. However, the terrain is relatively flat with long lines of sight, the cyclists don't go very fast and you can see them coming.
When you ride at Tumalo Reservoir on the northwest side of Bend, you have plenty of trails to choose from. You can follow Bull Creek through the forest to Bull Spring, ride around Tumalo Reservoir, follow trails and roads through ponderosa pine forest, or ,ride across the open expanse of Bull Flat. The terrain has little elevation change, and the mountain views are huge. The forested areas may be icy at times in winter, but the Bull Flat area offers excellent sandy footing even when there’s snow on the ground. Bikes are allowed at Tumalo Reservoir, but you’ll seldom encounter any.
Peterson Ridge is off Hwy. 20 on the outskirts of Sisters. It features over 20 miles of easy riding through beautiful Ponderosa pine forest. Peterson Ridge is a popular bike riding area, but the bike and horse trails are completely separate. Spectacular mountain views are available from several viewpoints along the trails. In mid-winter, the trails may be too snowy/icy to be enjoyable, but in most years the trails are rideable at least ten months of the year.
Mayfield Pond Recreation Area
On the east side of Bend, Mayfield Pond Recreation Area features 19,500 acres of sagebrush, juniper, and bunchgrass. Old forest roads criss-cross the area, so you can ride a different loop every day. A few of the forest roads allow off-road vehicle travel, but most are for non-motorized use only. The footing is sandy and suitable for year-round riding. Mayfield Pond is a good venue for green horses and riders, and it’s a nice place to keep your horse conditioned during the winter.
You’ll find more information about these trails, and many more, in Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails by Kim McCarrel, available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.