Horse Lake is a pretty lake in the Three Sisters Wilderness about 33 miles east of Bend. And the loop trail you'll ride to the lake is fabulous.
If you're staying at Quinn Meadow Horse Camp, you can start your ride from there. Or you can trailer to the Elk Lake Trailhead instead. This Wilderness trail does not require a Limited-Entry Permit.
The loop trail to the lake is a real delight, traveling at first through open east-side forest of hemlocks and lodgepoles. Then it crosses the crest the Cascades and the forest gets denser, with huckleberries and other brush in the understory. The change in the forest is gradual, but noticeable.
In addition to visiting Horse Lake, this loop trail takes you past Sunset Lake and several small, unnamed lakes, and through Island Meadow, a grassy meadow in a sea of conifers. You’ll also travel briefly through the area burned by the Elk Lake Fire, with its stark, dead tree trunks, thriving young lodgepole pines, and views of South Sister, Broken Top, Mt. Bachelor, and Elk Lake.
Ironically, though, the Horse Lake Loop doesn’t actually take you to the lake. From the trail, you can’t even tell there’s a lake nearby. To actually get to the lake you have to detour onto either the Horse Creek Trail, which runs along the east side of the lake, or the Park Trail, which runs along the west side. If you follow these trails, keep a sharp eye out and after awhile you’ll spot the unsigned fishermen’s paths that can take you to the lake shore.
To get to Horse Lake, start at the Elk Lake Trailhead south of Mt. Bachelor, and follow the Horse Lake, Sunset Lake, and Pacific Crest Trails. Or, you can start at Quinn Meadow Horse Camp and follow the Elk-Devils Trail to reach the Horse Lake Trail. It's a beautiful ride. Don't miss it!
The Horse Lake Loop is featured in Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails by Kim McCarrel, available at www.NWHorseTrails.com.