The Ochoco National Forest is a fabulous place to ride. It offers horse-friendly terrain, beautiful forest, and impressive views. Here are a few of the best trails to enjoy on horseback:
Giddy Up Go Loop
This 9-mile loop originates at Dry Creek Horse Camp and climbs a nearby ridge. On the trail you’ll ride through beautiful stands of ponderosa pines and grand firs, see the tumble-down remains of several structures at Kidnap Springs, and take in expansive views from the top of the ridge.
Twin Pillars Trail
The Twin Pillars Trail travels through the pretty Mill Creek Wilderness, crossing and re-crossing the East Fork of Mill Creek along the way. The highlight of the ride is your view of the Twin Pillars, two volcanic plugs atop a hill -- all that remain of an eroded volcano that was active 44 million years ago.
Coyle Butte Loop
The Coyle Butte Loop departs from Corral Flat, a dispersed camping area off Forest Road 2630. It’s a fun 10-mile loop that follows part of the route of an annual endurance ride, running through lush meadows and open ponderosa pine forest. Wildflowers abound in early summer. The trail is a combination of forest roads and single-track trails and has little elevation change, so it’s an easy ride. However, the trail isn’t signed so it’s essential that you carry a map and compass or map and GPS and know how to use them.
Lookout Mountain Trail
This 16-mile out-and-back trail takes you from the site of the old Ochoco Ranger Station to the treeless tabletop summit of Lookout Mountain. It’s a long and rocky trail with a 3,000-foot elevation gain, and the trail is popular with mountain bike riders, so you’ll need to keep a sharp eye out. The views from the summit and the pretty terrain you ride through are worth the exertion.
Independent Mine Loops
The Lookout Mountain Trail discussed above continues from the mountain's summit down to the Round Mountain South Trailhead. If you combine this section of the Lookout Mountain Trail with the Independent Mine and Mother Lode Trails, you can ride a couple of spectacular loops that take you to the top of Lookout Mountain. These loops are shorter than the Lookout Mountain ride described above, they have less elevation gain, and, well, they’re loops. Not only will you enjoy the views from the summit, you’ll also see several old mine buildings and a mine tunnel entrance or two along the way. This trail is also popular with mountain bikes, so stay alert.
Round Mountain Trail
You can ride to the 6,800-foot summit of Round Mountain from either the north side of the mountain or the south side. The trails are 9 or 10 miles round trip, with 1,400 feet of elevation gain. You’ll encounter mountain bikes on these trails, but fewer than on the Lookout Mountain and Independent Mine Trails. The treeless summit of Round Mountain offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the Cascades and the surrounding Ochoco Mountains. Spectacular!
If you want to experience the joys of riding in the Ochocos but don’t live nearby, you’ll find pleasant horse camping accommodations at:
Dry Creek Horse Camp
Dry Creek Horse Camp has 6 sites with corrals, picnic tables, and fire rings, plus a toilet and a manure bin. Water is available from nearby Dry Creek in early summer, but by midsummer the creek lives up to its name so you’ll need to bring your own stock water.
Corral Flat Dispersed Camp
Corral Flat is just a flat area beside a meadow off Road 2630. It has no amenities, so you’ll need to bring your own stock water and portable corral or highline.
The Ochoco National Forest is a great place to explore on horseback, so pick a trail and experience for yourself the delights of this beautiful area.
You'll find more information about each of these trails and horse camps in Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel. It's available at www.nwhorsetrails.com. Happy Trails!