One of my very favorite places to ride is the Peterson Ridge Horse Trail, near Sisters. This trail has it all – panoramic mountain views, beautiful ponderosa pine forest, horse-friendly terrain, directional signs at every trail junction, and separate trails for horses and bikes.
The Peterson Ridge Horse Trail is an out-and-back trail that runs the length of its namesake ridge. You’ll find three scenic overlooks that offer views of Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Washington, Black Butte, Three-Fingered Jack, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top. Plus, you’ll have mountain views from several additional vantage points along the trail.
The route is well signed, with white trailblazer diamonds on the trees and trail junction signs that indicate the distances and directions to various destinations along the route. The elevation changes are minimal and the trail is easy – the only minor challenges are a couple of irrigation canals that flow for about a month each summer.
Local horseback riders have enjoyed exploring the Peterson Ridge area for decades, but there were no formal trails until several years ago when Sisters-area mountain bike riders proposed building a trail network there. The bicyclists wanted to exclude horses from the proposed trails, because bicyclists like a firm, smooth trail tread. Horse hooves tend to churn up the area’s volcanic soil, making the trail miserably soft for bicyclists. (Imagine riding your bike in on a dry, sandy beach.) However, the prospect of being locked out of the area terrified local equestrians, who objected strenuously to the idea of being excluded from the trails.
In an unprecedented move, the Forest Service, bicyclists, and horseback riders all came together under the auspices of the Sisters Trails Alliance and agreed that the best solution would be to create separate bike and horse trails that would go to the same destinations and run roughly parallel to one another but a reasonable distance apart. The bicyclists generously offered to pay for the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment for both the bike and the horse trails, and helped the equestrians plan and build the horse trails. Further, the Forest Service agreed that equestrians could continue to ride cross country, so today horseback riders not only have a very nice trail network, they also can go anywhere they want on Peterson Ridge as long as they stay off the 18-inch wide bike trails. This collaborative approach has been so successful that it has been implemented in several other locations around Central Oregon where the volcanic soil makes it challenging for horses and bikes to share the same trail.
The Peterson Ridge Horse Trail is open year round, though it may be too snowy to ride there at times in the winter. The trail can be dusty in summer (this is Central Oregon, after all), but you can minimize the dust by riding in pairs or trios instead of in larger groups.
To pick up the Peterson Ridge Horse Trail, head west from the kiosk at the Rodeo Grounds Trailhead and follow the while diamonds on the trees. The route runs on a combination of single-track trails and dirt roads. You can follow the white diamonds and the directional signs to the Peterson Ridge Overlook, the Eagle Rock Two Viewpoint, or the Peak View Viewpoint, so pick a destination and go riding!
Ride Statistics: 7 miles round trip to the Peterson Ridge Overlook, 10.5 miles round trip to the Eagle Rock Two viewpoint, or 12 miles round trip to the Peak View Viewpoint. Elevations range from 3,300 to 3,800 feet. Other trails in the area that can be accessed from the Rodeo Grounds Trailhead include the Lazy Z Loop (7.5 miles round trip), the Rodeo Short Loop (4.5 miles), and the Whychus Creek Trail (8.5 miles). Stock water is available on the trail only in mid-summer when the irrigation ditches are running. Maps of the trail, courtesy of the Sisters Trails Alliance, are available in the kiosk at the trailhead.
Getting to the Rodeo Grounds Trailhead: On Hwy. 20, drive 4.5 miles southeast from Sisters or 16.5 miles northwest from Bend and turn west on Peterson Ridge Road. Continue 0.5 mile to the parking area, just outside the southwest corner of the Sisters Rodeo Grounds.
The Facilities at the Rodeo Grounds Trailhead: Parking for 8+ trailers, plus a kiosk with free maps. Primitive overnight camping is permitted at the trailhead, which is used as a camping area by rodeo contestants when the rodeo is in operation (the second week in June). No toilet, no corrals, no picnic tables, no fire rings. No fee.
More Information: The Peterson Ridge Horse Trail is covered in the Peterson Ridge chapter of Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2012).