Sisters Cow Camp has a funny name, but it’s a terrific horse camp with trails galore, gentle terrain, and easy access. And it’s free of charge!
The camp, located just four miles from Sisters, Oregon, got its name because local ranchers used this site for decades to gather their cows off their summer grazing range. Today Sisters Cow Camp is a popular horse camping area and equestrian trailhead, but you can still see evidence of its prior use—a historic shed, large pole corrals, and a cattle loading chute.
Sisters Cow Camp offers a variety of fun equestrian trails. The 150-mile Metolius-Windigo Trail runs right past the camp, and other nearby trails connect with it to create loop rides that feature mountain views, pretty creeks, and open ponderosa pine forest. Here are some of the interesting places you can ride:
Graham Corral: If you follow the Metolius-Windigo Trail north you’ll end up at Graham Corral, one of the horse camps that are arrayed along the Met-Win Trail. This 13.5-mile out-and-back ride takes you through an interesting rock grotto with huge ponderosas, aspens, and lush carpet of grass. It also travels over a low ridge that offers filtered views of the Three Sisters.
Pole Creek: You can take the Met-Win Trail south to pretty Pole Creek, a 7-mile round trip. On the way you’ll be treated to impressive views of the Three Sisters to the southwest and Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Black Butte, and Mt. Jefferson to the northwest. If you have a green trail horse, Pole Creek is a good place to train him to cross bridges and creeks, as the bridge is short and low to the ground, and the creek crossing beside the bridge is gentle and easy to access.
Whychus Creek: You may want to continue south on the Met-Win for another mile and a half past Pole Creek to reach Whychus Creek, a designated Wild and Scenic River that roars impressively past you in a narrow canyon shaded by huge ponderosas.
Jimerson Trail: This delightful trail connects on both ends with the Met-Win north of the horse camp, creating a 10-mile loop through beautiful ponderosa pine forest.
Sisters: If you start out on the Jimerson Trail, you can veer off on a signed trail that takes you into the town of Sisters. In town you can enjoy a delicious burger or shake at the Sno-Cap Drive-in, a 1950s-style drive-in that makes its own ice cream. (You can tie your horses in the trees in front of the Forest Service building across the street.)
Cow Camp Loop: This fun route connects several forest roads with the Met-Win Trail to create a pleasant 9-mile loop. Some sections of this loop are not signed, so you’ll need a map.
Marquis Loop: You can ride the Marquis Loop, a wonderful 13-mile loop that follows the Met-Win, forest roads, and single-track trail to explore the forest south of Sisters Cow Camp. You’ll need a map for this unsigned but easy and well-traveled loop.
Experienced riders and novices alike will find plenty of good riding at Sisters Cow Camp, so make plans to go!
Getting There: From Sisters, drive west 1.5 miles on Hwy. 242 (follow the signs toward the high school) and turn left on Road 15. Continue 2.5 miles and turn left at the sign for Sisters Cow Camp, then drive 0.4 mile to reach the camp.
Season: Early spring through late fall. Spring and fall are the best times to ride at Sisters Cow Camp, because in mid-summer the area’s lightweight pumice soils make for dusty trails.
Camping Facilities: Sisters Cow Camp has five sites with fire pits and picnic tables, plus a huge parking area that can accommodate many trailers. The camp has four large corrals in the center of the camp that are shared by all the sites on a first-come, first-served basis. In case the corrals are full you may want to bring a portable corral or be prepared to highline your horses among the huge ponderosa pines that shade the camp. The camp has a vault toilet and a seasonal stock water tank.
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, November, 2016.