The Swamp Wells Trail System is huge, with well over 70 miles of non-motorized trails that extend from the outskirts of Bend all the way to the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Riders can access the trail network at Horse Butte Trailhead, on Bend’s southeast edge. Because of the trails’ proximity to town, however, the north end of the Swamp Wells system is heavily used by both equestrians and mountain bike riders.
However, if you drive just 14 miles south to Swamp Wells Horse Camp, you will have the southern trails nearly all to yourself and can enjoy a fun get-away-from-it-all camping experience without having to drive very far.
Swamp Wells gets fewer visitors than many other Central Oregon horse camps, in part because the gravel road leading to it tends to be washboardy, discouraging use by day riders. And while the camp has a couple of small ponds and a wildlife guzzler, in some years they are dry by mid-summer so overnight visitors should plan to bring their own stock water.
These challenges have a silver lining, though: at Swamp Wells you get solitude combined with wonderful riding. You can often ride all day without seeing another person. The terrain is horse friendly, the open ponderosa and lodgepole pine forest is beautiful, the footing is excellent, and the views are panoramic.
Plus, you have plenty of riding options at Swamp Wells Horse Camp:
— A short but scenic 4.5-mile loop that takes you to the top of Fuzztail Butte, a small cinder cone with a 360-degree view.
— A 13-mile loop to Arnold Ice Cave, Charcoal Cave, and several other caves that were formed when the roofs of lava tubes partially collapsed, revealing the caverns beneath.
— A 13-mile loop to Kelsey Butte, where you’ll have panoramic views west to the Cascade Range and north to Bend and beyond.
— A long out-and-back ride south to Newberry National Volcanic Monument, where you can connect with the extensive network of trails within Newberry Crater.
— Or for further exploration you can ride the extensive network of forest roads in the area.
Swamp Wells Horse Camp offers you wonderful riding without the crowds, and all of it is only a few miles from Bend. So bring some stock water and make the trek. It’s worth it!
Getting to Swamp Wells Horse Camp: From Bend, drive south on Hwy. 97 and take Exit 143 (Baker Rd./Knott Rd.) Turn left on Knott Road and continue 1.4 miles. Turn right on China Hat Road and go 4.6 miles, then turn right on Road 1810. After 5.7 miles, turn left on road 1816 and follow the signs 2.7 miles to the horse camp.
Season: May through October
Horse Camp Facilities: 5 sites, each with a 4-horse steel corral. All sites are level, graveled, and back-in, with picnic tables and fire rings. Two sites have room for 2 trailers. Vault toilet, manure bins, stock water from a small guzzler (spring and early summer only), and handicapped-accessible mounting ramp. The day-use area has parking for 10 trailers. No fees.
More Information: The Swamp Wells trails are covered in more detail in the Swamp Wells/Horse Butte chapter of Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2012).