At 6,350 feet, Three Creek Meadow Horse Camp near Sisters, Oregon is the gateway to trails that offer spectacular scenery without posing much difficulty for the horse and rider.
Located about 15 miles south of the town of Sisters, Oregon, the horse camp is adjacent to pretty Three Creek Meadow at the foot of Tam McArthur Rim, an imposing rock ridge that runs east from Broken Top. Nearby you’ll find Three Creek Lake, a popular fishing spot, and Little Three Creek Lake.
While many people refer to this area as “Three Creeks,” its actual name is “Three Creek.” We wondered for years what happened to One Creek and Two Creek, but recently learned that the “Three Creek” name comes from the fact that three tiny streams (the outflow from Three Creek Lake, the outflow from Little Three Creek Lake, and the Snow Ditch) flow together in Three Creek Meadow to form a single stream: Three Creek. Go figure.
The riding in this area is an interesting mix. You can ride a nice 4-mile loop that takes you to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake and features creeks, meadows, forest, and wildflowers in addition to the two lakes. There’s even a derelict forest cabin beside the trail.
You can ride to the top of Tam McArthur Rim for a panoramic view of Broken Top, the Three Sisters, and the two lakes far below you. This ride used to follow a hiker trail that was less than 10 miles long but featured some pretty challenging spots including steep drop-offs and one bare-rock blind corner that was plenty difficult even if you didn’t meet an oncoming hiker just around the corner (which you usually did).
Several years ago the Forest Service re-routed the trail, making it longer (16 miles round trip) but much easier (the elevation change is far more gradual and the terrain is more horse-friendly). It’s a fun ride, and the views are spectacular.
Another ride goes to Park Meadow, surely one of the most beautiful spots in the Deschutes National Forest. The meadow is nestled between Broken Top and South Sister, and pretty Park Creek flows through it. Seasonal wildflowers abound in the meadow.
Interestingly, while Park Meadow was not burned by the 2012 Pole Creek Fire, virtually the entire forest between the horse camp and the meadow was incinerated. The fire burned so hot that it killed all the trees and sterilized the ground, so you’ll ride for miles through the silver and black skeletons of dead trees where the ground vegetation is only now beginning to regenerate. The compensation for this rather bleak landscape is that you now have mountain views were once entirely hidden by dense lodgepole forest.
And Park Meadow is so special, it’s well worth riding through the burned forest to get there.
Once you get to Park Meadow (a 12-mile round trip), if you’re up for it you can continue another 1.7 miles (one way) through green forest to visit beautiful Golden Lake. This gem is located at the end of an unsigned user-created trail that is heavily used, quite distinct, and easy to follow. The middle of the lake is blue, but the perimeter is a beautiful golden color. And with Broken Top towering over the lake on one side and South Sister on the other, the views are breathtaking.
Three Creek Meadow Horse Camp offers you horse-friendly trails, pretty lakes, seasonal wildflowers, spectacular views, and the opportunity to observe a forest beginning to regenerate after a devastating fire. It is not to be missed.
Getting to Three Creek Meadow Horse Camp: From Sisters, turn south on Elm Street, which becomes Forest Road 16. Drive 15 miles to the campground. Do not use the first entrance, which leads to the people-only camping sites. Instead, drive 0.2 mile farther and turn right into the campground’s equestrian entrance. Continue 0.2 mile, past the day-use trailer parking area, to reach the horse camp. Note that the loop on the right is easier for large trailers than the loop on the left.
Fees: Camping fee; no fee for day-use parking
Season: Summer through fall
Facilities: Nine sites have 4-horse log corrals. Most are back-in, with room for 2 vehicles. All sites have fire pits and picnic tables. The camp has a vault toilet, manure bin, garbage cans, and stock water from a tank, plus day-use parking for 2-4 trailers.
More Information: Three Creek Meadow Horse Camp is covered in more detail in Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2012).