Willamette Valley riders have long enjoyed the splendors of Big Meadows Horse Camp. Located off Hwy. 22 about 80 miles east of Salem, Big Meadows Horse Camp is easy to get to and offers access to a variety of delightful trails in the high Cascades.
Many horse camps have three or four nice rides nearby – enough to fill a long summer weekend. But Big Meadows offers many more trails than that. Whether you’re interested in some nice loop rides around camp or extended excursions into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, Big Meadows has it. For example:
The Big Meadows Loop is a fun 7-mile jaunt that explores the forest around the Big Meadows for which the horse camp was named. This loop has little elevation change, and it’s the only trail that offers a view of the meadows.
The easy ride to Pika and Fir Lakes is suitable for green horses and riders and is 6 miles round trip. It follows a lightly-traveled paved road to a single-track trail that then leads to the two pretty lakes.
The 11.5-mile trail to Duffy Lake isn’t a loop, but in two places you can veer off onto side trails that eventually meet back up with the main trail, allowing you to do partial loops along the way. Duffy Lake is a beautiful destination and a nice spot for lunch.
The cross-country ski trail network located just south of the horse camp offers nice summer riding opportunities, highlighted by a stop at the Mountain View Snow Shelter. This overnight camping shelter for winter recreationists offers a great view of the Three Sisters – something seldom seen from the west side of the Cascades.
The ride into the Eight Lakes Basin allows you to test your horse’s conditioning and your saddle stamina. It’s 18+ miles round trip, taking you deep into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. You’ll pass several lakes on your way to the Basin, then several more as you travel through this scenic area. You’ll even catch some views of Mt. Jefferson from the trail.
Santiam Lake is a spectacular destination in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. This 14-5-mile round trip ride takes you to the shore of the lake, which lies at the base of Three Fingered Jack, an impressive peak named for a three-fingered trapper who once lived nearby.
The 10.5-mile Turpentine Loop takes you through dense forest, through the area ravaged by the B&B fire in 2003, and through meadows brimming with wildflowers. It’s a truly memorable ride.
The trails around Big Meadows lead to spectacular mountain views, beautiful forest, meadows of wildflowers, and pretty lakes. And no matter what kind of riding you like, Big Meadows has something to offer.
Note that the first mile or so of the trail leading out of Big Meadows Horse Camp is quite rocky, so you horse will definitely want shoes or boots.
Getting to Big Meadows Horse Camp: From Salem, take Hwy. 22 east. Between mileposts 75 and 76, turn left on Big Meadows Road (Road 2267). Continue 1 mile, turn left on Road 2257, and drive 0.5 mile to the horse camp on the left. The road is paved all the way to the horse camp.
Season: Summer through fall
Facilities: Nine sites, each with a 4-horse log corral. All sites have fire pits, picnic tables, and room for one vehicle. The camp has toilets, a manure bin, garbage cans, and potable water from a hand pump. The camp also has a small day-use parking area.
Fees: Overnight camping fee; $5 fee for day-use parking.
More Information: Big Meadows Horse Camp and its nearby trails are covered in more detail in the Big Meadows Horse Camp chapter of Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2013.
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, June 2016.