If you’re a horseback rider living in the Willamette Valley, you’ve probably heard about the splendors of Silver Falls State Park. With more than 25 miles of horse-friendly trails, a well-appointed horse camp, a large day-use parking area, and over 9,000 acres of beautiful forest to enjoy, Silver Falls is an equestrian delight.
The beautiful 8-mile Buck Mountain Loop trail doesn’t include any of the waterfalls for which the park is famous, but it does explore the verdant forest and ridges of Silver Falls’ back country, including several stands of old-growth trees. The Loop, which is shared with hikers and mountain bike riders, is well maintained and its elevation changes are moderate. The trail junctions all have signposts with “You Are Here” maps, so you can easily find your way.
To access the Buck Mountain Loop, pick up the access trail across from the entrance to the park’s day-use trailer parking area, or on the south side of campsite E in the horse camp. In 0.6 mile the access trail will take you to a junction with the Buck Mountain Loop Trail. We suggest heading to the right on the loop so you ride it counter-clockwise, as this puts the steepest elevation change on the outbound, uphill leg.
The trail will take you across Howard Creek and up a ridge, intersecting with the Cut-Off Trail in 1.5 miles. Stay to the left on the Buck Mountain Loop and in 0.5 mile you’ll pass the junction with the Smith Creek Trail. Again stay to the left and in another 0.9 mile you’ll reach a junction with a fire road and the Lost Creek Trail. Go to the left to stay on the Buck Mountain Loop. The trail will begin to descend, and in 1.2 miles the Perimeter Trail will go off to the right. Again veer left to stay on the Buck Mountain Loop and in 2.7 miles you’ll reach the point where you entered the loop. Turn right to return to the horse camp or the day-use area.
If you camp at Silver Falls, be sure to set aside an afternoon to leave the horses in camp and explore at least part of the Trail of Ten Falls on foot. This 8.7-mile trail, which is not open to horses or dogs, offers spectacular views of ten of the park’s waterfalls. In some cases the trail runs behind the waterfalls. Spectacular!
Trail Statistics: The Buck Mountain Loop is 8 miles long, with elevations of 1,350 to 2,200 feet. A map of the park is available at www.oregonstateparks.org/park_211.php.
Getting to Silver Falls State Park: From I-5 in Salem, take exit 253 (Mission St.) and head east on Hwy. 22. In 5.5 miles, take Exit 7 and continue east on Hwy. 214. After 15.5 miles, turn right into the park. Follow the signs to Howard Creek Horse Camp, about 1 mile farther. The day-use parking area is just before you reach the horse camp.
Season: The trails and the horse camp are open year round, but in winter the trails can be muddy.
Parking and Camping Facilities: Equestrians coming in for a day ride will find parking for 12+ trailers in the park’s day-use area, which also has hitching rails, a picnic table, a fire pit, and a toilet. Overnight visitors can enjoy the delightful Howard Creek Horse Camp, which features five campsites that each have corrals for four horses and parking for two vehicles. There’s also a group site with corrals for 12 horses and parking for multiple vehicles. The camp has toilets, manure bins, water spigots with potable water, picnic tables, and fire pits. Reservations for overnight camping sites are available by calling ReserveAmerica at 800-452-5687.
More Information: The Buck Mountain Loop trail is covered in the Silver Falls State Park chapter of Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2013)
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, May 2015.