Santiam Horse Camp is a real gem! Located just thirty miles east of Salem, OR in the Santiam State Forest, Santiam Horse Camp has 9 sites with log corrals and plenty of amenities, and a fabulous loop trail that runs right past the camp.
The loop, called the Monument Peak Trail, is a delight. While this loop trail is only about 10 miles long, it’s a splendid 10 miles. (It’s a 12-mile ride if you park in the day-use area at the bottom of Monument Creek Road and ride the Magic Trail up to intersect with the main loop.)
Don’t let the fact that there’s only one significant trail at Santiam Horse Camp deter you from coming for the weekend. If you ride the trail clockwise one day and ride it counter-clockwise the next, everything looks completely different. Who knew?!? It’s like riding two entirely different trails! Plus, for variety you can link the trails with nearby forest roads to create alternate routes.
The Monument Peak Loop runs on a combination of single-track trails and forest roads, traveling through dense forest and tree plantations along the flanks of Monument Peak.
Each single-track segment of the loop has its own name. For example, there’s the Skull Creek Trail, the Pine Trail, and the Coyote Rock Trail — all named for physical features along the trail. The Wild Boar and Rabbit Hole Trail are named for things the trail builders encountered as they constructed that trail segment. But then there are the Finders Keepers Trail and the Radio Flyer Trail. I’d love to know the stories behind those names!
The Monument Peak Loop has enough elevation changes to provide good conditioning opportunities for your horse without being overly challenging. And in all cases, the trails are nice and wide even when they traverse the side of a ridge.
All trail junctions are clearly marked. Santiam State Forest is in the process of replacing all the laminated-paper-on-plywood trail signs with beautiful wooden signs. And you can pick up a detailed map at the kiosk in the horse camp.
In addition to the Monument Peak Loop and the Magic Trail that connects the main loop with the lower day-use parking area, you’ll want to experience the short but special Turnidge Creek Trail. It’s a 0.4-mile trail segment about a mile from the horse camp that you can either ride or walk to, for a 1.5-mile loop. This trail goes through a stand of enormous old-growth trees, and is not to be missed.
Note that mountain bikes and hikers are permitted on these trails, but thankfully it doesn’t appear the trail is getting much use by mountain bikes. Also, sections of the trail may be closed at times due to ongoing logging activity, so check the trail kiosks or the Santiam State Forest website for current information.
Getting There: From Salem, take Highway 22 east for 30 miles to the town of Gates. Turn right (south) on Horeb Road, and in 0.1 mile turn left on Sorbin Street. Continue through Gates for 0.3 mile and turn right on Gates School Road. Go 1.1 mile and turn left on Monument Peak Road. Continue 1.1 mile and turn right on at the campground sign on Xmas Tree Road, then drive 0.5 mile to the campground.
Fees: Fee for overnight camping; no fee for day use
Season: May through October
Camping Facilities: 9 sites with log corrals for 4 horses each. Eight sites are back-in with room for one trailer, and one site is a pull-through with room for two vehicles. All sites have picnic tables and fire pits. The camp has a toilet, stock water, manure bins, and group shelter. You’ll find parking for many rigs at both the horse camp day-use area and the lower Monument Peak Road day-use area.
More Information: The trails out of Santiam Horse Camp are covered in more detail in Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2013).