I discovered a fundamental truth about trail riding when I visited Santiam Horse Camp. It’s this: If you ride a loop trail one direction on Saturday, and then ride it the opposite direction on Sunday, it’s like being on a completely different trail! Everything looks totally new!
When my friends had suggested we go to Santiam Horse Camp for the weekend, I had objected. “But there’s only one loop trail there,” I said. “If we ride it the first day, what are we going to do the rest of the weekend?” But my friends convinced me to give Santiam a try, so on a beautiful summer morning we drove to the town of Gates and continued the short distance to the camp.
We found the campground to be a delight, with level sites (large enough for my friends’ motor home), nice log corrals, a toilet, stock water, and a helpful camp host. After setting up camp, we hit the trail.
We found the riding to be a delight as well. The Monument Peak Trail System is approximately 12 miles long and runs partially on single-track trail and partially on logging roads. The trails travel through dense forest and through tree plantations of varying ages, and the trail junctions are well signed.
The terrain is horse friendly, with no drop-offs or steep side hills. The forest is pretty, with big Douglas-firs and sword ferns in some places, stands of maple and alder in other places, and in a couple of spots you have a view of the surrounding hills. More single-track trail is being added to the system every year or two, with the goal of eventually getting the trails off the logging roads entirely.
Each segment of single-track has its own name, including the Skull Creek Trail, the Rabbit Hole Trail, the Rhody Ridge Trail, the Radio Flyer Trail, and the Finders Keepers Trail. As we rode, we had fun making up stories about how each trail segment got its moniker.
The next day we rode the loop trail in the opposite direction. I was stunned to see how different everything looked. I noticed so many things I hadn’t seen the day before – things I had missed entirely because my back had been to them.
I realized that Santiam Horse Camp doesn’t just have one loop trail, it has two – one for each direction you travel. And both of them are really fun rides!
Trail Statistics: It’s about 12 miles round trip if you ride the loop from the Monument Peak Road trailhead, or about 10 miles round trip if you ride from Santiam Horse Camp. The trails are shared with hikers and mountain bike riders. Because some parts of the loop are on gravel logging roads, hoof protection is recommended. Stock water is available on the trail. Note that parts of the trail may be closed at times for logging activity.
Getting to Santiam Horse Camp: From I-5 in Salem, take Exit 253 and head east on Hwy. 22 for 30 miles. In the town of Gates, turn right 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 Henness Lane. Where the road turns to gravel the name changes to Monument Peak Road, and you’ll see the Monument Peak Road day-use parking area on the right. Continue 1.1 mile and turn right on Christmas Tree Road, then drive 0.5 mile to the campground.
Camping and Day-Use Facilities: 9 campsites with 4-horse corrals, picnic tables, and fire rings. Eight sites are single-trailer back-ins and one is a pull-through with room for two trailers. Manure bins, toilet, group shelter, camp host, firewood for sale. Parking for many rigs at the horse camp day-use area and at the lower Monument Peak Road day-use parking area. Fee for overnight camping, no fee for day use.
More Information: Santiam Horse Camp and the Monument Peak Trail System are covered in more detail in Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2013.