“Hi ladies!” the bicyclist called out as he approached. “Aren’t these views glorious?” We were riding the Surveyors Ridge Trail north of Gibson Prairie Horse Camp on a sunny weekend, and we’d encountered over a dozen mountain bike riders so far that day. Every one of them seemed genuinely happy to see us out on the trails with them.
Yes, the Surveyors Ridge Trail is popular with mountain bike riders. One website deems this trail to be among the best mountain biking trails in the state. And the things that make it a great biking trail also make it a fabulous equestrian trail: eye-popping views of Mt. Hood and the Hood River Valley, beautiful forest with a unique blend of species from the rainy and arid sides of Oregon, and moderate elevation changes.
The Surveyors Ridge Trail runs for a total of 16 miles along the crest of its namesake ridge and beyond. You can access the trail from Gibson Prairie Horse Camp, which lies at the base of the ridge’s eastern flank and about midway along its length. This lightly-used horse camp provides easy equestrian access to the ridge trail and other nearby trails that are not shared with mountain bikes.
To ride the Surveyors Ridge Trail northbound from Gibson Prairie Horse Camp, ride out to Road 17 (the road you drove in on) and turn left. In 200 feet turn right on the connector trail that will take you up onto Surveyors Ridge. In 0.1 mile, turn right on the Surveyors Ridge Trail #688. You’ll ride through pretty forest for about a mile to your first viewpoint, which offers panoramic views of Mt. Hood to the west and the Hood River Valley below you. In another 0.3 mile, an unmarked trail goes to the left to another impressive viewpoint. About 0.9 mile after that, the Oak Ridge Trail #688A departs to the left. Stay right, and 0.9 mile later you’ll arrive at a corridor of power lines at a trailhead. If you continue beyond this point, you’ll be riding a heavily-graveled road that will take you over a small butte and then on to the larger Bald Butte, with its spectacular views. The gravel road then descends for 2.1 miles, becomes a single-track trail, and ends at a trailhead on Road 17.
A quick note about meeting bicyclists on the trail: On some terrain (like that on Surveyors Ridge), it may be easier for equestrians to step off the trail than for the bicyclists to do so. Yes, we know, proper trail etiquette dictates that bikes yield to horses. However, in order for bicyclists to do that they have to stop, dismount, step off the trail, and lift their bikes into the brush. If instead you can easily step your horse off the trail and allow the bicyclists to ride by without dismounting, they will appreciate the courtesy. Then the next time they meet equestrians on rougher terrain where the horses can’t easily get off the trail, they won’t mind so much the inconvenience of getting off the trail so the horses can safely pass.
Ride Statistics: It’s 8 miles round trip from Gibson Prairie Horse Camp to the power lines, with elevations of 3,950 to 4,300 feet. It’s 16.5 miles round trip to the northern trailhead at Road 17, with elevations of 2,200 to 4,300 feet. The ride is moderate difficulty. Hoof protection is recommended.
Getting to Gibson Prairie Horse Camp: From Portland, head east on Hwy. 26. About 2.5 miles past Government Camp, follow the signs to Hwy. 35 and Hood River. Continue 13.2 miles and turn right on Road 44. Drive 5.4 miles and veer left on Road 17. Continue 0.4 mile and make a 90-degree left turn to stay on Road 17. (Road 1720 goes straight ahead and is gravel.) The horse camp is 5.6 miles ahead. From Hood River, drive south on Hwy. 35 for 14 miles and turn left on Pine Mont Drive, which becomes Road 17. Continue 9.7 miles to the horse camp.
Season: Summer through fall
The Facilities at Gibson Prairie Horse Camp: 4 sites, 3 of which have 4-horse corrals. Vault toilet, manure bin, fire pits, and picnic tables. Stock water is available from a trough 250 yards southeast of the campground. No fee. This horse camp is maintained by Back Country Horsemen.
More Information: The Surveyors Ridge Trail North is covered in the Gibson Prairie Horse Camp chapter of Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2013).
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Horse Source magazine, August, 2015.