The Applegate Lake area, located south of Medford, Oregon, ought to be a wonderful place to ride. It offers scenic views, beautiful wildflowers, artifacts from historic mining activity, and – no kidding – a Bigfoot trap.
However, the horseback riding at Applegate Lake isn’t for everyone. The terrain is steep, the trails traverse many steep side slopes, and the trails are shared with mountain bikes and/or motorcycles.
If decide to give the challenging trails at Applegate Lake a try, April definitely is the time to go. The lake (a reservoir built by the Corps of Engineers) is full, the wildflowers are blooming, and until the end of April, horses are allowed on the Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail, one leg of an interesting loop ride along the lake and over Collings Mountain.
The 3.5-mile (one way) Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail (pronounced dah-coo-beh-TEE-dee) runs along the shore of Applegate Lake. Open to horses only from November through the end of April, the trail is very popular with mountain bike riders, so keep an eye out. The trail offers good views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trail connects with the Collings Mountain Trail, so when the trail is open to horses, you can ride a 10.4-mile loop that includes both trails.
The 6.9-mile (one way) Collings Mountain Trail runs – you guessed it — across the top of Collings Mountain. Along the way, you’ll have great views of Applegate Lake below you, and you’ll see several prospectors’ adits, short tunnels used to check for ore, dug into the hillside. This trail gains 1,500 feet of elevation and is shared with mountain bikes.
On the Collings Mountain Trail, you can also see the locally-famous Bigfoot trap, a 10-foot high wooden hut with a sliding steel door. Bigfoot sightings have been reported in this area for over 100 years, and in 1963 a private research group set a trap to try to catch one of the creatures. The cabin that the researchers stayed in has collapsed, but the sturdy Bigfoot trap is intact and remains an interesting sight just off the trail.
The 10.5-mile Stein Butte Loop takes you to the summit of its namesake butte, with a short spur trail to an old lookout site with panoramic mountain views. Along the trail, you’ll see evidence of mining activity dating back to the gold-rush days. This loop gains 2,400 feet of elevation, features steep side slopes, and is shared with motorcycles and mountain bikes.
The Horse Camping
The camping situation at Applegate Lake is just plain weird. Equestrians are allowed to camp at Stringtown Trailhead, a level parking area with no toilet, picnic tables, fire rings, corrals, or water. And no trails! The Payette Trail runs past Stringtown Trailhead, but it is only open to bikes and hikers. Equestrians have to haul their horses to the trailheads at Watkins Campground, Hart-tish Park, and Seattle Bar to reach the equestrian trails.
Stringtown Trailhead is the only horse camp near Applegate Lake.
From Medford, take Hwy. 238 to Jacksonville, then continue on Hwy. 238 for 7.7 miles and veer left on Upper Applegate Road. Drive 16.6 miles to Applegate Lake.
To reach Stringtown Trailhead, turn left on Squaw Creek Road and drive across the Applegate Dam. Continue 2.7 miles to the trailhead on the right.
The trailhead at Hart-Tish Park provides access to the Collings Mountain and Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trails. The park is one mile past the Applegate Dam, on the left.
Watkins Campground has a horse staging area that provides access to the Collings Mountain and Da-Ku-Be-Te-De Trails. To reach it, continue on Upper Applegate Road almost to the south end of Applegate Lake. The campground is on the left.
Seattle Barr Trailhead is at the south end of Applegate Lake, on the right side of Applegate Road. It has ample parking for horse trailers and provides access to the Stein Butte Loop.
More information about the riding at Applegate Lake can be found in the book Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2017). Available at NWHorseTrails.com. Follow “NW Horse Trails” on Facebook.