When I was researching my latest book, Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the idea of camping at Howlock Mountain Trailhead. According to the Forest Service website, this trailhead near Diamond Lake permits horse camping, but it only has 2 sites, no water, and no corrals. I pictured a small dirt parking lot with a toilet and a couple of dry, dusty campsites that offered minimal accommodations for my horse. But in the interest of thoroughly researching the Southern Oregon horse trails, I knew I had to go there. Boy, am I glad I did!
First of all, the horse camping facilities are much better than I imagined. Howlock Mountain Trailhead is situated right next to the Diamond Lake Corrals, the lake resort’s horse-rental operation. They have spacious corrals that you can rent for $15 a night, and each corral has a water trough with fresh water piped in. It’s the Ritz Carlton for horses! And while there are only two official campsites, the parking area is paved, level, and large enough to accommodate 4-6 trailers while still leaving plenty of room for hiker cars.
Secondly, the trails here are a delight! Most of the trails go up into the Mt. Thielsen Wilderness, where you’ll find beautiful forest, bubbling streams, lush green meadows, and jagged volcanic peaks. I enjoyed the trails so much I went there twice last year!
My favorite ride in the area is the Mt. Thielsen Loop. While this trail isn’t suitable for green horses or green riders, if you and your horse are experienced you’ll not only enjoy the wonderful trail, but the views will knock your socks off.
The 14-mile Mt. Thielsen Loop makes a big square, with the Howlock Mountain Trail on the north side, the Spruce Ridge Trail on the west, the Mt. Thielsen Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail on the south side, and the Thielsen Creek Trail on the east.
To ride the Mt. Thielsen Loop, you’ll start out on the Howlock Mountain Trail #1448, then after 1.2 miles turn right on the Spruce Ridge Trail #1458. On this stretch you’ll enjoy good views of Diamond Lake and Mt. Bailey. At the next junction you’ll turn left on the Mt. Thielsen Trail #1456, which will take you through an area where thousands of trees were blown down by a severe windstorm several years ago. The section of trail that switchbacks up through the area of blown-down trees is the most challenging part of the ride.
Soon you’ll reach the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail on the shoulder of Mt. Thielsen, where a panoramic view awaits you. Not only is the summit of Mt. Thielsen so close you can almost touch it, you’ll see Diamond Lake, Mt. Bailey, the Crater Lake Rim, Diamond Peak, and even the Three Sisters.
After you’ve enjoyed the views, turn left on the PCT and follow it down along a ridge, then turn left on the Thielsen Creek Trail #1449, where you’ll ride beside the creek all the way back to the Howlock Mountain Trail. Turn left here to return to the trailhead.
All told, you’ll have ridden 14 miles, gained and lost 2,000 feet of elevation, and enjoyed some exceptional views. What a ride!
Note: If you stay at Howlock Mountain Trailhead, be sure to walk or drive (sorry, no room for trailers) the short mile from the campground to the Diamond Lake Resort Lodge to try out their excellent restaurant. And if you don’t feel like camping, you can board your horse at Diamond Lake Corrals while you stay in a cozy cabin at the resort. The resort also rents fishing boats, canoes, and bikes (there’s a paved path all the way around the lake), and offers chartered fishing excursions.
Ride Statistics: The Mt. Thielsen Loop is 14 miles round trip, going from 5,350 feet to 7,350 feet in elevation. Hoof protection is recommended. Stock water is available on the trail. The best map of the trail is the Diamond Lake Ranger District map.
Getting to Howlock Mountain Trailhead: From Roseburg, take Hwy. 138 east for 79 miles and turn right on Diamond Lake Loop. From Medford, follow Hwy. 62 (Crater Lake Hwy.) northeast for 54 miles, veer left on Hwy. 230, and continue 24 miles. Turn left on Hwy. 138 and drive 4.3 miles, then turn left on Diamond Lake Loop. The horse camp is on the left in 0.1 mile, next to the Diamond Lake Corrals.
Season: Summer through fall.
Trailhead Facilities: Howlock Mountain Trailhead has a toilet, two campsites, and paved parking (overnight or day use) for 4-6 trailers. A Northwest Forest Pass is required. Corrals with piped-in water can be rented overnight from Diamond Lake Corrals. (Reservations recommended: www.diamondlakecorrals.com or 541-793-3337.)
More Information: The Mt. Thielsen Loop is covered in the Diamond Lake chapter of Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2014)
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, August 2014.