OK, I admit it. I didn’t want to go to Harralson Horse Camp. The camp has no corrals, no potable water, and no stock water. But hey, I was researching the trails of southern Oregon for my newest book, Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, and in order to provide a comprehensive guide to the region I HAD to include Harralson Horse Camp. Little did I know that it would become one of my favorite places to ride and camp.
Harralson Horse Camp is located near beautiful Waldo Lake in the Willamette National Forest. The camp may be a bit short on facilities, but the nearby trails are fabulous, and plentiful. You can choose from short loops (7-8 miles), long loops (17-22 miles), and other trails in between. All of the riding is relatively easy, with gentle terrain, great footing for your horse, and delightful scenery for you to enjoy.
One of my favorite rides in the area starts at Harralson Horse Camp and goes along the north shore of the lake via the Waldo Lake Trail #3590. The 22-mile Waldo Lake Trail has almost no elevation change as it runs along the shore all the way around the lake. But 22 miles is a long way, even if the trail is easy. A more manageable 8.5-mile route follows the Waldo Lake Trail around the north shore of the lake to the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, the lake’s only outlet.
Along the north shore the Waldo Lake Trail travels for a time through the area burned by the 1996 Charlton fire, a very hot blaze that killed nearly all the trees in its path. While it’s tragic to see so many blackened tree trunks along the trail, the fire opened up some panoramic views that you wouldn’t see if the trees were still alive. And the burned area is coming back to life, with 6-foot Douglas-fir and hemlock trees and an understory of pink fireweed and white pearly everlasting flowers.
As you ride you’ll enjoy beautiful views across the lake. Waldo Lake is one of the largest natural lakes in the state (second only to Crater Lake), and one of the clearest in the world — on a calm day you can see 150 feet down into the water. You’ll enjoy seeing the healthy green forests on the east, west, and south sides of the lake mirrored in the smooth surface of the lake. And you’ll see Mt. Ray and Fuji Mountain near the south shore of the lake, with Diamond Peak towering above them.
Near the northwest corner of the lake you’ll come to the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River, though it’s really only a creek at this point. If you turn left and ride the trail along the creek you’ll soon come to the edge of the lake and a beautiful spot for a picnic. From here, you can retrace your steps to the horse camp for a very enjoyable 8.5 mile ride.
If you want to do some more exploring, you can detour on one of several trails that intersect with the Waldo Lake Trail along the north side of the lake. From the horse camp it’s a 7.5-mile round trip to Lower Rigdon Lake, or 11 miles round trip to Wahanna Lake, or 12 miles round trip to Lake Chetlo. Or you can make a 12-mile round trip to Eddeeleo Lake (named for three forest rangers, Ed, Dee, and Leo, who used to stock the lake with fish).
Wherever you go along the Waldo Lake Trail, you’ll enjoy the easy riding as you savor the panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding hills.
Trail Statistics: 8.5 miles round trip, with elevations from 5,450 to 5,600 feet. Stock water is available on the trail.
Getting There: To reach Waldo Lake and Harralson Horse Camp from Eugene, take Hwy. 58 southeast to Oakridge, then continue on Hwy. 58 for 25 more miles. At milepost 59, turn left on Waldo Lake Road (Road 5897) and follow the signs to Waldo Lake and Harralson Horse Camp.
Season: Early summer through fall
The Facilities at Harralson Horse Camp: You’ll find a vault toilet and 5 campsites with picnic tables and fire rings at the horse camp. Because it has no corrals, you’ll either need to bring a portable corral or highline your horse among the old-growth hemlock trees that shade the campground. There is no stock water at the horse camp, and the designated horse-watering spot on the shore of Waldo Lake is a whopping 1.3 miles away. So either bring your own water (in the back of my pickup I carry a couple of sprayer tanks equipped with spigots and short hoses) or bring lidded containers that you can drive over and fill at the people campground about 2 miles from the horse camp. Mosquitoes can be plentiful in early summer, so bring lots of bug spray or wait to visit until mid- to late summer.
More Information: The North Waldo Shore Trail is covered in the Waldo Lake chapter of Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2014)
Reprinted with permission from Northwest Rider Magazine, April 2014.