Falls Creek Horse Camp is your gateway to the delights of riding in and around the Indian Heaven Wilderness. For centuries this area was a gathering place for native American tribes. Today it’s a fabulous place with horse-friendly trails that take you through lush forest, past sparkling lakes, and beside verdant meadows filled with huckleberries.
Indian Racetrack Meadows: When the tribes gathered each year to pick berries, dig roots, hunt, fish, and socialize, the young men would amuse themselves in the evenings by racing their ponies in the meadows. As recently as the late 1980s you could see the track carved into the meadow by the horses’ flying hooves. Since then the encroaching forest has largely obscured the racetrack, but the sense of history in this beautiful spot persists.
Red Mountain Lookout: 360-degree panoramic views await you from the easy-to-reach summit of this 4,900-foot butte.
Wilderness Lakes Loop: This trail takes you across the flank of Berry Mountain, with its views of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Hood, then past beautiful Blue Lake and on through a series of meadows dotted with tiny lakes and streams.
Falls Creek Trail: This non-Wilderness trail roughly parallels Falls Creek (though almost never within sight of it).
It takes you to interesting lava caves, formed when the roofs of lava tubes collapsed. If you ride far enough, you’ll get a filtered view of 200-foot Falls Creek Falls. This trail is a popular downhill route for mountain bike riders, so keep a sharp eye out.
McClellan Meadows Loop: This fun loop is also outside the Wilderness. The McClellan Meadows Trail takes you to its namesake meadow, a vast wet prairie in a sea of Douglas-firs. Then you’ll return on the Terminator Trail, which winds through shady forest and sunny meadows.
Fall is the best time to ride in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. Its meadows and lakes are mosquito nurseries in early summer, but by mid-August the pesky bugs are gone. The brilliant fall color of the huckleberries in the meadows contrasts nicely with the deep green of the Douglas-firs. And the warm weather often lasts into mid-October. So start making plans now for next year. The Indian Heaven Wilderness is heaven, indeed!
Getting There: From Stevenson, take Hwy. 14 east for 3.2 miles. Between mileposts 47 and 48, turn left on Wind River Hwy. toward Carson. In 5.8 miles, turn right on Old State Road, and almost immediately turn left on Panther Creek Road, which becomes Forest Road 65 in 0.9 mile. At milepost 10 you’ll reach the Four Corners junction with Road 60. Go straight, and at milepost 12 the pavement ends and Road 67 goes to the left. Stay right and at milepost 15 you’ll reach the horse camp on the left.
Season: Summer through fall, though the best time is mid-August through mid-October
Camping Facilities: Falls Creek Horse Camp has four sites with highline posts and cables, fire pits, and picnic tables. Stock water is available from Falls Creek, but it’s a rather long way from some of the campsites so you may want to bring your own stock water. The campground road has a tight turning radius that is not suitable for larger rigs. Don’t let that deter you, though. The campground road has relatively large aprons at the entrance, so you can fairly easily back into the campground and then into sites 1 or 2.
More Information: The trails around Falls Creek Horse Camp are covered in more detail in Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, (Ponderosa Press, 2016).
Reprinted with permission from Trailhead News, November/December 2016.