The Indian Heaven Wilderness is a fabulous place to experience on horseback. With its beautiful forest and meadows, pristine lakes, occasional mountain views, extensive trail network, and horse-friendly terrain, there’s a lot to like in this southwest Washington wilderness area.
Mt. Adams from the Pacific Crest Trail, Indian Heaven Wilderness
Most folks visit the south end of the Indian Heaven Wilderness, but for equestrians, this area has a few drawbacks. You can camp at Falls Creek Horse Camp, but its interior road turns too tightly to accommodate larger rigs. The south end of the Wilderness is crowded with weekend hikers and backpackers, and the nearby non-Wilderness trails are very popular downhill routes for mountain bikes.
The north end of the Indian Heaven Wilderness
For equestrians who are able to dispersed camp (that is, camp outside of an established campground), the Placid Lake area at the north end of the Indian Heaven Wilderness is a better bet. The trails on the north end are fabulous, and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself.
Horses on their highline at the Lone Butte quarry
You can camp overnight at either the Placid Lake Trailhead or, if you have a larger group, at the Lone Butte quarry, 1.3 miles away. Both spots have trees for highlining, but no toilets or stock water. And no fees!
The riding near Placid Lake is a delight. The trails have moderate elevation gains and no steep side hills, and you have plenty of trails to choose from. For example, from the Placid Lake trailhead you can:Take a short, easy ride to Placid Lake and Chenamus Lake
Placid LakeDo a pleasant 8-mile out-and-back ride to Deer, Bear, and Elk Lakes
Bear LakeRide a 13-mile lollipop loop to Junction Lake and enjoy lunch in the huckleberry meadows around the lake
Junction LakeTake a fun 9.5-mile out-and-back ride to Wood Lake
Riders pause in a meadow near the north end of the Indian Heaven WildernessTravel 16 miles round trip to the Surprise Lakes and enjoy the view of Mt. Adams along the way
The view of Mt. Adams on the way to the Surprise Lakes
The north end of the Indian Heaven Wilderness has plenty of trails and riding destinations to fill a long weekend. And while the camping isn’t as cushy as it would be in an established horse camp, you’ll enjoy the solitude this beautiful area offers.
A huckleberry meadow in the Indian Heaven Wilderness
In early to mid-summer, mosquitoes can be a problem everywhere in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. The best time to go is August through October.
The largest of the Surprise Lake
From Woodland: take Exit 21 from I-5 and go east on Hwy. 503/Lewis River Road toward Cougar. In 23 miles, go straight on Hwy. 503-Spur. In 23.7 miles, veer right on Road 90 toward Carson. Continue 4 miles and turn right on Curly Creek Rd. In 5.1 miles, turn left on Wind River Road. In 1 mile you’ll see Lone Butte Sno-Park on the left.
From Stevenson: take Hwy. 14 east for 3.2 miles. Between mileposts 47 and 48, turn left on Wind River Road toward Carson. Drive 14.3 miles and veer right to stay on Wind River Road. In 13.2 miles, Curly Creek Road comes in on the left. After another mile you’ll see Lone Butte Sno-Park on the left
All: At Lone Butte Sno-Park, veer on gravel Road 30 for 2.3 miles, then turn right again on Road 420. The Placid Lake Trailhead is on the right in 1.3 miles. The Lone Butte quarry is a wide spot on the left side of Road 30, about 500 feet before you reach Road 420.
Learn more about the riding and camping in the Placid Lake area in Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel. (Ponderosa Press, 2016). Available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.
Reprinted with permission from Back Country Horsemen of Washington’s The Trailhead News, May-June 2017 issue.