Sahara Creek Campground near Elbe, Washington is a fabulous place to camp and ride — exactly the kind of place you might dream up if you had the chance to design your own horse camp and trail system.
Would your dream horse camp have highline poles, stock water, and nicely spaced campsites with room for 40+ trailers? Would the nearby trails be horse-friendly, with no steep drop-offs or shale? Would your trail network offer a variety of different loops that go through beautiful forest and offer scenic views? And would the trails be off-limit for mountain bikes and OHVs? Well, you just imagined Sahara Creek Campground and the Nicholson Horse Trail System.
Located 5 miles east of the town of Elbe on the west side of Mt. Rainier, Sahara Creek campground provides access to the Nicholson Horse Trails, a 65-mile trail network that explores the Elbe Hills. The area offers a range of trails from easy to more challenging, with enough elevation change to provide good conditioning opportunities for your horse but without any steep side hills or narrow tread.
The trail network is a stacked-loop design that looks a bit like a ladder. The Upper and Lower Elk Spur Trails form the ladder’s long sides, and numerous connector trails form the ladder’s rungs. You can ride any length loop you want depending on which connector trail you choose to take. We rode 6 different loops when we visited Sahara Creek, and we came nowhere near exhausting all of the possibilities nearby. And because the trail system is so large, additional loops are possible if you trailer out to a trailhead on the west side of the trail network.
You will ride through beautiful stands of Douglas-fir and alder, with vine maples and sword ferns in the understory. This is Washington DNR land, so the forest is actively logged, creating occasional clear-cuts that offer wildflowers in season and spectacular views of Mt. Rainier – so close you feel like you could reach out and touch it.
The camp’s elevation is only 1,500 feet, so the trails are rideable as soon as the weather dries out. And the trails are very well signed so you won’t get lost.
The campground has 20+ large sites with room to park 40 trailers. Highline posts are located about every 30 feet around most of the perimeter of the campground. (Bring your own highline rope.) All sites have picnic tables and fire rings. The campground also has a vault toilet, a large common area with a fully-enclosed group shelter, and a big day-use area. Please haul your manure home or disperse it beyond the camp’s boundaries. A Discover Pass is required for camping or for day use.
Give Sahara Creek Campground and the Nicholson Horse Trails a try. You’ll enjoy the camp’s excellent accommodations, the horse-friendly trails, the beautiful forest, and the spectacular views. It’s your dream horse camping experience, come to life!
Getting There: From Elbe, drive east on Hwy. 706 for five miles. Just 200 feet past milepost 5 and the large sign for the Mt. Tahoma Trails, turn left in to the campground. The campground sign is small and easy to miss, so keep a sharp eye out.
More Information: Sahara Creek Horse Camp and the Nicholson Trail System are covered in more detail in Riding Southwest Washington Horse Trails, by Kim McCarrel, Ponderosa Press, 2016. Available at www.nwhorsetrails.com.
Reprinted by permission from The Trailhead News, Back Country Horsemen of Washington, July/August 2016.