Linn County offers quality horseback riding opportunities that are somewhat under the radar, at least as compared the more heavily traveled areas to the south in the Willamette Valley, in Blue River and Oakridge.
But if you’re an equestrian enthusiast looking for a great outdoors experience, we’ve got what you need right here: beautiful scenery, miles of forest roads and trails, and established campsites for horseback riders.
In addition to riding opportunities, horse culture is strong in our county, with a lot of the action centering on the Linn County Fair and Expo Center in Albany.
Sevenmile Camp, located 32 miles east of Sweet Home off Highway 20 at spur road 2000-024 is a good place to start. The trailhead has dispersed sites that accommodate horse trailers and camping. The trailhead leads onto the Santiam Wagon Road, which runs east and west through dense second-growth and patches of old-growth forest, which make for terrific riding. From the camp, it’s seven miles west of Mountain House and about 14 miles east of Highway 126 and the Fish Lake Guard Station, which at one time housed the U.S. Forest Service’s local mule teams. This camp is year-round accessible, however, at an elevation of 3,100 feet winter admittance depends on snow levels.
To the north, in the Middle Santiam Trail Area, are three trails that provide good opportunities for horseback riding and camping: Chimney Peak Trail, Gordan Peak Trail, Swamp Peak Trail and McQuade Creek Trail.
Chimney Peak Trail starts from the trailhead at the end of Spur Road 646, off Soda Fork Road (Forest Road 2041), 23 miles east of Sweet Home. The trail starts 12 miles up Soda Fork Road and rapidly descends for 0.75 miles to the Middle Santiam River. You can enjoy exploring Shedd Camp Shelter and a nearby swimming hole. The trail continues across the Middle Santiam River (no bridge) and travels north through majestic old growth forests. The trail crosses Pyramid Creek (no bridges) before rising to Forest Road 2041 (closed in winter.) It then crosses Forest Road 2041, enters the Middle Santiam Wilderness and reaches Donaca Lake in less than three miles. Beyond Donaca Lake, through the heart of the wilderness, the trail gradually gains elevation to the base of Chimney Peak. Length is 12.7 miles and elevation rises from 2,300 to 4,965 feet. You may bypass the need to wade the Middle Santiam River and Pyramid Creek by continuing down 2041 for an additional three miles to the road closure. Travel by foot two miles further along 2041 to the original trailhead. This route shortens the total route by approximately three miles.
McQuade Creek Trail – This 5.2-mile trail is located northeast of Sweet Home off Forest Road 1142 and connects with Chimney Peak Trail at the other end. Access is rough. Horse trailers are not recommended on 1142. Quartzville Road and extra four miles from the trailhead may be an option for parking. Open to hikers and riders. Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult.
Gordan Peak Trail – Your hike starts on a ridgeline with periodic views of Mount Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack, before gradually descending through mature old-growth forests. After 4.6 miles the trail joins the Chimney Peak trail near the Middle Santiam Wilderness boundary. Another option from this trailhead is to head northeast 3.1 miles and tie into Scar Mountain and the Swamp Peak Trail.
Open to hikers and horse riders. Difficulty: Moderate.
Swamp Peak Trail – This trail system has two options, you can go west 3.2 miles to Knob Rock and tie into the Chimney Peak Trail or east 2.2 miles where you scramble over to Swamp Peak and tie into the Gordan Peak trail system. Open to hikers and horse riders. Difficulty: Moderate.
The Old Cascade Crest Trail System, linked trails providing access to the crest of the Old Cascades, includes Crescent Mountain, Three Pyramids, Trappers Butte, and Scar Mountain. Crescent Mountain and South Pyramid Creek trails are particularly recommended for equestrian use.
In addition to the Willamette National Forest trail options, there are many miles of Forest Service and logging roads that can be accessed easily from the Brownsville, Lebanon, and Sweet Home, and the North Santiam areas. We recommend that you touch base with the owner of any private land you plan to ride on, particularly where vehicle traffic (trucks) may be traveling on logging roads. The largest amount of private forestland in Linn County is managed by Cascade Timber Consulting, which can be reached at (541) 367-2111.
Big Meadows Horse Camp – Open from mid-July to the end of October (weather permitting), this campground offers nine sites with four-stall log corrals and parking for one vehicle and trailer. Overflow sites are available beyond the improved campground. The campground is linked to a network of trails that include Big Meadows, Duffy Lake, Blue Lake, Santiam Lake, Eight Lakes Basin, Pika/Fir Lakes, Pine Ridge, the Pacific Crest Trail, Bowerman Lake, Marion Lake, Santiam Lake and Mowich Lake.
To get there, travel 23 miles east from Detroit on Hwy. 22 to Big Meadows Road, then to Road 2257 for half a mile to the camp.