Riding the Metolius-Windigo Trail in Central Oregon

Author and equestrian Kim McCarrel of Oregon Equestrian Trails writes about a diverse Central Oregon horse trail, the Metolius-Windigo Trail, a lower-elevation alternative to the Pacific Crest Trail, for the Equitrekking 50 State Trail Riding Project.

by Kim McCarrel

When most people think of Oregon, the image that usually comes to mind is dense Douglas-fir forests, lush greenery, and drizzly skies. While that may apply to the western third of the state, many folks are surprised to learn that the eastern two-thirds of Oregon is high desert, with sagebrush, bunchgrass, and wide open vistas.

Metolius Basin oregon horse trails

At its north end, the Metolius-Windigo Trail runs through ponderosa pine forest in the Metolius Basin near the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness.

I live in Central Oregon on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, in the transition zone between the rainy west and the arid east. The riding here is amazing. We have more than 1,000 miles of horse trails, plus 14 horse camps within a 1.5-hour drive. The terrain is gentle, the forests and mountains are beautiful, and the weather is sunny. Understandably, Central Oregon is a popular vacation spot for equestrians from all over the Northwest.

oregon horse trails sisters cow camp

The corrals at Sisters Cow Camp. The horse camps along the Metolius-Windigo Trail have corrals and stock water for the horses, campsites and toilets for the riders, and plenty of day-use parking.

One of the most interesting trails here in Central Oregon is the Metolius-Windigo Trail, which runs 150 miles from the Metolius Basin to Windigo Pass. Built for equestrians as a lower-elevation alternative to the Pacific Crest Trail, the Metolius-Windigo Trail is also popular with hikers and mountain bikers. The trail runs on a combination of single-track trails and dirt forest roads, and the entire distance is signed with yellow diamond trail markers on the trees. At both ends the Metolius-Windigo connects with the Pacific Crest Trail.

oregon equestrian trails glaze meadows and the sisters

Along the way there are splendid views of the volcanic peaks of the Cascades Mountains. These are the North and South Sisters, seen from the trail near Graham Corral.

horse trails near todd creek oregon

Near Todd Creek Horse Camp the trail runs through lodgepole pine forest. Mt. Bachelor is in the background.

The Metolius-Windigo runs along the eastern foothills of the Cascade Range, through forests of ponderosa pine, fir, and hemlock. Elevation gains and losses are gradual, the trail tread isn’t rocky, and the occasional views of the nearby volcanic peaks are breathtaking. And did I mention the always-sunny weather?

oregon horse trails lava lake

The Metolius-Windigo Trail travels past many lakes in its 150-mile stretch. This is Lava Lake, which lies between Quinn Meadow Horse Camp and Cultus Corral.

oregon horse trails forest near moore creek

In the section between Harralson and Whitefish Horse Camps, the forest is a mix of fir, hemlock, and pine.  

The Metolius-Windigo Trail can be accessed from two trailheads and nine horse camps arrayed along the trail’s length. All of the horse camps have corrals, stock water and plenty of day-use parking nearby. You can ride the entire trail, overnighting at the horse camps along the way. Or you can do day rides from the horse camps, linking the Metolius-Windigo with other local trails to create some amazing loop rides.

oregon horse ride broken top

From the Metolius-Windigo Trail you can connect to many other trails to create loop rides. These riders are on the Broken Top Trail about a mile from the Metolius-Windigo Trail, near the base of volcanic Broken Top Mountain.

More than 50 miles of the Metolius-Windigo Trail and four of the horse camps along it are maintained by Oregon Equestrian Trails, the largest equestrian group in the state. Another 20 miles of trail and an additional horse camp are maintained by Back Country Horsemen of Oregon, and several stretches of the trail are maintained by mountain bike groups. Because of the dedication of these hard-working volunteers, the Metolius-Windigo Trail offers a superb riding experience for all equestrians.

oregon equestrian trails volunteers

The 150-mile Metolius-Windigo Trail is maintained almost entirely by volunteers. Here members of Oregon Equestrian Trails’ Central Oregon chapter clear brush from the trail.


How you can go:  You can access the Metolius-Windigo Trail from Bear Valley Trailhead, Sheep Spring Horse Camp, Graham Corral, Sisters Cow Camp, Three Creek Meadow Horse Camp, Todd Creek Horse Camp, Quinn Meadow Horse Camp, Cultus Corral, Harralson Horse Camp, Whitefish Horse Camp, and Windigo Pass Trailhead. More information about the horse trails and horse camps is on the Metolius-Windigo Trail website or by calling the Deschutes National Forest at 541-383-5300.

About Oregon Equestrian Trails: OET volunteers have been building and maintaining trails and horse camps in Oregon since 1970. For more information, go to www.oregonequestriantrails.org.

About the Author: Kim McCarrel is the author of several guide books about the horse trails in Oregon, including Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails and Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails. Her next book, Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails, will be published in early 2014. She lives in Bend, Oregon with her two Tennessee Walker mares, Jane and Tex, and is a board member of Oregon Equestrian Trails. For more information about her books, go to www.oregonhorsetrails.com.