Horses have been a part of Northwest history through pulling covered wagons along the Oregon Trail to hauling logs through luscious forests. Today, their uses tend to be in recreation or tourism. On the North Coast of Oregon there are countless opportunities to spend time on horseback, no matter your experience or skill level.
For more experienced riders with horses of their own, there are ample opportunities for exploration along the North Coast in the forests and beaches.
The Northrup Creek Horse Camp off of Oregon Highway 202 is the perfect way to spend a weekend exploring the backwoods of the Clatsop State Forest. With eight reservable campsites, complete with corrals and parking for your horse trailer, the camp meets both horse and rider’s needs.
In the early 2000s, the North Coast chapter of the Oregon Equestrian Trails wanted to open a horse camp somewhere in the Clatsop State Forest. In 2005, with her husband, who works for the Oregon Department of Forestry, Diane Berry found the perfect spot just off of Northrup Creek and far back from any major roadways. By 2006, after a significant amount of fundraising, bushwhacking and building, the Northrup Creek Horse Camp opened to the public.
With miles of forested trees winding up old game trails and along railroad grades, the route takes riders and their horses through dozens of different micro ecosystems in the Clatsop State Forest.
“You get a little bit of everything,” said Ashley Letora, the chapter chair of the North Coast Oregon Equestrian Trails. “You cross creeks, you go up inclines. You’re in old forests, you’re in new forests. You’re in big maples.”
The campsite also features an obstacle course that simulates obstacles a horse may encounter on the trail. With big boulders and small stumps right in the campsites, horses can get used to what they might encounter on the trail before they even head out.
The campsites close in mid-November, usually, and re-open in the springtime when the temperature warms and rain abates, making the trails safe for horses again. Campsites are reservable through Reserve America.
There are countless other areas in the Clatsop State Forest to explore via horseback. The 24-mile-long Banks-Vernonia State Trail is frequented by local horseback riders and is open year round. The 4.6-mile loop on Step Creek Trail sits just south of U.S. Route 26 and is open from March to November when the weather is nice.
Fort Stevens State Park also offers miles of trails, starting in Parking Lot A and heading along the beach as far south as DeLaura Beach next to Camp Rilea. Along the way, riders can take their horses through the wooded trails of the interior or down along the sandy beaches past the Peter Iredale shipwreck while heading south.
With no steep inclines and solid footing on the sand for the horses, the trails provide a leisurely ride, no matter the weather.
“You have a couple different ways you can go. You can go out Strawberry Knoll, hit the beach, or if it's a lousy day, you can do the interior trails and follow parallel to Burma or Ridge Road,” said Linda Brim, a member of Oregon Equestrian Trails.
Riders also have the opportunity to head south of Camp Rilea, crossing Sunset Beach and heading through to Seaside with ample beach to explore. Cannon Beach to Arch Cape to Nehalem Bay State Park also have horse-friendly areas for any rider’s needs.
With the growing industries of recreation and tourism across Clatsop County, there has been significant growth in the equine industry and community. Locals can get involved at local stables or with organizations, like North Coast Oregon Equestrian Trails or Backcountry Horsemen of Oregon, to help maintain trails and support the recreational activity that continues to maintain popularity for people of all ages.
Guided trail rides
Through swaying beach grass and over soft sand dunes, anyone can enjoy a guided horseback ride along the white stretches of Long Beach, Washington. The rides take you on a walk, trot or gallop to the edge of the Pacific, and perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a passing whale or two.
With as many as 24 trusty steeds saddled up and ready to go, anyone from seasoned riders to rookies can hop on a horse and spend an afternoon riding with a guide from West Coast Horse Rides in Long Beach.
The ride itself begins just across the street from the World Kite Museum. Mosey one-by-one through a small wooded area before opening up to the gently rolling sand dunes. Here, some horses love to stop for a snack and munch on the towering beach grass, despite its harshness on their stomachs. Ride on above the soft sands until you reach the expansive flat of Long Beach. Heading south, the horses spread out and prance along the shimmering water’s edge that runs for miles. After about half an hour, the horses know, like clockwork, when to turn around and head back the way they came.
West Coast Horse Rides offers a one-hour ride for $30 and $5 pony rides through the wooded area just outside the corral for the younger kids. More experienced riders can enjoy a two-hour ride and adventure farther south to Beards Hollow in Cape Disappointment State Park for $60. Horse rides run year-round, weather dependent. In the summer, it’s an every day opportunity for any local or tourist; however, in the off-season, West Coast only saddles up on weekends.
Mother and daughter duo Tracy and Brandi Gardner took over the business in 2017 and, between the two of them, have years of experience with horses. After moving to Long Beach in 2005, Brandi and her sisters got involved in the horseback riding scene along the peninsula, pulling Tracy along with them. It became a family activity and passion. Years later, they saw the opportunity to run their own trail riding business and share their love of horseback riding with the community.
“I love sharing the horses with people who have never even petted a horse before,” Tracy said. Her best memories involve the happy smiles on children’s faces after they finish their first ride.
If you’re in Long Beach and are looking for another option, you can head over to Long Beach Horse Rides just across the street for a similar trail ride experience.
Sea Ranch Resort in Cannon Beach also offers daily trail rides during the summertime. For $95, visitors can take an hour ride to Haystack Rock or to Chapman Point for equally beautiful views of the rocky coast. Two-hour rides south to Silver Point and sunset night rides are also available.
If you’re farther south in the Nehalem area, Oregon Beach Rides and Nehalem Bay Horse Excursions offer beach and trail excursions to explore the backwoods and the coast. With Oregon Beach Rides, you can spend an entire day exploring Nehalem Bay State Park or ride off into the sunset across the sand dunes for a shorter, equally magical experience. Nehalem Bay Horse Excursions offers pony rides as well as classic trail excursions.