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Horsin' Around 

Central Oregon's top riding destinations

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Bend's Suzi Lewis, 56 years young, knows horses. She has been riding horses since she was 8—all over the U.S.—and has been giving lessons to aspiring Central Oregon trail riders for decades. So when she called Central Oregon "one of the best places to own and ride a horse," I took her words as gospel.

The seasoned instructor (call 541-550-9787 for a lesson) pointed to three reasons why this so: Easy access to public lands (80 percent of Deschutes County land is in public ownership—federal and state); superior footing (while Colorado trails are often rocky and steep, here there's "nice soft, fluffy pumice" that allows horses to break into a trot or canter); and mild weather (300 days of sunshine). "Don't be a wimp: If it's raining a little get out there—you won't melt," Lewis said.

Horseback riding, often overshadowed by mountain biking, rock climbing and trail running, also supports a significant segment of the Central Oregon economy. As local author and horse riding expert Kim McCarrel pointed out, horse owners spend oodles of money on feed, gear and transport—money that stays in the region.

"We buy tack, hay, and trucks and trailers up the ying-yang," McCarrel said during an interview last week. Her recent 2013 release, "Riding Northwest Oregon Trails," is her fourth book, and follows her popular 2005 guidebook, "Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails." McCarrel will speak at 6:30 pm June 14 at Paulina Springs Books in Redmond.

The local expert also shared her five favorite Central Oregon rides:

Cline Butte, Canyon Area Trails: An easy, low-elevation winter and spring destination that offers a variety of terrain—open sagebrush areas, gnarled junipers and a 75-foot-deep basalt canyon. "You feel like Geronimo should be lurking above," McCarrel says. It's also easily accessible from Redmond, Sisters and Bend. Access: Off of Fryrear Road, about ½ mile south of the transport station on Fryrear.

Broken Top Loop: A breathtaking high-country loop that boasts plenty of trailer parking—a perfect summer ride. Take the Metolius-Windigo trail north to Broken Top Trail, which runs along Broken Top's base "so close you feel like you can reach out and touch it," said McCarrel. Along the way, riders will cross several small streams and a mess of wildflowers, two-six weeks after the snow melts. 13 miles round trip. Access: Start at Todd Creek Horse Camp, off Cascade Lakes Highway.

Wickiup Plains and Sisters Mirror Lake Loop: A moderately difficult ride though a beautiful forest—some of it old growth—that leads to a vast pumice plain with stunning views of South Sister and Broken Top. 12-14.5 miles. Access: Devil's Lake Trailhead or Quinn Meadows Horse camp or Sisters Mirror Trailhead along Cascade Lakes Highway.

Peter Skene Ogden Trail: Also know as Paulina Creek Trail. Take this spring and summertime trail from near Highway 97 all the way up to Newberry Lake. Along the way riders will pass nearly a dozen small waterfalls and an abundance of wildflowers. The trip culminates at Paulina Falls, a double waterfall that tumbles off a basalt shelf. 17 miles round trip Access: from Highway 97, turn onto Paulina Lake Road and park at Ogden Campground.

Obsidian Loop Trail: For a more challenging, technical ride, consider this loop and be sure to include the three-mile detour to Obsidian Falls. The area is known for its stark landscape, radical lava flows and phenomenal views of the Cascades, both to the north and south. Note: Riders do need a special-use permit from the McKenzie River Ranger Station (it's free). Access: from Highway 242, turn onto the Obsidian Trailhead, over Opie Dilldock pass.

For more on Oregon horse trails, or to order one of McCarrel's four books, visit SW

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For easy horseback-riding access, head to the Tumalo Reservoir area outside Bend. Riding in the actual reservoir is illegal, but there are miles upon miles of trails and dirt roads in the surrounding area, and most of them are on public land, operated by either the Bureau of Land Management or the U.S. Forest Service. Enjoyable year-round, with stunning views of the Cascades. Access: Junction of Tumalo Reservoir Road and Sisemore Road (dirt).

Or here: Not into horses or the rodeo? No problem. Bring running shoes or a mountain bike and take off from the Peterson Ridge Trailhead, easily accessible from downtown Sisters. Access: Look for the kiosk at the trailhead within the Five Pines Campus, finish at the same spot with a beer from Three Creeks Brewing.


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