How to explore Skyline Forest on horseback

Jun 02, 2014
Though the Two Bulls fire is currently burning in Skyline Forest, you can file this for future rides. Horseback trail ride author Kim McCarrel takes a look at the trails of Skyline Forest.

By Kim McCarrel

**Please note: The Two Bulls fire is currently burning in Skyline Forest. Riding there is currently not an option. File this for future reference. Thanks!**

Summer is nearly here, and the horse trails beckon!  

Are you ready to explore a part of Central Oregon that is close to Bend but feels remote? Would you like to see panoramic views of the snow-covered Cascades, inhale the piney fragrance of Ponderosas shading the trail, and delight in the delicate wildflowers that bloom this time of year? Then look no further than Skyline Forest, a 33,000-acre area adjacent to the Cascade foothills that the Deschutes Land Trust is working to protect for recreation, wildlife and scenic views.   

The equestrian parking area for Skyline Forest is at the end of Tumalo Reservoir Road, near Tumalo Reservoir. If you’re an equestrian living in Central Oregon you may already be familiar with the Tumalo Reservoir area. You may have ridden around the reservoir and on Bull Flat, the open sagebrush-covered expanse north of the reservoir. You may have even ridden along the bank of the canal that feeds the reservoir. These lands are owned by Tumalo Irrigation District and BLM, and the riding there is mighty nice this time of year.  

But you’ll find even better equestrian trails by venturing onto the adjacent Skyline Forest. There you can ride along seasonal Bull Creek to Bull Spring and the site of an old archery camp. You can travel to pristine Snag Spring, explore the site of a historic lumber mill, or gaze into the depths of Skyline Gorge, a 75-foot deep ravine carved by the old Columbia Southern Canal. And you can reach all of this from the parking area on Tumalo Reservoir Road. Read on for a photo slideshow, directions, and a map!

Routes & Directions:

Bull Spring
: To reach Bull Spring, ride along the southern edge of the reservoir. You’ll have a large sagebrush-covered field on your left. At the end of the sagebrush field, about 0.7 mile from the trailhead, veer left and pick up the trail that runs up the hill. At the top of the hill, take the trail heading south, ignoring the less-distinct trails that go off to either side. It will take you to the wide gravel Brooks-Scanlon Road (Road 4606). Cross it and pick up the trail that runs beside Bull Creek to Bull Spring. For variety you can return on the trail on the opposite side of Bull Creek, which at one point runs up onto a rock outcropping for a nice view of the mountains. Round trip from the trailhead to Bull Spring is about 7 miles.

Snag Spring: From Bull Spring, pick up the dirt road that departs on the north side of the area.  It quickly swings west and continues up the Bull Creek drainage.  (The creek is running underground here.) At all road junctions, stay in the little valley you’re in, and in about 1.2 miles you’ll come to a dense thicket of aspen on both sides of the road, an indication that there’s water underground here. Just past the aspen, tie your horses and walk to the left to find tiny Snag Spring and many seasonal wildflowers.  This is a very delicate area, so please keep your horses well away from the spring. Round trip from to Snag Spring is about 10 miles.

To reach Skyline Gorge: From Bull Spring you can ride to Skyline Gorge by heading south on Road 100, the dirt road you crossed as you entered the Bull Spring area. Follow it 1.2 miles to the CP-2 Road, then turn right and ride 0.1 mile and turn onto the first dirt road that goes off to the left. When it T-bones another road after 0.5 mile, turn left and continue 0.1 mile to the old Columbia Southern canal (now dry). Turn left and follow the single track trail that runs beside the canal. In 0.7 mile you’ll reach the Skyline Gorge segment of the canal, where the canal eroded a startlingly deep ravine. Round trip to Skyline Gorge is about 11 miles.

To reach the site of the Old Pine Tree Mill: From Skyline Gorge, continue riding downhill along the canal for about 0.2 mile. The trail will enter an open area, with a big grassy depression across the canal. This is the site of the old Pine Tree Mill, and the grassy depression was the mill’s log pond. Continue riding beside the canal to see the remains of the mill’s foundations, burner, and other equipment. Round trip to the Old Pine Tree Mill is about 11 miles.  

Note: None of the trails on Skyline Forest are signed, so use your navigation skills and have fun exploring this beautiful area! Download Kim's trail map.

Getting To the Trailhead:  You’ll find equestrian parking in the school bus turnaround area at the end of Tumalo Reservoir Road.  From Bend, take Hwy. 20 to Tumalo and turn left on Bailey Road next to the Tumalo Feed Company.  In a couple of miles the road name changes to Tumalo Reservoir Road. Continue straight ahead for 3.7 miles to the equestrian parking area on the left.

**Kim McCarrel is the author of several trail riding books for Central Oregon. An avid trail rider for more than 20 years, Kim's books include Riding Northwest Oregon Horse Trails, Riding Central Oregon Horse Trails, and Riding Southern Oregon Horse Trails (Ponderosa Press). Kim is on the Land Trust Board of Directors, the board of Oregon Equestrian Trails, and the Sisters Trails Alliance. She lives in Bend with her husband Steve.