Five Steps of Preparation for Your Backcountry Riding Vacation

Friends, all I can say is that I have seen some wonderful country from the back of a horse! 

It’s a little different with a horse, they are doing the work for you, while you have the advantage of this perch to look around on.  While hiking, you are likely looking down and don’t have the elevated view!

  I spent twenty years riding and camping with my horse.  These are processes that have worked for me. My most recent trip was in 2012, after which my daughter, about nine years old at the time, wanted my company for vacations (!), and many areas, routes and destinations, were burning with rampant forest fires.  So I set it aside for a while.  I’ve kept track of favorite riding areas, and new ideas put out by folks gaining experience!  Hopefully, this will springboard you into researching your own ideas and what might work for you!

Where to Go?

This should be determined by the level of condition and trail experience of your horse, and of your riding buddies going with you.  In the old days, it was the folks who would commit to keeping their rig tuned and ready in good repair, and a consistent conditioning and exposure program for their horses.  Having dabbled in endurance riding for five years, I’d condition as if for a twenty five mile ride, and then I could be quite confident that I could go on my trip and not worry about my horse.

Lake basins are great places to visit.  Great views and moderate terrain that everyone can enjoy.  Diamond Peak Wilderness in south central Oregon is a good one.  Traveling through Crater Lake National Park, is wonderful.  Mt Adams is a repeat favorite, both from Mt. Adams Horse Camp and Keenes Horse Camp.  Author Kim McCarrel writes trail books that encompass many areas of Oregon and Washington.  She covers many areas I have ridden and her information is reliable.  Her website is

Facebook site Holly’s Horse Tales and Trails is also good information on areas of Central Oregon that I have camped and ridden.  Her blog brings back many happy memories!

The Open Trail Project is a great site with a Facebook site as well, for an archive of national horse trails, and handy record keeping tools.  Check it out here:

We Are Trail Riders is another .com and Facebook resource for the rider with national riding sites.  Check it out here:

These resources will help with map selection and other land management resources.  I always used Green Trail Maps and checked with the Forest Service on trail conditions and closures.  Map stores are also great resources, Bend Mapping and Blueprint in Bend, Oregon, is a great resource for trails outside the Diamond Peak Wilderness area, which are every bit as nice to ride as those within the wilderness boundaries!

We all started out with camping in our horse trailers!  Over the years, we all managed to upgrade to some form of camper ( I had a pop-up for seven years), and while it afforded lots of comfort, what it really did was organize us!  It’s really nice to not have to set up camp when we arrived!  And it was really nice to have a sense of organization so we could concentrate on riding!  Not to mention sleeping with a warm face if you want to use the heater!

I found that year after year, August was a good time to travel the backcountry.  Late snow melt was generally gone, and bugs are scarce!  No issues with wasps or bees, and the no-see-ems are most active in July in those high mountain meadows. You have a little less daylight, and depending on elevation, you can encounter occasional overnight temperatures near freezing.  Still, I have found it to be the most enjoyable time to ride!

Thinking of packing in?  I always bring what I need to stay overnight if need be.  But I wouldn’t qualify that as packing in, lol!  There are a couple of near-30 mile loops that I would like to break into two 15-milers and stay out the night.  Tons of material out there, my favorite being the guys from Montana at Trailhead Supply.  Catch up on their blog!  They regularly attend the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington (BCHW) Rondy in Ellensburg, Washington.  They have given a great mini-seminar on getting started in packing for women, always to a “sell-out” crowd!  Here is their website link:

Here is a link to the rondy:

I like the idea of the over the saddle panniers to keep it easy!

What to Bring?

Food for a week!  The camper refrigerators, even the small ones, can hold a lot!  It’s fun to trade off meal duty with your buddies!  Fry pan burritos were easy after a ride, and quick!  And me, I can eat hot dogs the entire time!  Check around and you’ll find what suits you!  I’ve also done cheese fondue when it was my turn to cook!

A water resistant blanket for your horse and a lighter sheet.  When your horse has been working all day, they will appreciate a cover in the higher elevations, and whether it is your enclosure or a horse camp, not a lot of room to move around to keep warm.

Clothes to layer.  I used my cross country ski clothes!  I layer with tights and pants of choice for chafing, Sporthill sells a wind resistant ski pant that is tapered towards the ankle, which I found handy.  A stretchy vest, my Outback jacket, and  the Outback rain slicker that folds into a backpack, that is easy to tie on the back of the saddle.  Headgear of choice, which included helmet, or straw hat, or wool hat, or the Outback waxed hat for rainy days, all got their use!  Half chaps work well for bushwacking and for keeping the heat in your lower extremities.  I’ve used cowboy boots, rubber boots, riding tennis shoes, paddock boots with thinsulate, all had their place!  And remember, you are camping, so pack light, wear everything multiple times, its OK to get and be dirty!  I used conditioner for my hair so the dirt and sweat wouldn’t stick!  Maybe the suntanned face was part sun, part dirt!

How about water?

We mostly camped in designated horse camps, or primitive camped when there was an appropriate area, as in the Ochocos out of Prineville, Oregon.  It used to be that a trailer water tank only held about 25 gallons.  There are more options now, check out

I’ll take advantage of streams and nearby lakes to make my water last, and carry a camper hose that spirals into a convenient carry tray to take with me.  Those can be purchased most anywhere, I bought mine at the local Bi-mart discount store.

My horn bags are designed to carry a water bottle in each side.  I use a refillable stainless steel one, and the other is my Seychelle water filtration bottle.

Most campsites will have pens, either wood or metal, many in Washington State have highlines.  I carry my swivel attachment that will allow my horse to pull back and not panic.  I also carry my own highline kit.  You can purchase a highline attachment for your trailer, lightweight corral sections, or use an electric corral set-up.  Mainly it’s what you prefer and what you think is best and easiest for your horse.

Feed and Supplies

Equipment is quite sophisticated these days, but even with a simple rig set up, you can manage to have fun!  I take weed free grass hay and alfalfa, I find my horse appreciated a little extra after an all day trail ride!  I organized daily feed rations in baggies, and took loose salt to add.  Dynamite Specialty Products has an excellent loose salt, as even the vets rarely carry it anymore, our past go-to source.

We would buddy up in twos, one hauling the horses, and one hauling the hay and supplies!  It worked great, and gave us the advantage of the extra rig in case we experienced any troubles!

Enjoying Mother Nature

We want to set up our trip in our favor.  Do our homework, plan our route, and also be flexible if conditions change.  Respect Mother Nature, and your limitations as humans, small pebbles on the beach.  Be thoughtful of choosing your horse buddy, and your riding buddies.  There should be a sense of responsibility and support towards each other when traveling the backcountry.

I do travel with a cell phone and battery pack. Will your battery pack last a week?  Likely not.  Will your cell phone work everywhere?  Likely not.  However, that is the part I like the best about horse camping, going far enough away to make you feel you are “away”, and not having to worry about anything except the needs of yourself and your horse.

Horses have a great sense of direction, they have never failed me.  They always prove the “no, it’s thatta way” person wrong.  Take some orange surveyors tape to mark intersections.  Everyone should pack a gun.  Three shots is the universal signal for help.  I figure if I had to wait it out while someone rode for help, I could stave off a few critters, or put my horse down if necessary.  Stay on the trail.  Avoid game trails that may look inviting.  Keep well hydrated and graze on saddlebag snacks.  Becoming dehydrated and having low blood sugar contributes to poor decision making.  Turn around if you encounter unexpected obstacles that will deplete your horse’s energy or put them at risk.  Use common sense.

Even though these methods and tools may be considered “old”, I would still be comfortable today traveling as such.

As a basic overview, I hope this inspires you to research for your own camping adventure with your horse!  There are lots of dude ranch offerings, but nothing to compare with your own fine animal taking you down the trail with cooperation and enthusiasm!

Happy Trails!


Photographs:  In order of appearance:  Blue Mountains, Oregon, Olive Lake in the background; Metolius-Windigo Trail from Sisters Cow Camp, Sisters, Oregon; Rim Trail, Newberry Caldera, La Pine, Oregon; Sister Mirror Lake, Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon; Croften Ridge Trail, Mt. Adams, Washington; The Ochocos, Oregon; Crater Lake National Park, Oregon; Muddy Meadows, Mt. Adams, Washington; Stag Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness, Oregon








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Terri Hughes

I live, work, and play in Spokane, Washington with my daughter, and a variety of four-leggeds, all of which you will meet in the published articles! I am a student of natural horsemanship. A lifelong love of horses has led me to backcountry riding and camping, lessonwork in reining and dressage, previously experiencing endurance riding and gaming. I'm always learning from my horses!

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