Indian Heaven by Horseback: A Return to the Great Outdoors

Hopefully, better times are coming for outdoors lovers. Washington governor Jay Inslee hinted at the end of April that his stay-at-home order may soon be loosened a little. Presumably, among the edicts to be lifted are those restricting outdoor recreation. The wilderness beckons, offering healing for the soul while honoring the objectives of social distancing.

Enthusiastic horseback riders are eagerly waiting for their chance to get back into the mountains. They may get lucky soon, while aficionados of competitive riding can still find some suggestions at Horse Racing Betting, until restrictions on attending racecourses are lifted.

In some Native American traditions there is an ancient connection between riding as a daily activity and riding as a competition. In the rolling uplands around Mt. Adams, one can explore an area with a rich history of both.

Indian Heaven Wilderness


The Indian Race Track Meadows, part of Southwest Washington’s present-day Indian Heaven Wilderness, offer an excellent place to do some long-anticipated trail riding once restrictions are lifted. A protected area located inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the wilderness offers an exceptional diversity of landscapes located on 20,782 acres of broad forested plateau including numerous volcanic peaks straddled by meadows, some 150 small lakes, ponds, marshes and a volcanic landscape that is unforgettable.

Don’t miss Lake Sahalee Tyee, impressive in its volcanic crater. Sahalee Tyee was the original Native American name for “Indian Heaven” and refers to the fact that this area has been a seasonal meeting place for indigenous peoples for 9,000 years including the Yakima, Umatilla, Klickitat, Wasco, Wishram and Cascades tribes, who used to meet here to fish in the lakes, hunt deer and elk, and harvest berries in late summer and early fall. As part of these congregations, young riders raced their ponies around the clearing to celebrate the evening gatherings. Traces of the ancient racetrack can still be seen in the meadow.

Photo by Andrew McKinney


Contemporary horse riders can reach the Indian Race Track Meadows starting from Falls Creek Horse Camp, a small equestrian camp with just one vault toilet. Race Track Trail #171 begins just across the road from the camp. The trail travels southeastward through second-growth forest and crosses Falls Creek and enters Indian Heaven Wilderness. Climb through rocky terrain for one mile to a meadow where the grade flattens.

Red Mountain Lookout

Beyond the meadows, trail #171A leaves Trail #171 and heads east for 0.5 mile before connecting with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail #2000. Race Track Trail #171 climbs to Road 6048 near the summit of Red Mountain, where a fire lookout is located. The Red Mountain Lookout is one of three active lookouts remaining on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest today.

As a designated wilderness, this destination is open only for hiking and horseback riding. No bikes or machines. It is a place that offers a chance to rediscover the peace of nature after our long period of being constrained indoors. A Wilderness Permit is required and available at the trailhead.

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