Conrad Meadows – Horse Camping in the Eastern Cascades
As published in the November / December 2011 edition of BCHW’s The Trailhead News Magazine
Level 5”, Warm Lake, and the Devil’s Horns are all names of areas around the truly wonderful riding destination of Conrad Meadows. If the names aren’t a clue to the experience you’ll have here, just ask a few members of your BCHW chapter and you’ll most likely find someone who knows of this very special place. My first brush with Conrad Meadows came from Ken Wegner of K&S Saddlery fame, and I remain quite grateful for the heads up on the area. Ken’s advice for a wonderful place to ride was just as spot-on as his recommendations for a new saddle. I certainly recommend taking the time to plan a trip to Conrad in 2012.
Conrad Meadows is the largest sub alpine meadow in the Cascade Range and is famed for the patchwork of meadows, water crossings, dense forest, gorgeous lakes, and rocky peaks that make up the area.
Conrad Meadows is located in Yakima County and getting there is as simple as driving 34 miles west from Yakima on Highway 12, then heading south on Forest Service Road 1200 and then south again on Forest Service Road 1000. Stay on the 1000 road for about 13.5 miles to the end. Once you reach the end of the road, you’ve arrived. On the east side of the road is an especially large and pleasant camp area that is bounded to the east by the frigid waters of the South Fork of the Tieton River. There are open areas for those with corrals and trees perfect for highlines.
A very interesting fact about this area is the campground, and much of the surrounding locale, is private property. It is both wonderful and amazing that a private landowner allows complete strangers to camp and ride across his property. The very generous landowner is Mr. Herke, and he is often sighted driving through camp. Should you see him take the time to say thank you for the opportunity to camp and ride.
The Herkes use this land for cattle grazing, and it is doubtless you’ll see cattle on your ride. And yes, the herd will come into your camp to feast on any leftovers from your stock. They might also make short work of your camp kitchen so keep a clean camp to avoid problems. Make sure to leave your camp better than you found it, and please don’t harass the cattle, to ensure that this opportunity remains available and open in the future.
Riding at Conrad Meadows ranges from leisurely meandering in the flat valley bottom, to rides on the well-maintained US Forest Service (USFS) trails, to cross country treks into areas such as the aptly named Devil’s Washbasin where a steady surefooted mount is welcome. One popular ride departs camp heading south through the flat valley meadows to the start of the Goat Rocks Wilderness (make sure to fill out a wilderness permit) and then ascends the valley walls and passes the delightful Surprise Lake before looping around and back down to the valley floor. For the more adventurous this ride can be extended to include Warm Lake and “Level 5,” both of which require a bit of off trail cruising, a good sense of direction, and an appreciation of heights.
In summary, Conrad Meadows definitely deserves a spot on every rider’s bucket list. Vast grassy meadows, high alpine lakes, craggy peaks, good trails, and a great camp await horse and mule riders during the coming year.
As always for more information on this and many other great horse riding and camping areas in Washington and beyond, visit www.TrailMeister.com