Les Hilde/Harry Osborne State Forest; Wonderful Horse Riding in Western Washington
As published in the May / June 2011 edition of BCHW’s The Trailhead News Magazine
Spring is in the air. While the scent of hyacinths and other spring flowers wafting on the breeze is certainly a harbinger of warmer (dryer?) weather, I was referring more to the horse hair that floats and clings as our beasts blow out their winter coats. With our horses and mules looking less like Himalayan yaks and more like the sure-footed trail travelers that they are, we’ve started eagerly anticipating a year full of rides and adventures – the first of which for many is the Les Hilde trail system.
Located on the west side of the Cascades in scenic Skagit County, Les Hilde (or “Harry O” as many local riders refer to it) offers some of the area’s best year-round riding opportunities on the 100 plus miles of trails that meander through the Harry Osborne State Forest on the flanks of Mount Josephine.
One of Les Hilde’s best features is the ease in which you can get to the trailhead. Unlike many areas where getting to the trails is an adventure in itself, Les Hilde is less than twenty miles from a major interstate highway(I-5), and directly north of Hamilton, WA. The chance of getting lost on the way to the trailhead is fairly low. The easy accessibility and close proximity to large metropolitan areas makes Les Hilde one of the premier day-riding destinations in the Pacific Northwest.
Once you’ve arrived at the trailhead you’ll immediately see why Harry O is such a special place. Separate graveled parking areas for day users and campers keep things nice and orderly. A large covered group shelter makes a wonderful spot to share stories of the day’s ride. A large mounting ramp and spacious restroom facilities round out the amenities at the trailhead. About the only thing lacking here is water. Les Hilde is a dry camp with no potable water and a moderate walk to a nearby stream for stock water.
The trail riding here is typical of western Washington with lots of climbing as you ride the well-maintained trails that hug the side of Mount Josephine. The climbs are made well worthwhile by the views of the Skagit Valley that you’ll have from any of the various viewpoints. The views from the Lower Josephine Lake trail are particularly inspiring. Of course, you’ll find an equal number of downhill stretches as you make your way back to your rig. With forty named trails covering over a hundred miles of forest, everyone can find a great ride at Les Hilde, from dusk to dawn, treks to rides of under an hour that have you back in camp early. For the extremely adventurous, the 1,200-mile-long Pacific National Trail runs through Les Hilde and stretches east to the Continental Divide in Montana and west to the Pacific coast.
Another feature the Les Hilde trail system shares with wet Western Washington is that, often times, it feels as if you’re riding through a tunnel of greenery as you make your way from one glorious viewpoint to another. The Skagit County Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of Washington does a super job of
trimming the brush off and otherwise maintaining the trails and keeping them passable. Give this group of hard-working trail volunteers a hand by following Leave No Trace guidelines and keeping Les Hilde a wonderful destination point for everyone.
Have a wonderful month of riding adventures as we enjoy the longer days and the warming weather. Want to see your favorite trail ride highlighted in the “Trail of the Month”? Let me know about the area and maybe we’ll take a ride there. As always, for more information on these and other equestrian riding destinations throughout the U.S. please visit www.TrailMeister.com, the largest source of free validated trail and trailhead information as well as trail maps to keep you on the right path.