Trail Riding Destination – Pasayten Wilderness
As published in The Northwest Horse Source – January 2017
January is here! It’s the start of a new year of trail riding and adventures with our horses. I have a feeling that it’s going to be fabulous. I use the post-holiday period to start planning my summer trips. There’s something powerful about seeing an area’s name in blocks on the calendar and knowing that in a few months I’ll be there. For me the process of planning helps me to be intentional in my trip choices.
This year I’ll be heading back into the Pasayten Wilderness. It’s become a favorite summer destination point for me and it could be for you too. If you’ve never experienced a true wilderness, the Pasayten is a great place to start.
Here’s a mental picture to warm your soul during the damp dark days of winter. A glorious high mountain meadow on a warm summers eve. A stream gurgling quietly as it passes near horses contentedly grazing on the lush grasses of your meadow home. A few scattered tents provide quick pops of color against the dark green of the surrounding forest which is in turn dwarfed by rocky cliffs above.
A welcoming campfire provides a bit of warmth under the darkening sky. If you’ve picked mid August for this mental trip the evening’s entertainment will be spectacular. The Perseid meteor shower will light the sky with fire as the remains of the comet Swift-Tuttle burn. It’s a great light show and I’ve already blocked off the dates and put an X on the map. Here’s more that you’ll want to know about this area before you add it to your ride calendar.
The Pasayten Wilderness covers 531,375 very big acres as it skirts the Canadian border for over 50 miles in north central Washington. This is a high-country experience with over 150 awe inspiring peaks over 7,500 feet high. Looking up from the trail to gaze at these rocky precipices and perhaps glance a Golden Eagle soaring beneath the peak will be a cherished memory.
From small lakes swimming with cutthroat trout to streams providing lush grasses for grazing you’ll find more than 160 water bodies dotting the landscape. Filling a water filter from a lake mirroring the cloudless azure sky overhead is beyond pleasant.
Enjoy this video on horse riding in the Pasayten from the Jan, 2017 episode of Coffee with TrailMeister
Forty-nine years ago, in 1968, Congress designated the Pasayten a capital “W” wilderness which means that this area is managed to provide “outstanding opportunities for solitude and a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”. Wilderness areas are rare, wild places where you can retreat from civilization and reconnect with the Earth to find meaning and significance. That means no chain saws, bikes, or engines, just peace, solitude, and daydreams.
Any area that covers over 830 square miles has a wide variety of flavors to enjoy and the Pasayten will not disappoint. The western side is noted for its rugged ridges that gradually smooth into park like settings framing the eastern boundaries of the wilderness. With multiple entry points and more than 600 miles of trails to get you to your camp spot the number of trips that could be planned is nearly endless. Not being a fan of sporty trails, I prefer the gentle paths and wide open vistas of the east side where I’ve found the 14-Mile trailhead and campground to be an excellent staging point for my Pasayten trips.
If I have one caution it’s that riders should be able to clear the way. Time, weather and fire take their toll on trail systems and the Pasayten has been hard hit. Many trails here need some love with a crosscut saw to clear the way for stock use. My first visit to the Pasayten was with the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington where we cleared over 42 miles of wilderness trails that previously had been impassable for horses and mules.