Sage Hills-The Horse Lake Lollipop
By Ray Birks
This report is part of a series, written for Wenatchee Outdoors, to document some of the classic mountain bike rides within an hour’s drive of the Wenatchee Valley. They consist of more than just details on one trail but a series of trails that comprise a well-known route. What makes these routes classics? It’s a combination of local knowledge, trail quality, scenery, points of interest, and destination-worthy intangible awesomeness.
What makes this a Wenatchee Classic: This loop is a go-to route for locals looking to put in some miles and ride some great trails right outside their backdoor. The trail quality is consistently high and the views of the Columbia River, the Enchantments, Saddle Rock and the Upper Valley are spectacular. During wildflower season this is the place to be where the flowers are off the charts so expect a lot of trail users especially near the trailheads on the lower sections. Other times during the year there is enough room that it will feel as if you have the entire trail system to yourself. The Chelan Douglas Land Trust has done a great job creating and maintaining trails for mountain bikers that are great for both climbing and descending. The trails are fast and flowy with few rocks and almost all of the sections can be ridden by beginners. The deeper you get into this route the higher the trail quality. Recently installed signage will help you to navigate but some of the uppermost trails, like Lightning, have not officially been adopted by the land trust and so there is a lack of signage. At those points you may want to reference the Trailforks app.
At the beginning of the route on Lester’s Trail you’ll encounter some daunting looking switchbacks but don’t be deterred. They are not as hard as they look and beyond them the trails gently roll up and down all the way to the high point. You’ll climb up and out of Sage Hills and eventually get to the upper Horse Lake trailhead parking lot, which does have a bathroom, kiosk and picnic table. After a short descent to one of the old homestead barns, you’ll continue climbing nice singletrack on Burt’s Trail, Glacier View, Apricot Crisp and the backside of Lightning all the way to your high point where you’ll be greeted with stunning views of the Columbia River and Waterville Plateau. From here you’ll descend Lighting and Coyote Canyon all the way back to Sage Hills and eventually your starting spot. These two trails have a few rocks thrown in but for the most part are solid blue trails and not overly technical. If you’re riding this loop clockwise, after you climb to the top of Lightning, you’re done with the hard stuff and are now set to descend some sweet trails through the Horse Lake Preserve and back into Sage Hills.
Additional trails to consider to make your ride longer and more challenging include:
- Homestead – if you’ve got extra in the tank, this is a great trail that makes a worthwhile side trip up or
- Upper Apricot Crisp – if you want some additional climbing add this trail
- Horse Lake Upper – the author’s favorite spot for late season wildflowers and solitude (May)
- Short loop of Snakebite and Heart Murmur (stiff blue) – a short, technical diversion halfway down Lightning
Points of Interest:
- Bathroom, kiosk and picnic table located at the upper Horse Lake Rd parking lot
- Two scenic benches located along the route, one at the junction of Foothills Trail (aka Lone Pine) and Snakebite and the other at the top of Homestead
- There is a picnic table at the highest point of the Foothills Trail (aka Lone Pine) just before it descends the last ¼ mile to the upper parking lot
- Horse Lake sometimes has water in it and is located just west of the intersection of Lower Apricot Crisp and Glacier View trails. Do not rely on it as a reliable water source.
All of the trail maps and routes come from Trailforks
Route: Here are all of the trails in one route
Trail by trail description (counterclockwise):
- Lester’s Trail – ¼ mile
- Lower Sage – 1.2 miles
- The Gut – ¾ mile
- Little Moab – ¾ mile
- Foothills Trail (aka Lone Pine) – 1.4 miles
- Burt’s Connector – 0.4 miles
- Burt’s – 1.3 miles
- Glacier View – 2.1 miles
- Lower Apricot Crisp – 1 miles
- Lightning – 2.8 miles
- Coyote Canyon – 1.1 miles
- The Gut – ¼ mile
- Lower Sage – 1.2 miles
- Lester’s Trail – ¼ mile
Distance: 16.3 miles
Direction Described: counterclockwise
Elevation: 2,621ft climb, 2,629ft descent, 2,917ft high point
Technical Difficulty: Beginner/Intermediate. This route contains all green and blue trails and has a fair amount of climbing.
Suggested Bike: This route is most easily ridden on a mountain bike or, for an intermediate rider, a gravel bike. The descent of Lightning is a solid blue and on a gravel bike it takes some moderate skill.
Endurance: 4 out of 10. This route is not technically challenging but does involve over 2,500 feet of climbing. Lightning has a few short steep sections and some rocks which makes it a blue trail.
Parking Access: No parking pass is required at any of the potential starting points but if you are starting at the southern end on Sage Hills Dr., you’ll need to park in the gravel pullout at the corner of Sage Hills Dr and Number One Canyon Rd (map here).
There are additional starting points such as Day Drive, Maiden Lane and the bottom of Horse Lake Road. Day Drive has limited parking (room for 4-5 cars) but avoids the initial switchbacks.
Sage Hills Parking Directions: In Wenatchee, follow 5th St. up past Miller St. Continue up 5th St. and the road will turn left then right. ¼ mile past the right turn is the gravel pullout on the right.
Route Description: The route described is ridden counterclockwise but it can be ridden in either direction. The route is a lollipop, meaning you’ll start and finish on the same trails but the middle section is a big loop. Base your riding direction on whether you like to climb nice, smooth trails and descend the more technical trails (Lightning and Coyote Canyon) or don’t mind climbing those same moderately technical blue trails in order to descend on the fast, flowy trails in the Horse Lake Reserve. Counterclockwise climbs the smooth trails and descends the blue trails. Clockwise has steeper climbs and smoother descents.
When to Ride: This loop can usually be ridden April 1st to November 30th if the upper trails have dried out. The best time to ride these trails is in April/May when the wildflowers are at their peak, but expect a lot more trail users during this time. If you’re riding in the summer, get an early start because there are no trees at lower elevations and it can get hot in the afternoons. Fall is a fantastic time to ride as well as the trails are usually packed down and virtually empty. Do not ride on trails that are wet or mushy, which can happen in late fall or after recent rains.
- Both Sage Hills and Horse Lake have seasonal closures from December 1st to March 31st to support mule deer migration and protect the trail system
- Dogs are required to be on leash in Sage Hills and Horse Lake
- Currently ebikes are not allowed in Sage Hills and Horse Lake
- There is no water available on the route
- Beware of snakes in the warmer months
- These trails are multi-use so expect to share them with hikers and horse riders
- These trails do not handle moisture well so avoid them and use common sense after recent rains
- Beware of the freeze/thaw cycle in late Fall and don’t ride on trails that are mushy or if your tires are leaving a visible rut or you’re frequently slipping or losing traction
Leave It Better Than You found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, disperse old fire rings, and throw branches over unwanted spur trails.
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are completely responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.
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