Trail Ride at Harry O, WA

Whether you’re a horseback rider, hiker, biker or jogger, sometimes you just get bored of trails riding on the same mountain. It isn’t that Buntzen lake trail rides cease to have stellar views or that Golden Ears trail rides is suddenly too easy for your amazing downhill riding skills; it’s just that sometimes you want a fresh trail to trail ride: you want the unknowns, you want a different tree to see through the forest, you want to discover something. It is that craving for discovery that makes you hungry to read the newest issue of Adventures NW. Finding just one new trail ride would be great, but finding a whole new trail system on a whole new mountain would be like…well, candy. So if your sweet tooth of discovery is tingling to find a new trail ride, then let me treat you to a place called Harry O’s.

trail rides

New trail rides to discover

The Harry Osborne State Forest (or Harry O’s as it is affectionately called) is situated eighteen miles up Skagit Valley from Interstate 5, near the town of Hamilton and on a plateau nestled under 3,957-foot Mount Josephine. Skagit Valley is approximately a 2 hour drive from Vancouver. Harry O’s contains nearly 15,000 acres of public land and is home to some forty-plus miles of trails. This is a Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimate. There are a couple of trails I’ve never been to the end of. I have a feeling the DNR has not either. In it is an intricate network of loops, paths, trails and connectors popular with the horse riders, who call it the Les Hilde trail system. Yet to this point, Harry O’s and the Les Hilde Trail System haven’t been as popular with other recreational users, mostly because people aren’t aware of it.

Harry O trail rides up Skagit Valley

Besides being just minutes up Skagit Valley with public roads providing multiple access points to the trails, Harry O’s has a wide range of terrain open to all non-motorized users. You can scramble up a razorback ridge to the summit of Mount Josephine or sidehill an old railroad logging grade built nearly a century ago. There are steep chutes plunging down the mountain and lazy switchbacks flirting their way downhill. Except for the area covered by winter snowpack, all of the trails may be accessed year-round. Well-maintained gravel roads traverse across the mountain’s face providing dozens of jump-off points for two- to five-mile loops—perfect for an afternoon trail ride, hike, or mountain bike.

Driving up Medford Road off of Hamilton-Cemetery Road, you will find the trail head unmistakably planted at the first fork in the road: a large brown sign with white letters, constructed in the early 60s when the state dedicated the forestland in honor of longtime forester Harry Osborne, heralds your arrival. Adjacent to the picnic area is a large wooden map. Study it well to get a sense of the trail system, the key reference points and loop connectors, and you should be fine without a map to discover your new trail ride