Steve Hancock, Elijah Bristow State Park RangerPhoto courtesy of Elijah State Park

Hit The Trails — On Foot Or Horseback

Elijah Bristow State Park hosts a free guided First Day Hike as well as a horseback ride on New Year’s Day 

Ah, New Year’s Day. A chance to wash away the memories of the previous year and look ahead with optimism.

You can start the day right with either a nature hike or a horseback trail ride on the trails of Elijah Bristow State Park off Hwy 58 near Dexter. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is again partnering with America’s State Parks for free guided First Day Hikes, an initiative to promote state parks, the outdoors and exercise that started in 1992 and which OPRD joined in 2012. Parking fees will be waived Monday, Jan. 1 for all the state parks that require a fee. 

The day is also an opportunity for the staff at Elijah Bristow to introduce newcomers to the park’s 850 acres and 12 miles of trails.

“They are typically very popular,” says Elijah Bristow Park Manager John Mullen, a former wildlife biologist who will lead the nature hike. “It’s just a really nice way to start the year, stretching your legs.”

The four-mile hike meanders through a cottonwood forest with views of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River and then into Douglas-fir forests and oak woodlands. It continues to open fields and grasslands as well as next to scenic Lost Creek.

The trail’s terrain is flat with compact gravel and natural trails (OK, some muddy trails because this is western Oregon, so bring good footwear).

If you wish to hop on your horse for the trail ride, you can select either the Heron, Elk or River trails. The rides are one to three hours in length along open fields, forests and segments of Lost Creek and the Middle Fork of the Willamette River.

Steve Hancock, a park ranger at Elijah Bristow who is the organizer of the horseback trail ride, says that in 2022, 44 horse trailers showed up and 50 riders participated in groups of five to 15.

He emphasizes that while there may be other hikers or bikers on the paths, no dogs are allowed in either the nature hike or trail ride. He also notes that “we ask that people on foot or on bike to yield to the horses.”    

Free guided First Day Hikes — nature hikes and horseback trail rides — are Monday, Jan. 1, at Elijah Bristow State Park, 38263 Wheeler Road near Dexter and at state parks across Oregon. For the hike, meet at 10 am in the main parking lot near the group picnic areas. For the horseback trail ride, meet at the equestrian parking lot at 11 am and be ready to ride at noon. An ADA mounting ramp is available. More information is at

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