Step into Sisters, and it’s like being transported into the Old West.
Local businesses line the streets with false fronts, old-timey signs and saloon doors. Lampposts are designed to look as though they’re hanging lanterns. Even the local McDonald’s looks like the type of place two feuding desperados might meet at high noon to resolve their differences.
The town’s style is no coincidence — it’s literally written into the city code. The city passed an ordinance in the 1970s that required commercial buildings to have the iconic Wild West look as a way to give the town an identity that would lure tourists. The idea has worked pretty well.
“You don’t have this feeling in many places,” said Pat Lieser, a board member of the Three Sisters Historical Society. “In many towns, you get this mix of modern and old and it’s unsettling a little bit. In Sisters, (the Wild West) atmosphere is consistent.”
Given Sisters tried so hard to evoke thoughts of the cowboy days, I decided that no trip here would be complete without exploring the area on the Old West’s preferred mode of conveyance — horseback. And, what better way to take in the beautiful ponderosa forests and meadows of Central Oregon than from atop a horse?
Sisters has plenty of trails for experienced riders, but those without a horse or clue of how to ride them also have a few options in town. If you have access to your own horse, check out Graham Corral or Sisters Cow Camp for some exciting trails. If you’re like me, however, and do not own your own trusty steed, check out guided tours at Black Butte Stables or Long Hollow Ranch.
To make my cowboy dreams come true, I headed to Black Butte Stables in late autumn. The stables, which remain open for trail rides during winter, are about 8 miles north of downtown Sisters. You don’t have to be staying at Black Butte Ranch to book a trail ride.
Mount Jefferson hung in the background as the green pastures of Black Butte Ranch rolled out as I arrived. The vague smell of manure made its way up my nose, and I knew I was in the right place. Horses of all colors and sizes patiently stood in their stalls, and I wondered which one I was going to call my own.
The stables offer options for all experience levels, from “Little Buckaroo” rides for kids around a corral to half day rides for more experienced equestrians. I would be embarking on the hour and a half ride called Gobbler’s Knob, where I’d ride through the forest and see views of the Cascades.
My ride cost $120. Trail ride prices range from $90 for an hour-long ride to $275 for a half day ride.
To get started, I headed to the barn (which is located behind the general store). There, I met with Katie Hinnen, who is the manager of Black Butte Stables and who would also be taking me on this ride. I filled out a liability form and was ready to go. The busy season was winding down, Hinnen told me, so it was just going to be the two of us on the ride today. In the summer, the stables are usually a lot busier, especially the last few summers, Hinnen said.
Outside, a beautiful — but gigantic — horse namedLenny stood ready for me to climb aboard. His size was a little intimidating, but Hinnen reassured me he is truly a gentle giant. Hinnen helped adjust the stirrups to a good height for me, and soon after, we were off on our equestrian adventure.
The sagebrush and pine trees passed by as we began our journey. Lenny was clearly a pro because I barely did any directing. In fact, it was quite a relaxing ride. While I’m fairly comfortable on a horse, Lenny had me feeling extra secure. Hinnen said the horses spend time with a trainer to make sure they’re suitable and ready to take riders out. So, anyone who’s nervous to get on one of the horses shouldn’t worry, she said.
“All of the horses have their own unique personalities and they love taking a variety of riders out,” Hinnen said. “They are very good at their job and have this job for a reason.”
As we made our way along the trail, we reached a stretch where we were able to crank up the speed to a trot. All it took was a gentle kick in the side and Lenny was off. While I was still a long way from cowboy status, I was having so much fun. We continued at a comfortable pace, and, with Lenny on autopilot, I was able to take in the scenery.
We reached Glaze Meadow, which offered views of the Cascades. Lenny even posed for the camera as Hinnen snapped a few photos of us. The view was stellar. The Three Sisters stood proud in the distance, and the tree-lined meadow created the perfect scene. This viewpoint acted as our about halfway point.
We continued our loop back to the meadow. We reached another spot where we were able to trot, and we even got to take the horses through Indian Ford stream. This was the only time Lenny needed a little coaxing — apparently, the horses can be lazy and opt to take the bridge instead of the water, Hinnen said. I saw Lenny headed toward the bridge, so I gave him a few tugs on his reins to encourage him to get his hooves wet. Lenny obliged my request, and through the creek we went.
After a full ride of trotting, sightseeing and creek crossing, our hour and a half came to a close. As we rolled back into the stables, a kind wrangler helped me down off my trusty steed, and Lenny posed for a few more pictures before we said our goodbyes.
Exploring the area on horseback offered such a unique way to experience the magic of Central Oregon. Whether you’ve never been on a horse before, or you’ve been riding for a while, Hinnen said that everybody is welcome at Black Butte Stables. The stables are also open year-round — even in the snow! As long as the weather isn’t harmful to the horses and the snow doesn’t get stuck on their hooves, Hinnen said trail rides are still available.
“Our horses love taking new riders out, and I would say about 30% of our riders have never been on a horse before,” Hinnen said. “We try to cater to just about everyone, so everybody can get on a horse that would like to.”
What to know before you go:
Call ahead for a reservation. The stables can book you up to one week in advance. Call 541-595-2061.
Cost. Check the website for pricing for each ride, but the hour and a half trail ride was $120.
Wear long pants and closed toed shoes. I opted for a pair of jeans and my Georgia boots.
Be prepared for the weather. The stables are open year-round, so make sure you pack a jacket if you’re headed out in the colder months.
Arrive 15 minutes early. You’ll have to fill out a liability form for each member in your party, so the stable asks you to arrive 15 minutes early to your booked time.
Location: Head to Black Butte Stables; take the turn into Black Butte Ranch, and the stables are to the left, behind the general store.