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Horse Butte is the epitome of high desert trail running. This 10-mile singletrack loop features a diverse variety of Central Oregon’s natural beauty: juniper trees, sagebrush, buttes, gorgeous cascade mountain views, and caves (yes, caves).
The trailhead is only a 20 minute drive southeast of downtown Bend and it’s a great route to safely social distance and beat the crowds if you get an early start. It’s a popular trail to run throughout winter because it’s very exposed, so the snow/ice melts quickly. Make sure to bring water in the summer! The correct direction to run this loop is an ongoing debate, so we’ll describe the loop to you going counter-clockwise (the correct way).
Park at the lot next Horse Butte and start running East down the dirt road. After 1/4 mile on the road, take a left onto the Swamp Wells Trail and stay on this trail for about 1/2 mile. Take a left turn onto the Coyote Loop Trail and enjoy journeying through the trees. Around mile 1.75, the trail brings you into an open desert setting filled with juniper trees, sagebrush, and wildflowers in the summer. From miles 2-5, you might feel you’re running slower because it’s a deceiving, gradual hill (the loop contains 600 feet of vertical gain). You summit a small hill around mile 3; be sure to turn around and take in the gorgeous views of the Cascade Mountains, surrounding buttes, and Smith Rock out in the distance.
At mile 5, take a left off the singletrack onto a dirt road to explore Boyd Cave. It’s less than a quarter mile down the road and is so worth exploring (make sure you bring a light)! After a little mid-run spelunking, head back up the dirt road and take a left onto the Boyd Cave singletrack trail. Stay on this trail for about 3/4s of a mile and then take your final left turn onto the Arnold Ice Cave Trail. Between miles 5-6, you’ll pass through 2 cattle gates (you’re NOT entering private property, just close the gates behind you to keep the grazing cattle in). The last 4 miles of the loop on the Arnold Ice Cave Trail are a net downhill, so enjoy cruising back to Horse Butte on this faster section. The mountain views are incredible in the last 4 miles and will leave you dreaming of your next Horse Butte adventure.