We’ve had the good fortune to explore many regions of our country via horseback. Our equine partners have taken us on journeys from Missouri to California and Texas to Canada. In the process, we’ve seen incredible places, had fantastic adventures, and met many terrific people.
Here, we share some of our favorite places to camp and ride. These aren’t arduous adventures, such as pack trips we’ve done in the Rockies. They also don’t require a lot of logistical planning. Rather, these are easy places to get to with your horse that offer wonderful camps and great trails.
Anza-Borrego State Park, California
Description: In Southern California, a 600,000-acre desert gem awaits exploration by enthusiastic horsemen. Located east of San Diego, Anza-Borrego State Park offers 1,000 square miles of wilderness known for its rugged canyons, lofty mountains, and wild, undisturbed open country. The wilderness portions encompass more than 110 miles of riding trails. The best riding season is October to June; summers can be stiflingly hot.
Description: Two horse camps with inviting trails are located in British Columbia, within easy reach of the United States- Canadian border. One camp is at Larch Hills, which is actually a cross-country skiing area. Trails consist of miles of cross country skiing routes over varied terrain. Another good horse camp with accessible riding trails is at Skimikin Lake. This lovely camp is set among trees and nestled along a lakeshore. You can ride out in several directions, from flat terrain to higher elevations. In the evening, you can listen to the haunting calls of arctic loons echoing across the lake.
Deschutes National Forest, Oregon
Description: Deschutes National Forest in the Cascade Range near Bend, Oregon, provides fabulous riding. Explore dormant volcanoes wrapped in snow, mountain lakes, and ancient lava flows. You can access many popular trails from the Todd Creek Forest Service Horse Camp. One of our favorite trails in the area is to Todd Lake, then to the Upper Todd Trail #34. A ride to the Wickiup Plains brings you face-to-face with the 10,358-foot-elevation South Sister Mountain, an extinct volcano. A gorgeous, over-the-top ride is to Green Lakes, where you’ll enjoy views of Broken Top, South Sister, and the evergreen-lined Green Lake. Ride the short distance to Upper Green Lake for a great picnic spot.
Contact: Deschutes National Forest, (541) 383-5300; www.fs.usda.gov/deschutes.
Kettle Crest, Washington
Description: Explore Kettle Crest country, located in the Colville National Forest in north-central Washington State. This area is home to 1.9 million acres of national forest land and more than 430 miles of trails. You can camp at the US Forest Service horse camp at Jungle Hill and ride the fabulous Kettle Crest National Recreation Trail with views stretching across the mountains. For a bit of luxury, visit the K Diamond K Guest Ranch, located on the edge of Kettle Crest country, just south of the town of Republic. The ranch will allow you to bring your own horse. Owners Kathy and Brian McKay will lay out the red carpet for a fabulous experience.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN REGION
George B. Hatley Memorial Weekend, Idaho
Description: The George B. Hatley Memorial Weekend (formerly the Apalousey Trail Ride) is held every year at the Hatley Ranch in Deary, Idaho. The weekend event and challenge trail ride is held in honor of Hatley, who was instrumental in saving the Appaloosa breed. He organized the Appaloosa Horse Club (www.appaloosa.com) and founded the Appaloosa Journal. All horse breeds are welcome at this event. Rides are held through forested and open land. There’s evening entertainment and a fabulous Dutch oven cook-off and dinner. In 2016, the event will be held from August 13 through 14.
Contact: The George B. Hatley Memorial Weekend, (208) 882-5578, ext. 279; http://appaloosamuseum.org.
M Lazy C Ranch, Colorado
Description: Not far from Colorado Springs is the M Lazy C Ranch. This 1906 homestead ranch, consisting of many original buildings, has been lovingly restored by Randy and Brenda Myers. There are recreational-vehicle sites and horse pens; you’re welcome to bring your own horse. Cozy, historic log cabins are also available for rent. The ranch is surrounded by Pike National Forest, which offers thousands of acres of trails guaranteed to satisfy a wide range of riders. Trails range from easy to difficult in open or forested country. On one journey, we rode to a hilltop where we caught a distant view of the famed Pike’s Peak, which rises 14,115 feet above sea level.
Contact: M Lazy C Ranch, (719) 748-3398; www.mlazyc.com.
Red Rock Ride, Utah
Description: This is the best-organized ride we’ve ever been on! The Red Rock Ride takes you through some of the most gloriously sculptured and beautifully colored scenery the West has to offer. In one week, you ride through three national parks, a national forest, and a national monument. The Houston and Mangum families will provide you with a riding week to never be forgotten. The Houstons prepare three mouth-watering meals daily, while the Mangums provide horses and mules for the ride. Every night is capped with top-notch entertainment, from boot scootin’ boogie to cowboy poetry.
Contact: Red Rock Ride, (435) 679-8665; www.redrockride.com.
Upper Clark Fork Family Fun Ride, Montana
Description: One of the best Back Country Horsemen of America rides is the Upper Clark Fork Family Fun Ride, put on each July at Gold Creek, Montana. This ride is hosted by the Upper Clark Fork Back Country Horsemen. The campsite is set in a beautiful area amid cottonwoods, open fields, and a meandering stream. The ride is marked and generally runs 12 miles long. We rode it with our good friends, Cole Younger and Ann Johnson, who rode matching spotted Missouri Fox Trotters. Portions of the ride allowed for fun gaiting. A unique ride feature is passing by a fairly intact historic gold dredge and the remains of a Western ghost town.
Contact: Wildhorse Plains Back Country Horsemen, www.bchmt.org/plains/eventschedule.htm.
Winding River Resort, Colorado
Description: Deep in the heart of Colorado lies the Winding River Resort. Located outside the historic mountain village of Grand Lake, this scenic haven sits along the North Fork of the Colorado River, and borders Rocky Mountain National Park and the Arapahoe National Forest. There are 150 spacious recreational-vehicle sites, 24 corrals for guest horses, lodge rooms, tent sites, and cabins. Ride right from camp into a national forest or national park. Our favorite ride is the Big Meadows Loop ride in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Contact: Winding River Resort, (970) 627-3215; www.windingriverresort.com.
Description: Located 50 miles northwest of San Antonio is the self-proclaimed “cowboy capital of world” — the colorful, small town of Bandera. Here, a variety of dude ranches abound, along with the Hill Country State Natural Area, where we stayed and enjoyed gorgeous fall riding. Hill Country State Natural Area features an equestrian group camp and The Trailhead Campground, which has six equestrian campsites. Most of the 40 miles of trails are well-marked with easy riding among scenic, diverse terrain.
Contact: Bandera, Texas, www.banderacowboycapital.com; Hill Country State
Natural Area, (830) 796-4413; tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/hill-country
Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas
Description: Located in northern Texas, about 3.5 miles north of Quitaque on FM 1065, is Caprock Canyons State Park. Consisting of 15,314 acres, this park offers some serious trail riding opportunities. The visitor center has superlative trail maps. Be sure to take plenty of water, and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes and falling rocks. The park’s Wild Horse camping area has everything an equestrian camper needs, except for electricity. More than 175 bird species are here, providing visual treats and exotic melodies. We rode right from camp and created our own loops and rides using the trail map provided. Early spring and late fall are probably the best times to ride. We rode here in late April, and temperatures were already soaring in the 90s.
Contact: Caprock Canyons State Park, (806) 455-1492; www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
Gila National Forest, New Mexico
Description: Gila National Forest has it all — more than 1,400 miles of trails, ancient cliff dwellings, hot springs, 360 miles of streams, five lakes, and free camping at Woody’s Corral! This national forest is located about 44 miles north of Silver City. The last five miles is down a winding, very steep road. Elevation ranges from 4,200 to 10,900 feet and it covers four of the six life zones (habitats), which offer a variety of terrain and wildlife. One of our favorite rides is the 10-mile EE Canyon Loop.
Contact: Gila National Forest, (575) 388-8201; www.fs.usda.gov/gila.
Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma
Description: Robbers Cave State Park is located in the beautiful San Bois Mountains, five miles north of Wilburton. This upscale state park has a well-designed equestrian campground, cabins, a spacious lodge, and cave tours conducted by a naturalist. It’s believed that, at one time, outlaws hid stolen cattle in the rock formations. The park’s fascinating history adds a layer of fun to this wonderland region dotted with giant boulders. Adjoining the state park is the Robbers Cave Wildlife Management Area. Together, these two areas offer about 60 miles of riding trails. We rode the Dogwood and Big John trails, which feature a kaleidoscope of color in the fall.
Contact: Robbers Cave State Park, (918) 465-2565; www.stateparks.com/robbers_cave.html;
Brushy Creek Lodge and Resort, Missouri
Description: This tidy, picturesque lodge, owned by George and JoAnn Becker, is located in the eastern Ozark Mountains, in the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest. A short distance from the lodge is Valley Springs Foxtrotters, where the Beckers raise, train, and sell Missouri Fox Trotters. Charlene Krone’s Fox Trotter, Nate, came from Valley Springs. Brushy Creek has much to offer horsemen, including an excellent lodge and restaurant, cabins, a lovely recreational-vehicle/camping area, horsemanship clinics, organized rides, and endless trails to explore on your own. A favorite local ride is the 6½-hour round-trip ride to Sutton Bluff.
Contact: Brushy Creek Lodge and Resort, (573) 269-4600 or (573) 364-4621; www.brushycreeklodge.com.
Cross Country Trail Ride, Missouri
Description: Beginning in May, there are five trail-riding packages offered by Cross Country Trail Ride, LLC, in Eminence, Missouri, Hosted by the Jim and Jane Smith family, these six-day, all-inclusive rides have been held for more than 50 years. Rides can accommodate anywhere from 500 to 3,000 riders. We went on the late-October ride, which featured 500 riders, brilliant fall foliage, and Southern style lunches cooked right on the trail.
Contact: Cross Country Trail Ride, LLC, (573) 226-3492; www.crosscountrytrailrides.com.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
Description: Miles of meandering trails, winding through gentle mountains splashed with evergreens and deciduous trees, are yours to enjoy in Custer State Park located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Riders may ride cross-country or on trails. Only a few clearly marked areas are closed to horses. Wandering bison, elk, and deer are commonplace. French Creek is an excellent base camp, where you’ll find 26 campsites, each with its own corresponding corral. Four trails lead out from camp.
Contact: Custer State Park, (605) 255-4515; gfp.sd.gov/state-parks/directory/custer/default.aspx
Fort Robinson, Nebraska
Description: Established in 1874, Fort Robinson is Nebraska’s largest and most historic state park — one that offers camping, horse facilities, and memorable riding experiences. Chief Crazy Horse was killed here in 1877; after the Indian Wars, Fort Robinson was one of our nation’s largest remount stations. A favorite ride from the fort is one that winds through the nearby buttes and over to the little town of Crawford. You can tie your horse to a hitching rail, have a bite to eat, wash down the trail dust, and ride back to camp.
Contact: 308-665-2900, www.stateparks.com/fort_robinson.html.
Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota
Description: Located in western North Dakota, Little Missouri State Park is a trail rider’s paradise. Wind, water, and sand have sculpted this rugged badlands into a work of art that’s delightful to explore with your equine partner. Top-notch equine/camping facilities feature corrals with rakes and wheelbarrows, electrical hookups, and picnic shelters. Most sites also have terrific views over the canyon edge into the contorted badlands below. Trails vary in degree of difficulty and steepness. They’re rated accordingly on a color-coded trail map.
Contact: Little Missouri State Park, (701) 328-5357; www.parkrec.nd.gov/parks/lmosp/lmosp.html.
Kent and Charlene Krone combine their interest in photojournalism with a passion for horses. They’ve sold photographs to magazines, books, calendars, postcards, and video producers for more than 20 years. (For a sampling, visit www.superstock.com, and type “supplier:1314” in the search box.) They enjoy sharing their horseback adventures in the United States and Western Canada. Reach them at [email protected]