I was excited yet a touch anxious as I drove along the rolling hills of Renfrew County toward Horse Country Campground in Foresters Falls, a 1½ hour drive northwest of Ottawa, Ontario. It was the first time my husband, Joe, and his Belgian/Paint Horse cross gelding, Major, would be joining me on a horse-camping trip, and I wanted everything to be perfect.
I chose a September weekend when the weather is typically cool in the region. We’d postponed our trip for a week after Horse Country’s official Fall-Colours (as we Canadians spell “colors”) Ride in the hope that Mother Nature would bring cooler temperatures and more vibrant color, but the area was still experiencing summer’s warmth. (For information on fall-color riding at Horse Country, see page 59.)
Horse Country Campground (horsecountrycampground.com) is situated in the scenic Ottawa Valley along the Ottawa River, which runs between eastern Ontario and Quebec. Resort amenities make for a comfortable getaway with your horse no matter your experience level.
Horse Country is a membership-based, community campground partnered with Wilderness Tours Resort, a 6,000-acre outdoor-adventure and whitewater-rafting destination along the banks of the Ottawa River. This model allows you to purchase, lease, or rent campsites for a time period of your choice and enjoy the trails along with the resort’s amenities, including a pool, hot tub, restaurant, and bar.
You don’t need to be a member of Horse Country to camp here; many sites are designated for nightly and weekend bookings by nonmembers. You can spend a week or weekend away with your horse or enjoy a special event or clinic.
When I first visited the campground in 2013, it’d just opened with four simple sites. In just five years, Horse Country has expanded to almost 70 equestrian campsites, each with a cedar post-and-rail corral.
You may choose a site with either a 20-by-20-foot or 60-by-20-foot corral. (If you bring two horses, you can divide the smaller corral into two 10-by-10-footcorrals.) If you’ll be staying for more than a week, ask about paddock time so your horse can really stretch his legs. You may either bring your own hay or arrange for hay to be delivered to your campsite before you arrive. Equestrian amenities on the property include the new 100-foot-by-200-foot sand arena and a cowboy-challenge obstacle course.
Each campsite features a picnic table and fire pit, as well as a water hookup. There are no electrical hookups; most campers run generators and off-grid solar battery systems.
You may stay in your living-quarters trailer, a rental trailer, the prospector tent, or the bunkhouse. You’ll appreciate the growing town of rustic buildings housing the main office, tack store, and saloon/barbecue area. Horse Country is open every year from the third week in May to the end of September.
We pulled our living-quarters trailer through the ranch-style gate and were immediately greeted by Walter Willett, president of Horse Country Campground, Inc. Walter runs the campground with his wife, Brenda.
Walter showed us our site, which featured an oversized corral big enough for both horses and a run-in shed. We unloaded my Appaloosa gelding, Bailey Boy, and Major to graze and get used to the surroundings. Bailey Boy settled right in. Major was a little unsure, so he concentrated on grazing the grass close by.
Surrounding Horse Country Campground are more than 30 miles of marked trails on 6,000 acres of pristine forests, bush, open fields, and Ottawa River waterfronts. You’ll find water crossings, bridge crossings, and gentle hills.
Trail terrain ranges from easy to extreme. Aside from the grassy areas, the footing is a mixture of clay, soil, gravel, and sand. A few of the uphill stretches tend to be rocky.
You’ll ride through splashes of wildflowers bordering a forest of mostly evergreen except for the maple trees, which change from yellow to orange to red in the fall.
From the campground, popular riding destinations include Voyageur Bay, where you can swim with your horse or just stop for a picnic and enjoy an Ottawa River view; River Run, a scenic ride along the river to an area with cabins and corrals for overnight stays; and the horse-friendly White Water Brewing Pub, which supplies riders with a hitching rail and water buckets.
A bonus: You’ll find mounting blocks along certain trails for ease of mounting should you need to dismount to check your cinch or take a break. Mounting-block areas are marked on provided trail maps.
The next morning, sunlight filtered through the towering pines along the driveway as I walked toward the main buildings. There are outhouses scattered among the campground for convenience, but a short walk brings you to flush toilets and hot showers.
Typically, when one wakes up at an equine campground, the sounds of pots clanging, horses nickering, and dogs yapping echo throughout the morning air. But at Horse Country, the campsites are so spread out that you rarely hear the goings-on of your camping neighbors.
Joe prepared bacon and eggs as I mucked the corral. After breakfast, we tended to the horses. I was surprised at how well Major was taking everything in stride. The gelding stands at just over 16 hands and, although he’s a bit of a teddy bear in personality, his Belgian-size neck allows him to pretty much go anywhere he wants to, if he so desires. I wasn’t expecting Major to be so well-behaved in an unfamiliar place, but it appeared that he felt safe with his well-traveled buddy by his side. Perhaps a perfect trail ride would round out our weekend.
We chose to ride to Voyageur Bay and River Run on the high road of the Wilderness Tours Trail. I was looking forward to swimming with my horse again, which I hadn’t done since camping at Otter Creek in New York years before.
We packed our lunches, snacks, water bottles, halters, lead ropes, maps, and GPS and headed through the campsite to the trailhead. The last time I’d visited the area, a mother bear and her cub were seen munching on corn stalks near the trail, so I kept a close watch for bear.
To reach the trails, you first have to cross a wide, inviting bridge; or, you can simply cross the river. We chose the river crossing on the way out, saving the bridge for the way home as Major had never crossed a bridge before. Major led the way across the river without hesitating. We rode up a hill and headed out on Broome Road aiming for a lunch stop at Voyageur Bay.
As we passed by a human obstacle course for races out of White Water Rafting, Joe was able to get Major right up to every obstacle. Major was curious but calm when passing the pile of tires and even touched the two tires hanging on a rail with his nose.
This trail proved to be quite rocky, but the view of the Ottawa River through the gaps in the trees made it worthwhile. With Bailey Boy’s good shoes and Major’s dinner-plate hooves, we managed the uphill trail fine. The downhill trail, however, was quite a bit trickier. We took it slow, made it down safely, and continued our way to Voyageur Bay.When we reached the bay, we were ready for a break. We tied the horses to the provided tie line, untacked them, grabbed our lunches and water from the saddlebags, and enjoyed the view of the river while we ate at a picnic table.
Before re-tacking, I took off my boots, jumped on Bailey Boy bareback, grabbed Major’s lead, and headed toward the water. Major was hesitant at first, but eventually I had them both in the water and at one point both were swimming. It was lovely. There’s nothing that brings me back to my childhood like swimming on a horse.
Once everyone dried out we tacked up and headed for River Run.
The sandy footing edged by towering pines makes this a perfect place for a nice lope.
When we reached River Run, we hopped off the horses, gave them a drink from the provided buckets, and allowed them to graze while we inspected the cabins and corrals. The cabins looked cozy and the corrals safe and inviting.
There’s a restaurant on River Run’s grounds, but it was closed for the season. Walter had reminded me of White Water Brewing Pub and its horse-friendly atmosphere, so we hopped back on our geldings and attempted to find our way there to quench our thirst.
All went well until we took a wrong turn at McCoy Road, just missing the trail to the brewery. The path became wet and mucky, with slippery roots, so the going was tough. So much for the perfect ride I’d wanted for Joe!
After some doing, we managed to get through the muck and on the right trail back to the campground. On this trail, we encountered switchbacks, which wound up and down through the forest. We were glad to see the bridge crossing to the campground. Crossing the bridge was easy; Major just wanted to get home to his hay and grass.
After untacking, we hosed off the horses at the washing station and turned them out in their corral to graze. It was a long day in the saddle, and we were bushed. We headed down the road to relax in the hot tub and swim in the pool. After a hot shower, we headed to the bar to enjoy a cool drink and live music, a splendid way to finish the day after a long ride. We returned to our campsite, tended to the horses, barbecued steaks on our bonfire, and enjoyed a glass of wine under the stars. It was perfect.