Imagine you’re a California adventurer, crossing sweeping meadows, following cow trails, and working through light oak forest and chaparral onto a beautiful shoreline.
Geese lazily congregate at the water’s edge, halfheartedly stepping away from the equine intrusion. On the other side of the lake, a coyote strolls, without the slightest concern for the encroaching riders.
A couple of white egrets soar overhead, while others stand motionless, knee deep in the water, patiently waiting to stab a fish.
If you live in Sacramento, California, you need only drive 50 miles to reach this trail-riding gem, enjoying the beauty of the Sierra Nevada’s eastern foothills along the way. And from the Rancho Murietta Equine Complex, it’s just an easy 25-mile drive.
Lake Camanche is a trail-riding destination that offers a combined 32 miles of trails on East Bay Municipal Utility District and the Pardee Recreation Area lands.
There are three- to five-mile trails on either side of the lake; plus, you can ride on a portion of the Mokelumne Coast to Crest trail, which offers 25 miles of unbroken riding pleasure. Trails range from easy to difficult.
Riding on these trails is a great way to condition your horse or just enjoy an easy, relaxing ride, no matter what time of the day or year.
A Welcome Feel
This great quick getaway is available from sunrise to sundown. Or, camp overnight. There are corrals available for up to eight horses, as well as campsites with fire pits, barbecue facilities, wash racks, and waste bins.
I always feel welcome and taken care of at this facility, not only because of the clean environment, but also because of the sign-up sheet that ensures that each riding party is kept track of and accounted for at day’s end.
The best times of the year to enjoy this natural paradise are fall and spring, when there’s luscious green grass, abundant wildlife, stunning fauna, and beautiful vistas.
You’ll likely see deer in their natural habitat, completely undisturbed by your presence, as well as bald eagles, Canadian geese, cormorants, coyotes, turkeys, and bobcats. Mountain lions are present but seldom seen. (I’ve seen only their tracks.)
My daughter, Johanna, and I usually come on a weekend and ride at North Shore, which offers a little more challenging terrain, because of its frequent uphill/downhill transitions.
We like to let our horses get into a racing mind-set, so they can ramp up to the uphill challenge. (My daughter rides her Thoroughbred, Dancer, and I usually ride my Paint Horse, Valentine.) The horses’ ears will perk and the anticipation builds every time they feel the incline.
Of course, we don’t let them do it every time, because of obvious safety issues. But more often than not, they get to feel the wind in their manes and the thrill of speed.
There’s no better feeling of freedom and grace than to sit on your horse, experiencing the same thrill he is, galloping full speed, hooves pounding the ground, and catching that lead, purely for bragging rights only!
The footing ranges from sandy to rocky, all the way to solid rock, so good traction is essential for your horse. However, we manage just fine with natural hoof care.
The China Gulch Trail
My favorite trail is the China Gulch Trail at North Shore. From the entrance gate, follow the road to the left. After snail driving over speed bumps through a mobile-home park, you can park your trailer at the holding area at the end of the road.
At the trailhead, you’ll find waste pick-up bins, a manual pump hose for a quick rinse off, and a large watering trough; these amenities make this area a convenient starting and ending point.
Once you’re through the cattle gate and sign in, you can proceed on the trail. You’ll notice that the trail eventually splits to the right — but we take that loop on the way back, because it adds cool-off time.
This windy little cow trail weaves in and out of trees. During rainy season it might get too muddy, so use your own judgment. The surroundings will change from oak forest to open meadow, and back to forest.
You’ll come to one or two areas where you’ll have to cross a rock-bottom creek, depending on the season.
Eventually, the chaparral takes over, and you’ll come to a spot on top of the hill where the view will take your breath away. The red dirt with deep-mahogany manzanita in the foreground, along with gorgeous green brush and trees overlooking the valley, frame a picture-perfect spot to rest or have lunch.
Lake Camanche is a hidden gem that truly deserves a closer look for the trail-riding enthusiast. I rarely encounter other riders, even on the most weather-perfect weekends.