There’s something special and rejuvenating about the beach. The crashing of the surf on the shore. The crisp breeze carrying the salty scent of the sea. The endless views into a seemingly infinite horizon. And it’s even better on horseback.
Not only is a ride on the beach a feast for your senses it’s also an excellent opportunity to expose your horse to a wide variety of diverse experiences. The waves, the new smells, and of course other beach goers and their toys. A loose beach ball soaring with the breeze has been the bane of more than one horse!
According to the National Ocean Service there are 95,471 miles of shoreline in the U.S. And a good number of these miles are open to horse and mule riding. This month we’re going to visit a few of the areas where horseback riding is not only allowed but welcome. We’ll start in the northeast where the Atlantic meets the coast, then travel to the sunny Gulf of Mexico, and finally end up at the edge of the Pacific in central California. Enjoy the ride!
Trailhead coordinates: 41.738393, -70.381373
Let’s begin this month’s adventures with a visit to Massachusetts and a few of its 1,519 miles of coastline. When many people think of Cape Cod they think of its whaling past and whale watching present. For those in the know however, Cape Cod has several excellent beach riding opportunities. Even better horse riding rarely results in Moby Dick type epic journeys or Gilligan’s Island mis-adventures!
Sandy Neck Beach Park sits on the southern bay side of Cape Cod as it juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and offers horse riders a wide variety of year round trails to explore. Long and narrow the park consists of 4,700 acres of a six mile long barrier beach and a few miles of trails in addition to the beach.
A brisk lope down a hard packed beach is an exhilarating event that should be on everyone’s bucket list. But what about before and after the lope, what else is there to do? Lots. Not only can horse riders canter down the beach with the wind whistling in our ears we can also explore many areas of the park, including parts of the migrating dune system and tidal flats. Some of the shoreline residents include the endangered Piping Plover and various species of terns. Riders here can also get close and personal with the native vegetation including the grasses and scrub pines that hold the shifting sand dunes together and even natural cranberry bogs. As tough as the grasses look this is a very fragile area so please take care to stick to the trails when you’re exploring off the beach so that these areas remain open to equestrian use.
Please note that beach access is closed on a seasonal basis to help in the conservation efforts for the Piping Plover which nests on the same sandy flats that we enjoy riding along. These closures are generally during the birds nesting session that stretches from the first of June through the end of August. As always it’s a good idea to contact the park before loading the trailer to make sure the beach is open.
Sandy Neck is easy to get to for riders throughout the northern Atlantic coast. Drive times to the park are about an hour from Boston, MA and a similar distance from Providence, RI. About the only downfall of Sandy Neck is that it’s a day use only park so no overnight camping and the accompanying campfires and tall tales about the days ride here.
Quick Fact: Cape Cod is technically an island.
Trailhead coordinates: 27.416064, -97.301933
Having visited one barrier island let’s venture southwest to the great state of Texas and visit another. The largest such island in Texas is Padre Island and the riding here is something to write home about. Of the 3,359 miles of coastline in Texas, Padre Island makes up nearly three hundred miles.
The Padre Island National Seashore has nearly seventy miles of beach where day riding is welcomed. Indeed, the only places where horses and mules are not welcomed on the island is the area in front of the Malaquite Beach visitor center, a very small area in relation to the vast expanse of the parks longest undeveloped beaches in the world.
Horse riding is allowed throughout the year and it’s well worth any riders time and effort to visit this amazing area. Miles and miles of hard packed white sand stretching like a ribbon into the distance await riders willing to make the journey. In between spirited canters down the beach sharp-eyed riders may spot the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the most endangered sea turtle in the world. A glance up ward from the white sand dunes may glance a few of the myriad of migratory birds that pass though the park every year.
To protect the seashore area and preserve equestrian access please follow the rules and remove all manure from around your trailer and feed from a trough or bucket (no hay nets please) to prevent non native seeds from spreading through the sensitive sand dune vegetation.
Parking is always a concern when towing a horse trailer and Padre Island is no exception and trailer parking can be interesting as the most parking is on the beach proper.
Getting to Padre Island National Seashore is pretty straight forward as it is less than an hour from Corpus Christi and only three hours from San Antonio.
Quick Fact: Padre Island was one of eight candidate sites for the first test of an atomic weapon. The bomb was instead detonated at White Sands in New Mexico.
Now that we’ve visited both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts let’s veer further west and make our way to worthwhile horse riding areas on edge of the Pacific Ocean.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting a fair number of the horse friendly beaches on the west coast and to my mind a sunset ride along the beach is one of the best things that life has to offer. Watching the sun dip below the horizon of the Pacific at the end of a sunset beach ride is beyond nice.
The California coast is one of my favorite places to enjoy a ride and there are plenty of places to enjoy a beach ride along its 3,427 miles of coastline. Central California is spectacular and the Monterey area especially so.
With a large number of horse friendly beaches in the area we have plenty of options in finding a place to enjoy from horseback. Some locations have equines as a regular beach fixture. Others offer a more secluded ride where it’s just you, your animal, and the beach. These are the areas where I tend to find myself. Once such often-overlooked day riding destination is the Zmudowski State Beach just twenty miles north of the city of Monterey and only an hour from San Jose.
Besides the roar the crashing waves and brisk ocean breezes riders at Zmudowski will encounter a multitude of creatures of the sea, air, and land as they ride over the wide sandy beach. Views of whales breaching in the waters is a common occurrence. Every winter and spring Gray Whales migrate through the waters of Monterey Bay. Seeing a mother and baby whale just off the beach while on horseback is a memorable experience. Other bay residents include seals that enjoy basking on the beach and off course a wide variety of shore birds including pelicans and terns.
Although horse riding is allowed year round, when riding here please stay near the waterline on the hard packed wet sand. Riding on the dunes, other than where you cross from the parking area is also prohibited. As with the vast majority of California State Parks you’ll also want to leave the dog at home.
A note of caution: Although the riding at Zmudowski is wonderful, the swimming is not. The area is known for extremely hazardous rip currents.
Quick Fact: The Z of Zmudowski is silent; the name is pronounced, “mud-ow-ski.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s trifecta of beach rides to explore with your favorite horse or mule. As always for more detailed information on each of these fabulous areas, including more photos and detailed driving directions, please visit the www.TrailMeister.com. If we haven’t already listed your favorite horse riding area feel free to add it to the largest horse trail and camping directory in North America.