November is one of my favorite month’s of autumn when the horse riding and camping trips can vary between encounters Indian Summer’s warm breezes and glorious golden leaves to bitterly cold sheets of driving rain that drives us indoors to the welcome warmth of a fire. It’s a month of change as we move into winter.
Let’s embrace November and the changing of the seasons with visits to three wonderful horse riding and camping areas with names starting with the letter N. This month we’ll again travel coast to coast; starting on the eastern Atlantic seaboard in Connecticut then traveling 1,600 miles due west to the rolling sand hills of Nebraska, then continuing further westward another 1,500 miles to the Pacific coast of Oregon.
Natchaug State Forest – Ashford, Connecticut
Trailhead Coordinates: 41.826577, -72.080049
For most New England horse owners and riders, equine camping in Connecticut means either the Natchaug or Pachaug State Forests. In keeping with our theme letter “N” we’ll visit Natchaug, which translates, into “land between the rivers” in the Nipmuc language. The forest covers well over 13 thousand acres in the northeast corner of Connecticut where the rural beauty is not easily rivaled as you camp and ride among the dense forest of oak, maple, and ash. The fall colors here can be simply fabulous.
One of the things that I like best about Natchaug is that despite its remote feel it’s really quite easy to get to being less than an hour away from the metropolises of Hartford or Providence.
Natchaug will reward visiting riders with 30 miles of horse friendly trails that loop and wind through the forest. Riders have the option of enjoying three 5, 10, or 15-mile loop trails that are accessed directly from the horse camp. The trails are interconnected so you can easily create your own route of about any length you desire. These popular trails are shared with hikers and bicyclists so keep an eye open as you ride.
Horse campers at Natchaug will stay at the Silvermine Horse Camp within the forest. The camp is referred to as primitive but the 15 campsites have everything a rider needs for a wonderful outing. The entire camp is heavily wooded with a glorious selection of campsites. While there may not be electrical connections or water hook ups each site offers equestrian campers picnic tables, fire ring, and easy access to the centrally located toilet and water pump.
Fun Fact: Riders exploring the forest will encounter many remains of old homesteads including the crumbling stone chimney from the birthplace of the first Union General killed in the Civil War, General Nathaniel Lyon.
As with everyplace horse camping is welcome let’s work to make sure that our welcome is extended by cleaning our campsites and packing out all of our trash when we leave.
Natick Horse Camp – North Platte, Nebraska
Trailhead Coordinates: 41.882226, -100.412667
The Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest in north-central Nebraska is home to not only the state’s largest forest but also Natick Horse Camp. This National Forest is about five hours from anywhere as it sits on the edge of the Dismal River. However the riding and camping at Natick is anything but dismal in this forest that was at its beginning an experiment in creating a forest from scratch.
Fun Fact: The Bessey Ranger District, where the horse camp sits, is the largest hand planted forest in the United States. Yes; every pine tree in this 20,000 area was planted by hand!
This formerly treeless tract of land was one of two treeless areas that were set aside as forest reserves with the intention of creating long term sustainable forests in Nebraska’s rolling Sandhills.
Riders venturing out from the Natick Horse Camp have a lot of options when planning their rides. If open range riding is your passion you’ll find Natick a wonderful place to visit. With over 90,000 acres to explore, riders can pick from rides through the tall grass prairies that cover the gently rolling dunes or exploring routes through some of the 20,000 acres of ponderosa pine forest. The views that you’ll experience here are amazing with windmills dotting the grassland pastures. Speaking of trails and terrain; this called the Sandhills area for a reason and it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that you can ride for quite a while without finding a rock.
Since the Natick is pretty far away from most anything spending the night is most likely in the cards for a trip here. That being the case, the cards are pretty darn good for horse camping here. The 12 campsites are located within a forested area so you’ll have plenty of shade. Picnic tables and fire rings can be found at each site. A centrally situated water pump and vault toilets make for a cozy camp and nearly thirty well maintained corrals will keep your trail buddies safe and comfortable between rides.
Before you haul you’ll want to remember that being a National Forest, this area does require the use of certified weed free feed. Another point to keep in mind is that this is a first come first serve area so there is a remote possibility that all the sites could be full. Fortunately the nearby Whitetail camp can also accommodate equine guests.
Nehalem Bay State Park – Manzanita, Oregon
Trailhead Coordinates: 45.692078, -123.936978
Just two hours outside of Portland Oregon, and next to scenic Highway 101, is a small-ish state park that offers horse and mule riders and campers an outstanding time. Beach riding is the main attraction here and it’s a good one.
Nehalem Bay State Park is located on a sand spit that stretches four miles south, separating the Pacific Ocean from the Nehalem Bay.
The four miles of beach at Nehalem will keep you and your horse occupied for hours as you ride across the gently sloping sand, through the ocean water. The views that you have when riding on the beach are wonderful. Not only can scanning the ocean give you glimpses of seals and whales a quick glance to the north will put the majestic Neahkahnie coastal mountains in your camera frame. They’re the highest coastal mountains between San Francisco and Canada and they’re beautiful. After you’ve checked out the scenery to the north turn south and you’ll find that the south end of the spit is covered in driftwood of all shapes and sizes.
Fun Fact: Nehalem Bay is the site of the shipwreck of a Spanish Galleon from the 1700’s. “Pieces of Eight”, porcelain, and, oddly, huge blocks of beeswax, have been found on the beach where you’ll be riding.
The equine camping area at Nehalem is very pleasant with all of the amenities that one could ask for. With 17 well appointed campsites, each with two double size corals capable of comfortably holding four horses or mules, you and your animals will be quite pleased. Several centrally located water spigots will quell any thirsts from the riding and the hot showers and modern restrooms will wash away the sweat and dirt from a hard days ride. As you can guess from the limited number of campsites and all of the wonderful features of the park, reservations are highly recommended if you plan on staying here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s trifecta of 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 you can add it and make the largest horse trail and camping directory in North America grow even larger.