As published in Trail Blazer magazine March 2015 discussing areas in California, North Carolina, and Washington
March or “mud month” serves as the beginning of spring as the ground finally starts to become visible from under its winter shroud of snow. As the temperatures rise so does my need to trade in the skis for a good trail horse and slowly start working my way higher into the high mountains that I call home for the summer. This month we’ll start our explorations in southern California where the perennially good weather is legendary. Next we’ll head east to North Carolina where winter riding means a lack of leaves that brings unparalleled views. After enjoying the east coast we’ll head to the Pacific Northwest, and my hometown, where I’ll introduce you to a favorite day ride location that I savor on a regular basis.
Trailhead Coordinates: 35.068205, -119.984660
Located in southern California’s San Luis Obispo County the Chimineas Ranch is 30,000-acres of old California history. The areas rich past includes the Chumash people, Spanish Land Grants, and early Californio cattle ranching. The Ranch is now entering a new phase of life as a public use area focusing on conservation, and education. It is also a wonderful day use area for horse and mule riders to explore.
Tucked between the Carrizo Plain National Monument lands and Los Padres National Forest, Chimineas forms a corridor between the forest and the national monument that is heavily used by wildlife of all types, making this an excellent place to observe classic California animal species. Or rather Chimineas is an excellent place to hope to view a glimpse of the illusive coyotes, bears, eagles, and deer that call the area home and that are certainly viewing you.
Being a part of the Carrizo Plain Ecological Reserve, Chimineas is managed primarily for wildlife habitat preservation and enhancement as opposed to unrestricted public recreation. The southern portion of the ranch is the only area that is generally open to public use. Before you ride here you’ll need a get a free access permit form the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That being said the mule and horse riding opportunities here are well worth the effort and a visit. The trails riders will enjoy on the Ranch are predominately old fire tracks so feel free to ride two abreast.
Riders venturing to this quiet and somewhat unheard of area are in for a treat. The ranch is a stunner and seems to be torn straight from an old pulp fiction western novel. If you wear spurs you’ll feel right at home as you ride along paths that the vaqueros of old wandered as they rounded up stray calves.
As you may know California is in the midst of a severe drought. The consequences are echoed across the canyons where only the lower areas are covered in grass. The scattered and exposed rocks give refuge to yuccas in the ridges above. If you are fortunate enough to visit after a rain the vivid reds of the mountainsides will stun you with its beauty as it contrasts with the pale green sagebrush.
Trailhead Coordinates: 35.595669, -81.608219
Horse and mule riders exploring from South Mountains State Park have the privilege of riding one of North Carolinas most rugged areas. Located in western North Carolina about an hour from Charlotte the park has much to offer those of us in the equestrian set beyond miles of wonderful trails and the dedicated equine camping area that the park offers.
Where we visited the lands of the Chumas in our stop at the Chimineas Ranch, at South Mountains we’re following the footsteps of the Cherokee and the Catawba Indians who once hunted the ridges and hills that we now ride, explore, and enjoy. Another tie to our California stop is “there’s gold in them thar hills”. It wasn’t as huge a gold rush as seen on the west coast but the early 1800’s saw gold mines operating up and down Brindle Creek. It might be wise to look down during your ride. You never know what that glittering rock may be!
Riding of course is the golden nugget of why we come and the park wont disappoint in this regard either. With 33 miles of horse friendly trails that wind and bend around the knobs, ridges, and valleys of this nearly 17 thousand acre park you’ll have more than few days worth of riding to do before you see the same sights twice.
Spending the night at the park is equally as pleasant as the trail riding. Not only are there 15 equine only campsites there also a spacious barn filled with safe comfortable stalls for our furry friends. For human comforts you’ll find a washhouse with flush toilets and wonderfully hot showers that feel great after a long day on the trail. As might be expected with such amenities reservations are highly recommended.
Day ride or a more extended stay; South Mountains is a wonderful and rewarding place to ride. As you ascend from the heavily wooded valley below you’ll catch glorious vistas and views as you steadily climb in elevation. Attentive riders may also have views of the park’s indigenous wildlife on their ride. Whether or not you see them, the critters, will certainly be spying on you as they hide in the oak, hickory, and pine forest.
Trailhead Coordinates: 47.800983, -117.120394
Next in our trifecta of great rides this month is proof that good things come in small packages. At only 412 acres this Spokane County Conservation area makes up for its small size with impressive views, easy access, and wonderful trails.
This day use riding area sits near the Washington Idaho boarder just a half hour from downtown Spokane in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Rocky outcroppings are scattered on high ridges throughout the park and offer inspiring views of Mount Spokane to the north, Newman Lake below and numerous high mountain ranges in the distance.
Riders making the trip to Mckenzie won’t find camping or extravagant amenities beyond a toilet at the trailhead. But it’s the riding we come here for and in that regard there will be no disappointments as you travel through the upland evergreen forest of cedar, fir, and pine. Riders with a keen eye may catch a quick glimpse of the resident Bald Eagles that have a nest in the area. Other creatures that will be watching you trying to see them include moose, bear, deer, elk, and cougar. Chances of seeing these shy animals are slim but seeing signs of their passage is quite common if you keep your eyes peeled.
Being in my backyard I ride Mckenzie regularly and every time I make my way down the trail I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy the area from the back of a horse. I’m sure that you feel the same about your favorite trails.
I hope that you enjoyed our travels this month as we explored 3 three more horse, and mule, riding and camping areas across the nation. As always for the largest and best equine trail and camping directory visit www.TrailMeister.com.