Trail riding is an important part of the recreational landscape of Oregon and Northern California. Those who are new to the experience often mistakenly consider it a seasonal activity that’s suitable for summer fun but not advisable the rest of the year. However, there are plenty of riding venues that work during winter, spring, and fall — and some that are actually better during those seasons than in high summer due to lower outdoor temperatures and decreased crowding. Following are just a few suggestions for the regions’ best trail riding venues by season.
Winter Season Trail Rides:
Appropriate trails for winter riding may seem hard to come by, but Oregon’s South Coast is a well-kept secret among residents and visitors alike. Bullard’s Beach State Park offers good trail riding no matter what time of year, but it’s one of the few places in Oregon where winter horseback riding makes sense. The area has some natural protection from coastal storms via large stands of pines, and it’s rare for winter temperatures to dip below freezing here. Three loops of trails with campsites as well as access to the beach are available at Bullard Beach. This spot offers three primitive campsites with two stalls and five primitive campsites with four stalls.
Winter horseback riding options are more easily found in Northern California. Camelot Equestrian Park provides year-round trail riding opportunities that range over 1,600 acres and includes campsites and picnic areas. As its name implies, Camelot Equestrian Park is a magical place for both horses and riders.
The Northern California city of Redding and surrounding areas often experience ideal weather during the winter months. At lower elevations, the heat can be prohibitive here during summer and even into fall and spring. Winter riding in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest offers an austere natural beauty. At 8.5 miles long, the Bear Creek Trail is excellent for day tripping, but riders must ensure that they carry in their own water. For those seeking horse camping opportunities, the Trinity Alps Wilderness is the second largest wilderness area in the state of California and has many trails and horse camping spots. Elevations in this area range from 2,000 feet to 9,000 feet, so although some parts may experience seasonal snowfall, there are many passable horse trails in winter.
Spring Season Trail Rides:
Wilder Ranch State Park is situated nest to the Pacific Ocean just north of Santa Cruz and offers great spring trail riding. Because dogs are not allowed here this park is particularly appealing to those whose mounts are easily spooked. Horse camping is allowed on a first-come-first-served basis only, and you will need to call in advance for access.
Encompassing over 29,000 acres, the Oregon Badlands Wilderness in Central Oregon features unusual rock formations and a fragile desert ecosystem that combine to create a unique, ethereal beauty. This area offers particularly good trail riding during the spring because of the tiny desert wildflowers that bloom among 1,000 year-old junipers and other high desert vegetation. You won’t find any steep climbs here, but few signs and markers exist to help users find their way, so only ride this trail if you are skilled in land navigation techniques or will be accompanied by someone who is.
Summer Season Trail Rides:
Eastern Oregon summers feature abundant sunlight and crystal clear mountain vistas along with plenty of high country where horses and riders can avoid the searing midday heat often found in the valley floors. The Umatilla National Forest offers numerous opportunities for backcountry trail riding. For those who prefer to avoid any contact with motorized vehicles, there are three designed wilderness areas where these are not allowed — the North Fork Umatilla, the Wenaha-Tucannon, and the North Fork John Day. However, the Umatilla National Forest is remote enough so that vehicle or even mountain bike traffic and foot traffic on most of the trails is at minimum levels.
Towering redwoods, rugged, uncrowded coastlines, and temperate rainforest vegetation combine to make Northern California’s Lost Coast region one of the best places in the country for trail riding. One of the many options, Elam Loop and Horse Camp, begins at Orick Rodeo Grounds and meanders through 20 miles of scenic backcountry with the opportunity to camp near a sparkling creek near a redwood glade. At 14 miles, McArthur Creek Loop is a slightly shorter option that offers stunning cliff top views of the Pacific Ocean in certain spots. Unlike other parts of Northern California, daytime temperatures in summer rarely become so hot here that horseback riding is unwise.
Trail riding and camping is a unique and enriching experience for both rider and horse. Before you adventure onto the open trail, review some helpful hints for camping with your horse on a trail ride to help improve the trail experience and create some great, long-lasting memories.
Autumn Season Trail Rides:
An abundance of maples, aspens, mountain ash, red alder, and other deciduous trees that develop vibrant foliage in autumn make the trails at Oregon’s Silver Creek Falls State Park one of the best places to ride in autumn. As an added bonus, riders have more of this beautiful spot to themselves after family road trips give way to school activities. Howard Creek Horse Camp provides 21 miles of trails with picnic areas off to the side, drinking water, vault toilets, and six primitive camping sites. Five of these sites have four corrals each, while the sixth accommodates larger groups by offering 12 corrals.
Featuring 60 miles of trails and three loops, Colby Mountain Lookout in Lassen National Forest is an excellent choice for autumn trail riding because temperatures tend to be at least 20 degrees cooler than those in the Sacramento Valley. Riders are advised to resist the temptation to ride through this area’s lush green meadows and stick to the trails instead. Many of the meadows are marshy, and horses run the risk of becoming injured if they attempt to cross them. The gently rolling terrain of the Caribou Wilderness area also offers good trail riding in autumn. With an average elevation of 6,900 feet, you’ll stunning vistas in every direction.
With countless chances to experience trail riding adventures, horse enthusiasts never fail to find venues that suit their personal needs and preferences in Oregon and Northern California. For other riding venues in this part of the country and surrounding regions, check out the Largest and only Accurate Horse Trail and Horse Camp Directory and Guide