The Trailmeister’s Top Trails
Celebrate Earth Day with these scenic rides.
AApril 22nd marks the 47th anniversary of Earth Day. Started in 1970, Earth Day is the largest secular holiday in the world with more than a billion people doing something outdoor-related each year. Let’s celebrate the environment with Earth Day rides in three wonderful spring riding destinations across the United States. We’ll start in Virginia’s Fox Creek Horse Camp, then take you to Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and finally head back east to Georgia’s Ocmulgee River Trail system.
This month, celebrate Earth Day with these top trail rides in Virginia, Arizona, and Georgia.
Fox Creek Horse Camp, Troutdale, Virginia GPS coordinates: 36.69800, -81.50369
Quick fact: Mount Rogers and Mount Rogers National Recreation Area are named after William Barton Rogers, the founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Southwest Virginia is home to the Fox Creek Horse Camp in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. With more than 100 miles of horse-friendly trails and a camp area that’s equally easy to get into and out of, this a fabulous place to ride, camp, and reconnect with the outdoors.
Amenities are on the Spartan side, with campsites arranged around a loop drive. Each of the 32 camp sites offer a picnic table, fire ring, and picket-line posts. Between April and October, portable toilets are scattered around the camp. The eponymous Fox Creek flows past the campground and provides stock water. A camp host looks after the camp throughout the summer months.
Horse campers looking for a few more frills can visit the nearby Grindstone Campground for hot showers, potable water spigots, and a dump station. Another alternative is Grayson Highlands State Park on the opposite side of Mount Rogers.
As you can tell, the Fox Creek horse camp is more about the riding than the camping. It’s the wonderful trails here that attract many riders each year. The Mount Rogers High Country area that surrounds the camp contains arguably the finest trail riding opportunities in Virginia.
From camp, you’ll have glorious views looking upward to the ridges you’ll be enjoying while on the trail. These densely wooded hillsides will have you longing for long hours in the saddle.
Most of the trails that are immediately accessible from camp are a collection of old logging trails that have been repurposed and are very well maintained, as well as single-track trails.
One popular trail is the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail, which passes through camp and provides some of the best scenic riding that you’ll find. In the spring, when rhododendrons are in bloom, the Rhododendron Gap Trail is a must-visit spot.
Head to the top of Mount Rogers for incredible views. A detour to the scales area may provide glimpses of Longhorn cattle that range here and maybe even some of the area’s resident (not so) wild horses.
The Virginia Horse Council keeps the camp and trails here and around Virginia open to equine use.
For more information, go to: www.trail meister.com/trails/fox-creek-horse-camp; http://tinyurl.com/z7n9atn.
Frazier Recreation Site, Roosevelt, Arizona GPS Coordinates: 33.66639, -111.12389
Quick fact: Formed by the Theodore Roosevelt dam, the Theodore Roosevelt Lake is the largest lake located entirely within the state of Arizona.
A quick two-hour drive from Phoenix will reward you with a fabulous horse camp that combines desert and water scenes. The Frazier Recreation Site is set in the Sonoran Desert on the edge of Theodore Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto National Forest.
The area’s low elevation of only 2,200 feet coupled with easy drive times from both Phoenix and Tucson make this a popular fall, winter, and spring destination spot for horse and mule owners.
This popular trail-riding and horsecamping area offers a remarkable number of amenities, as well as phenomenal riding opportunities. Riders visiting the lakeside Frazier Recreation Site will find eight camping areas, each with corrals, shelter, a fire ring, and excellent lake views.
The sites all have pull-through parking spaces suitable for living-quarters trailers. Potable water spigots and vault toilet facilities are scattered throughout the camp. About the only thing that you won’t find here are showers.
Riding opportunities from the camp vary and include access to the Cottonwood Canyon trail that runs south to the nearby 800-mile-long Arizona Scenic Trail stretching the entire length of Arizona. This is desert riding at its finest. You’ll ride through mesquite, and cholla and saguaro cacti in the foothills surrounding Roosevelt Lake. Venture into the surrounding moun- tains, and you’ll enjoy riding through scrub oak and juniper.
For me, desert rides are all about the broad, sweeping vistas showcasing distant ranges that beckon you to visit. From camp, a glance to the northeast will reveal the Sierra Ancha mountain range. Closer to camp, and easier to get to, is the Superstition range and the Superstition wilderness that lies to the south. Simply take the Cottonwood trail to the Arizona Trail, and you’ll be on your way to adventure, legend, lore, and even a lost gold mine!
You may not stumble upon the hidden riches of the Lost Dutchman Mine, but you’ll certainly discover other Sonoran Desert treasures that abound, such as petroglyphs, ancient ruins, wildflowers, and the beauty of Mother Nature as you explore 160,000 acres of the wilderness area.
For more information, go to: www.trail meister.com/trails/frazier-recreation-site; http://tinyurl.com/jvazbm8.
Ocmulgee River Trails, Forsyth, Georgia GPS Coordinates: 33.2091, -83.8170
Quick fact: The name “Ocmulgee” comes from First Nation words oki (water) and molki (bubbling) roughly translating to “where the water boils up.”
This popular riding area is situated 60 miles southeast of Atlanta, in the Oconee National Forest. This is a great place for day rides, as well horse camping, with trails meandering along the Ocmulgee River.
This portion of Georgia’s red-dirt hills — blanketed by pine forest, and rich bottomlands shaded by the forest’s towering canopies— is home to more than 30 miles of equestrian-friendly trails. You’ll see the glimpses of the river during most of your rides.
The Ocmulgee Bluff Trail System is the main day-use riding area; it’s large parking area can hold 20 to 30 rigs. Parking-area amenities include picnic tables and toilets.
This destination area is a favorite for all outdoor enthusiasts, from trail riders to hikers, bicyclists, and picnickers, so be prepared to share. Local horsemen and trail-advocacy groups, including the Georgia Horse Council, have made recent improvements to both the trailhead area and the trails themselves.
Trails near the Ocmulgee Bluff trailhead and north are generally hilly as you ride down, over, and through the ravines of tributaries feeding the Ocmulgee River. The rolling terrain drains rainfall more easily than flat areas, so the trails here dry quicker than others in the area.
A favorite ride from the bluff is to the “swimming hole.” A quick half-hour ride from the trailhead, you’ll find a broad sandy beach that makes a perfect swimming and lunch stop.
Georgia’s Ocmulgee River Trails are situated 60 miles southeast of Atlanta, in the Oconee National Forest. This is a great place for day rides, as well horse camping, with trails meandering along the Ocmulgee River.
Located just a short distance to the south of the Ocmulgee Bluff area is the Ocmulgee Horse Camp, a great place for staging rides. Locally known as the Ocmulgee Flats Hunt Camp, the camp is a clearing beside a forest service road; the trailhead is found behind the camp. Amenities are limited to highlines and camping spots.
Trails from the horse camp head north toward the main trail system that originates from the Ocmulgee Bluff area, and go through bottomland bordering the river. Be prepared for a few muddy areas here and there if there has been recent rain.
Throughout the area, the mature hardwoods and thick pine forest make for deep shade all day. Mind the time, lest you return to camp in the dark.
For more information, go to: www. trailmeister.com/trails/ocmulgee-rivertrails; www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/conf/ recarea/?recid=10554. TTR
Robert “TrailMeister” Eversole is the horseman behind TrailMeister.com, the largest online equestrian-trail and horse-camping guide in the world. When not helping riders find the straight scoop on new places to ride and camp, he’s a highly requested clinician at equine events around the nation, where he shares his knowledge of trail riding, camping with livestock, and trail safety.
The Fox Creek Horse Camp in Virginia’s Mount Rogers National Recreation Area is more about the riding than the camping. The Mount Rogers High Country area contains arguably the finest trail-riding opportunities in Virginia.
The Frazier Recreation Site is set in the Sonoran Desert on the edge of Theodore Roosevelt Lake. You’ll find eight camping areas, each with corrals, shelter, a fire ring, and lake views. The sites all have pull-through parking spaces suitable for living-quarters trailers.