The Trailmeis­ter’s Top Trails

Cel­e­brate Earth Day with these scenic rides.

Trail Rider - - NEWS - BY ROBERT EVERSOLE

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.

Robert Eversole

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF FRA­ZIER HORSE CAMP

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.

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