JJanuary, the start of a brand-new year of fabulous trail riding and camping with your horses and mules. Welcome to a new column in The Trail Rider to highlight hidden trail-riding treasures across North America! Each regular issue, we’ll travel around the continent and visit a few new areas to ride and explore with our favorite horses and mules.
This issue, we’ll start in Southern California with a desert riding adventure. Then we’ll visit the East Coast for a stop in the mountains of North Carolina. Finally, we’ll swing around to the Pacific Northwest for a misty day ride near Seattle.
Vern Whitaker Horse Camp, Anza Borrego State Park, California
GPS Coordinates: 33.348831, -116.399595
Quick Fact: The highest temperature recorded in Anza Borrego was a scorching 122 degrees in June 1990.
This place is big. Really big. Covering 916 square miles, Anza Borrego State Park is the largest state park in California and the second largest state park in the entire United States. The park includes 12 wilderness areas, 500 miles of gravel roads, and more than 100 miles of designated trails. Only two hours from the cities of San Diego and Riverside, it’s also easy to get to.
The park is named for Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish explorer from the late 1700s, and the Spanish word borrego, which means bighorn sheep. Portions of the 1,210-mile-long Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail run through the park as it travels from Nogales, Arizona, to San Francisco, California.
Anza Borrego is home to the largest number of endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep in California. About 280 of these magnificent animals remain; 200 call Anza Borrego home. Riders with sharp eyes might also catch a glimpse of speedy roadrunners and graceful golden eagles.
The best times to visit Anza Borrego are winter and early spring before the desert becomes dangerously hot for horse and humans. Spring visitors will especially enjoy the Technicolor show from the desert wildflowers. In a good year, a knee-high carpet of flowers will rise up from the desert floor and stretch for miles.
It’s always nice to have a special area set aside just for equine use. It’s even better when the equine area is as well-kept and appointed as the Vern Whitaker Horse Camp in Anza Borrego. After a long day of exploring in the saddle, horse and mule campers will appreciate the many amenities found here, including modern restrooms and showers
Campsites are large enough to fit living-quarters trailers, and include fire rings, grills, and picnic tables. For your equine friends, you’ll find spacious corrals, manure bunks, and even a wash rack.
Of course, it’s the riding you’ll come here for, and a visit to Anza Borrego won’t disappoint with 110 miles of designated trails to explore, including portions of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs for 2,659 miles from Mexico to Canada.
The park’s sandy trails twist and me-
This winter, saddle up, and ride in temperate climes on these top trails. BY ROBERT EVERSOLE
ander through 600,000 acres of canyons, washes, and ridges. Along the way, you’ll enjoy scenic views, from dramatic vistas and lake beds to ancient pictographs.
For more information, go to: www. trailmeister.com/trails/anza-borregodesert-state-park-vern-whittaker-horsecamp/; www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=638.
Anita Alta Campground, Lenoir, North Carolina
GPS Coordinates: 35.989971, -81.637697
Quick Fact: The “blue” of the Blue Mountains is caused by the trees. The distinctive bluish haze is produced by the natural release of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere from trees and other vegetation.
Just a few miles from Lenoir in western North Carolina is a 375-acre campground nestled on the border of the Pisgah National Forest in a spur of the Blue Ridge Mountains. With miles upon miles of trails to traverse in the forest and a well-appointed camp to enjoy, the Anita Alta campground is a fabulous place from which to experience this portion of the Appalachians.
Horse campers will welcome Anita Alta’s many amenities, including bath houses, rental cabins, and kitchen pavilions. Preset highline posts are available, and the camp is friendly to the use of portable corrals. The campground also offers a fishing pond, horseshoe and volleyball courts, creeks, and even waterfalls and caves to discover.
Despite the pleasant distractions, you’ll want to spend most of your time in the saddle. The riding area that can be accessed directly from Anita Alta covers nearly 12 square miles of rolling hills, ridgetops, and ravines with almost 40 miles of well-marked and maintained trails that wind and loop under dense forests of birch, beech, and maple. It’ll take you several days to cover all of the trails, and then you’ll want to ride them for a second and third time.
Camping and riding at Anita Alta is a year-round opportunity; spring and fall are popular times.
The folks that make Anita Alta a reality are the members of the Blue Ridge Horseman’s Association. This hardworking group has revived a neglected 4-H camp into a vibrant camping and riding experience.
Since 2009, the BRHA has added 10 new trails to the existing trail system, as well as repaired and rehabilitated the entire camp with new water systems, driveways, and camping areas.
Maintaining the camp and the trails is quite an endeavor, and the BRHA does charge a nominal fee for camping and day use. When you visit, you’ll quickly see that the small fee is well worth it.
For more information, go to: https:// www.trailmeister.com/trails/anita-altahorse-camp; www.brha.us.
Taylor Mountain Trailhead, Hobart, Washington
GPS Coordinates: 47.432604, -121.971175 Quick Fact: Seattle averages 201 cloudy days a year and is one of the top five rainiest cities in the lower 48 states.
Located in the Pacific Northwest just east of Seattle, Taylor Mountain’s 30-plus miles of trails lay less than 30 miles from the bustling metropolis of Seattle and share in the region’s mild, wet winters. If you’re willing to don raingear this month, you’ll experience Taylor Mountain’s fabulous system of horse-friendly trails.
The Taylor Mountain riding area includes well over 1,900 acres of county park, plus adjacent Department of Natural Resources and City of Seattle properties. It’s a big area filled with looping and winding trails that crisscross mountain crests, valleys, and meadows. This working forest is managed not only for wonderful riding opportunities, but also as a working forest. This means that occasionally riders will encounter logging and other operations, as the land is actively managed to conserve and protect the ecosystem.
And what an ecosystem you’ll find here! From gurgling streams framed in Jurassic-like ferns to forests filled with alders and firs, you can find a variety of environments to explore. Routes range from broad gravel logging roads to twisting single-track trails that hug the hillsides and climb to mountaintops with outstanding views of nearby Mount Rainier towering in the south.
Horse and mule riders can enjoy the many faces of Taylor Mountain throughout
the year. Winter rides can take riders from damp and misty lowlands to snow-sprinkled trails in the higher elevations.
Spring rides include thick masses of pink Salmonberry blooms and the occasional bear sighting. Summer brings bluebird skies and, again, incredible views of Mount Rainier. Falls colors aren’t lost here either, with alders crowned in gold and yellow. Fall riders with sharp eyes have a chance of sighting Coho salmon in Holder and Carey Creeks as they swim upstream to spawn.
The trail system at Taylor is extremely well-marked and maintained. Doing much of that maintaining is the Tahoma Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, whose members partake in numerous work parties.
Besides trail clearing projects every year, the Tahoma chapter was instrumental in acquiring the new horse-trailer parking area with plenty of room for 25 truck-andtrailer rigs. As you ride this trail system, you’ll give thanks to Tahoma for working hard to clear the many downed branches and trees each year!
For more information, go to: www.trailmeister.com/trails/taylor-mountain; www.kingcounty.gov/services/parksrecreation/parks/trails/backcountrytrails/taylor-mtn.aspx. 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 Vern Whitaker Horse Camp in Anza Borrego State Park, California, offers modern restrooms, showers, and campsites large enough to fit living-quarters trailers. For your equine friends, you’ll find spacious corrals, manure bunks, and even a wash rack.
KEN CARPENTER PHOTOS Horse campers headed to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains will welcome Anita Alta’s amenities, including bath houses, rental cabins, and kitchen pavilions. Preset highline posts are available, and the camp is friendly to the use of portable corrals.
KATHY YOUNG PHOTOS The Tahoma Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, was instrumental in acquiring Taylor Mountain’s new horse-trailer parking area with plenty of room for 25 truck-and-trailer rigs.