Summer is fast approaching, and this season you’ve vowed to do something a little different…something exciting. You want to leave behind the trappings of the city and sleep beneath a clear sky with your favorite horse before heading out for a day of uninterrupted riding.
Few things can be more relaxing; few things can bring the same connection to nature and the equine relationship than a well planned horse camping trip. There’s only one catch…where do you go?
Your horse camping destination choice can’t simply be based upon the trails available, you should also consider the amenities that are offered to you and your horses when you arrive. It’s a little more difficult than choosing a hotel room, but you are in luck when it comes to SLO County, because within a reasonable driving distance of the heart of our community, several exceptional horse camping locations await you.
Ask The Horse Camping Queen
In my search for the best horse camping destinations, I spoke with Beverly Poorman, a local “horse camping queen”, about her top choices. Beverly has been teaching equine safety, centered riding techniques and how to “talk horse” to all levels of riders for over 30 years. Beverly has also competed in both Endurance and NATRC for 20 years, and she is somewhat of an expert on wilderness survival techniques as they apply to horse camping. When I asked her to weigh in on this article, her response was quick and positive. “I love to ride trails and love to horse camp! Slowing down our busy life schedules, living adventure on the trails, enjoying the beauty of nature, spending time with friends and my horses is the best vacation for me,” Beverly enthusiastically replied.
So, with Beverly’s help, I have compiled a list of horse camping destinations that are sure to delight every level of rider. The choices were made based upon amenities, ease of staging, and, of course, trails! We have spotlighted the horse camps located within SLO County, but we couldn’t leave out a select few located just south of us in Santa Barbara County and just north of us in Monterey County; all are easily within reach.
San Luis Obispo County
- Montana de Oro – This is our top pick for SLO County, based mainly on the fact that it offers perhaps the best and most diverse trails in our area. Whether you want to explore the vast sand dunes that lead to one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline accessible by horseback, or skirt the rugged and rural forested bluffs, this is the place to be. There are five horse camps available for family and group outings, with a total number of 16 pipe corrals (normally there are 18, but 2 were recently damaged in a storm). There is plenty of room for your rigs, horse water is available, and there are outhouses. There are no showers at the horse camps. Dogs are not allowed on the trails. Reservations for Montana de Oro can be made here <
- “Black Bear Horse Camp” at Lopez Lake – This is our second choice for SLO County horse camping. The camp is fairly secluded and has 18 pipe corrals, water, outhouses, BBQ’s, firepits, a dog run and can easily accommodate 40 to 50 people, making it a great place to settle in with a group of good “horse camping friends” for a little extended R&R. The trails are quite nice, and will be enough to keep the average rider occupied for 2 to 3 days. Reservations: Call for Reservations (805)788-2381
- Pacific Dunes Ranch – Oceano – If you’re looking for something a little closer to town, this private horse camping area offers a full service RV Park, as well as a good number of pipe corrals for overnight boarding. The “horse area” is separated from the RV Park, so you can’t camp right next to your horses, but they are within walking distance. The property is also a long term boarding facility, so all of the amenities of your typical ranch are available. The main trails lead out to the dunes preserve and the Oceano State Beach, which are both wonderful places to ride. Just remember, you will be sharing the beach and some of the dunes area with motorized vehicles. Reservations for Pacific Dunes can be made here <
Santa Barbara County
- Sage Hill – Los Padres National Forest – Located approximately 15 miles off of Hwy 154 and the 101 Freeway, this is one of the gems of the south Central Coast. There is a horse camping area with 12 corrals and a hitching post for equestrian use, and this site can accommodate approximately 25 to 50 people. There are tables, group BBQ’s, fire pits, water, flush toilets and room for your rigs. Access to the Santa Ynez River isn’t far away, and there are miles of trails that wind through the beautiful Los Padres wilderness. Reservations for Sage Hill Campground can be made here<
- Rancho Osos – Located just across the river from Sage Hill, this private horse camping facility offers roomy corrals, wash rack, large arena, round pen and all the other trappings of a “horse facility”, in addition to campsites among the trees, cabins, “covered wagon” accommodations, etc. There is direct trail access from the property. This is the perfect place for horse campers who want a slightly less rugged experience while still being able to explore the wilderness on their favorite mounts. Reservations for Rancho Osos can be made here<
- Lake San Antonio – We couldn’t leave this destination out of the equation. Located just above Paso Robles, Lake San Antonio offers 11 miles of moderately challenging trails for the avid equestrian with spectacular views from the North Shore of the lake. There are restrooms, BBQ’s, picnic areas, etc. A beautiful place to enjoy the more rugged inland trails that our area has to offer. Reservations for the Los Robles Equestrian Area can be made here<
Hopefully this article can serve as a resource to kick start your summer horse camping adventures. Remember, when traveling with your horses, always bring the appropriate safety gear, know the distance and location to the nearest ranger station and veterinary clinic, always bring your own water buckets/feed bags/feed tubs and of course feed, and don’t forget a cell phone for emergencies. It is a good idea to find a friend who is versed in horse camping to accompany you on your first adventure, and once you’ve become well versed in the art, be sure to pass along what you’ve learned to others who want to experience the same thing. Have a safe and wonderful summer, and happy trails!
Photos used by permission from Beverly Poorman’s files