Horse Camping near Santa Margarita Lake Coming Soon!

Where there’s a will there’s a way. A horse camping near Santa Margarita Lake has been a vision for many local horse camping enthusiasts. That vision is coming to fruition. Eight years ago, members of Atascadero Horsemen’s Club (AHC) began the process to get permission to build a horse camp at the River Road trail head near Santa Margarita Lake. Now the first hurdle has been cleared and the hope is for horse camping to be available by the end of 2019.

Getting ready for a ride from the Horse Camp site.

Clearing the First Hurdle for Horse Camping near Santa Margarita Lake

The first hurdle in the journey has been cleared. In July of 2019 AHC was awarded conditional approval from County Parks to put in a horse camp on the River Road trail head property. This conditional approval will be for one year whereby the County will re-evaluate and look to provide permanent approval.

How Big will this Horse Camp Be?

The Horse Camp will be at the River Road access area.

The approved proposal is for three camping sites which will include two corrals (one horse per corral) and two rigs. So, the total number of horses in corrals will be six. Per special request, campers may be allowed to bring additional temporary corrals to be set up and taken down by campers. All corrals will be behind a locked gate. Campers who reserve the camp and pay the reservation and permit fees will gain access to the locked area.

Map and Layout of Horse Camp Near Santa Margarita Lake

Horse Camp layout. Photo courtsey of Atascadero Horsemen’s Club.

Description of the Horse Camp Layout

  • “A” represents the main parking area of approximately 11,260 sf. 
  • “B” represents the overflow area of approximately 10,360 sf. 
  • “C” represents the proposed camping area of approximately 44,390 sf. 
  • The camping area shows general layout for corrals (“D”) and rigs (“E”).  These are not to scale. 
  • Corrals are typically 12’x12’ or 16’x16’.  The suggestion is to have corrals separated to reduce conflict among horses. 
  • Corrals and rigs will be placed away from the drip line of the trees.  Picnic tables can be placed near trees, with the potential for a shade structure to be built in the future. 
  • Designated parking areas for rigs are not needed, unless desired by the County. 
  • The existing gate between the existing trailhead parking and the proposed camping area is a wire gate.  This would be replaced by a drive through gate and a pass through gate.

Camp Amenities – Primitive Dry Camp

Camp amenities will be few, primarily consisting of six corrals and space to park six rigs. This will be a dry camp – no water will be available – so all human and horse water will need to be carried in. Campers will be expected to clean corrals when they leave. Currently there is one port-a-potty with plans for one more to be added. Future plans include a shade structure with a gravel or DG base, but that will come after permanent approval has been granted.

Each site (two corrals) will have a picnic table and bear box.  No fires will be allowed. In addition, a new port-a-potty will be provided (funded by SLOPOST) for the trail head. Dogs on lease are welcome.

Campers will need to bring their own horse water containers/buckets, feed, manure management equipment and pack all trash out.

Proposed Reservation Fee

The reservation fee is yet to be determined but could be $20-30 per site per night. On top of the reservation fee there is a vehicle and animal permit fee. Annual passes for the vehicle and animal can be obtained on the SLO County Parks website where reservations will be made when the Santa Margarita Horse Camp is up and running. The annual pass is good for both Santa Margarita Lake and Lopez Lake for both camping and day use.

Directions to the Santa Margarita Horse Camp

Left on River Road off West Pozo Road out of the town of Santa Margarita

From Santa Margarita:  Take Pozo Road (past the main entrance to Santa Margarita Lake, past the Rinconada trail head and almost out to Pozo Saloon), left on River Road for several miles, and trail head parking area is on the left.

Santa Margarita Lake Trail Access

Santa Margarita Lake Horse Camp is marked with a horse

There are numerous trails to access from the Santa Margarita Horse Camp site: Sandstone, Blinn, Falcon and Sapwi Trails.  There is also a pack-in horse camp at Khus Camp which is accessible from the Sapwi Trail.  An extension of the existing Sapwi trail is also under construction with CCCMB taking the lead.

A list of trails accessible from the Horse Camp

All trails around Santa Margarita Lake are accessible on a day use basis as well. To access this back side of the lake just park your rig in the River Road access area, pay the daily permit fees and go enjoy. There is plenty of room to turn a rig around in the access area.

To access the trails on the south side of the lake use the Santa Margarita Lake Road main entrance and park in a designated parking area to stage the ride.

Rules and Safety Regulations

What Are the Next Hurdles?

  • Construction plan and equipment acquisition

A construction plan needs to be completed and approved by County Parks.  Funding needs to be obtained, materials and equipment need to be purchased, and gates and corrals need to be installed. Atascadero Horsemen’s Club is spearheading the acquisition of corrals, gates, picnic tables, bear boxes and the port-a-potty and the construction plan approval. The hope is for the camp to be up and ready by the end of 2019.

  • Funding

Atascadero Horsemen’s Club (AHC) will be applying for grants in 2020.  Other funding will need to be located for materials.  Clubs or individuals interested in providing funds and/or assistance with installation can contact Kathy Redden kathyredden@yahoo.com


This is all good news as horse camping near Santa Margarita Lake will be a welcome addition to riding options here in SLO County. A big thank you goes out to members Atascadero Horsemen’s Club. They welcome all financial donations and offers to help get this project up and running.

One can enjoy the trails on either side of Santa Margarita Lake with out camping by simply showing up and paying the day use fee (unless you have an annual pass).

Photos except the maps: Sharon Jantzen Photos


Get Going! Explore the wonder and beauty of the SLO County trails from the best place on earth, the back of a horse. To keep this info at your fingertips we have developed a FREE Hot Sheet that will direct you to these these stories. We’ll continue to add trail ride stories to our website. You can stay up-to-date by becoming a SLO Horse News herd member. Get your Riding the SLO County Trails Hot Sheet here >.

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Former Pony Clubber, Eventer and Dressage rider who balanced training and showing with getting a college degree (from Cal Poly SLO), becoming a wife and raising a family.

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