Overnight Trail Ride Adventure to the American Canyon Camp | SLO Horse News

Overnight Trail Ride Adventure to the American Canyon Camp

Have you ever ridden 50 miles in a weekend while camping overnight? Well a group of local riders enjoyed an overnight trail ride adventure to the American Canyon Camp in the Los Padres National Forest. They traversed three ranges, negotiated the famous “ledges trail”, explored “Grotto’s Huge Fern Microclimate Area” plus kept cool and horses hydrated through numerous creek and river crossings.

Total daily ride time, both days, was five and a half hours which included stopping to rest and letting the horses graze.  American Canyon camp area was the destination. The adventure included an overnight tent camping challenge in between two riding days. Adventure riders relied heavily on what they packed on their horse and what nature provided along the way for horse feed. It was like stepping back in time where expedition parties rode all day, camped overnight and rode all day again.

How does one plan for an overnight trail ride excursion?

Overnight Trail Ride Adventure to the American Canyon Camp | SLO Horse News

First of all, this group of adventure riders had a little help from the Pacific Coast Long Riders who traditionally plan a horse camp trip at American Canyon camp ground each year in the spring. Pacific Coast Longriders get special permission to use the camp, as usually it is only open for about a month during deer season.

Our group of adventure riders joined the PCL group at the camp but this year they took on the challenge of riding 23 miles out to the established camp area, horse camping overnight with them, then riding the same trek back over one epic weekend. Chris Olsen was among the group of adventure riders. He did the 46 mile round trip trail ride with three other riders.

Chris is an experienced horse camper and willingly took on the trail trek challenge.

“I went on this adventure because it sounded challenging and would provide a feeling of accomplishment when the 46 mile ride was completed!” Chris expressed.

Overnight Trail Ride Adventure to the American Canyon Camp | SLO Horse News
Chris Olsen, right, with Laura and Beverly of the Adventure Riders group.
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How does one prepare for such an adventure?

First, your horse obviously must be ready to ride many miles, just like a cross country athlete. Chris explains, “Your horse needs to be in condition before a big ride like this. Weekly trail rides to get your horse in shape is a must in order to prep for such a long trek.”

The horses were also groomed with the trek in mind, “Bathing the horses before the ride ensures they will be sweating cleanly. We also rounded their hooves since our horses did it barefoot!” describes Chris. In addition, increasing the horse’s feed and supplements the week before the trip, helped boost the horses weight in anticipation of the energy expended.

Packing for the Ride

Overnight Trail Ride Adventure to the American Canyon Camp | SLO Horse News
Carerra munching supplements from her muzzle while high tied to a tree.

A few days before, involves packing the supplemental feed, along with tree savers, rope and swivel high tie hooks for high-tying the horses at night. In addition, human and and horse water needs are considered. Chris describes the camp stabling and feed, “Horses were high-tied between two trees in the grassy field and had plenty of grass to snack on all night. There is a huge water trough for cattle that we led them to several times once we arrived and during our stay there.” A muzzle feed bag is used for providing supplement feed to the horses.

How does the rider prepare?

Chris explains how he provided for his needs, “As the rider I had two water bottles and enough food to hold me over until dinner in my saddle bag.” The riders did have some help through another camper who took overnight gear to the camp area for them.

The Pacific Coast Longriders charged every camper $25 for the weekend and supplied the meat for the group BBQ. “Our tents, sleeping pads, food and grain for the horses traveled with fellow camper Kathleen Phelps who drove to the camp for the weekend,” Chris explained. The 23 mile trek riders rode into camp, set up their tents and joined the others for dinner. The next day they rode back to the start point at a friend’s ranch in Ranchita Estates.

American Canyon Overnight Trail Ride is a Success

American Canyon overnight trail ride is mission accomplished. The horses and riders fared well over the 46 miles, with the horses living mostly off the land and riders packing their daily provisions. Chris’s favorite memory involves fellow rider Beverly Poorman, “It was so funny to watch Bev getting off her horse after the 46 miles were completed and walking as bow-legged as they get. There were also so many creek crossings which was amazing to see them full in this California drought.”

Overnight Trail Ride Adventure to the American Canyon Camp | SLO Horse News
American Canyon in relation to Lopez Lake in Arroyo Grande. Vehicle access is from Pozo (blue line).

Are you thinking of riding to the American Canyon Camp too?

Your first step in taking on an adventure like this would be to join up with a group like the Pacific Coast Longriders (PCL does not have a website. It simply consists of a group of like-minded trail riding enthusiasts with not a lot of structure!) or Back Country Horsemen of California. Both organizations introduce you to many knowledgeable and experienced adventure riders who can help you with your plans. PCL gets special permission to camp in the spring from Avenales Ranch.

Next make sure you know what you are doing and don’t do it alone. Beverly Poorman knows the trails in the American Canyon area and she was the main guide. Also make sure you, your horse and tack are in shape as help will be difficult to come by. A seat saver for your saddle is also a good piece of equipment to include for long trail rides.

If you want to horse camp at the American Canyon Camp area you would need to join up with the Pacific Coast Longriders. Or you can wait for the one month where it is open during deer season.


As these riders can attest, stepping back in time, living off the land and what you carry gives one a true sense of adventure. These riders enjoyed accomplishment and connection to their horse and fellow riders. Some of us will simply be living vicariously through them and some of us will be inspired to share in the experience.


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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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