Where The Trails Are (WTTA) strives to provide a useful database of equestrian trails.  Keep your eyes here for a growing resource guide.   The trails for horse back riding are unfortunately dwindling and it can be hard to find places to ride. The best resource for knowledge of equestrian trails are the trail riders themselves.  It is the hope of Where the Trails Are that riders will contribute information about trails they know with their fellow equestrians.  Watch for our articles in The Horse Gazette and “like” us on WTTA’s Facebook page.

Help WTTA grow by submitting a trail review to share with your fellow riders!

If you would like to contribute information about riding trails then please check out the Submit A Review Tab for more information. You are encouraged to include pictures of the trails, you and your riding buddies on the trail, and of the facilities, but they do need to be at least 800 pixels wide.  Getting a shot at the trailhead or facility entrance with you and all your riding buddies always makes for a super photo and helps people know what to look for when they are trying to find the park/ranch.

Visit the Trail Reviews Tab to see our new map!

Thanks so much and happy trails!

Kelly Hurd

Send me an e-mail at: hurdkn@gmail.com

Trace Trails entrance sign.

Trace Trails entrance sign.

 

Website: Unknown

Face Book Page: https://www.facebook.com/TraceTrails

Location: 7960 County Road 3914, Athens, TX  75752 (North East Texas)

Mailing Address: Trace Trails, 8543 County Road 3914, Athens, TX 75752

Contact: (903) 258-0054, owner Billy Beeson

Email: Unknown

Trace Trails entrance is on the right off of County Road 3914 in Athens, TX.

Trace Trails entrance is on the right off of County Road 3914 in Athens, TX.

Directions: From the intersection of Texas Loop 7 and US 175 head northwest towards Mabank on US 175 for approximately two miles.  Turn right on Co. Rd. 3918.  Follow this road around a 90 degree curve to the right, then take the first left, which is Co. Rd. 3914 (you will also see signs for Tara Winery).  Co. Rd. 3914 is narrow and curvy. Pass the winery on your left (it’s a two story white house with large pillars and a vineyard — you can’t miss it). Continue on 3914.  After a curve in the road you will see a silver gate on your left — pass this gate and continue on Co. Rd. 3914.  Trace Trails will be on your right and easily seen from the road.  From Co. Rd. 3914 it is approximately 1.7 miles. The campground is in a large tree lined meadow.  There is a wooden sign placed on two metal barrels.

Open field parking offers lots of room and maneuverability for large rings at Trace Trails in Athens.

Open field parking offers lots of room and maneuverability for large rigs at Trace Trails in Athens.

Fee drop box is done by the honor system at Trace Trails.

Fee drop box is done by the honor system at Trace Trails.

Overnight Equestrian Camping: Allowed!

Fees: Fees are paid by way of the honor system.  There is a metal drop box located to the left of the entrance road under some shade trees.  Just drop in your payment and enjoy the trails.

$8.00 per person per day

$7.00 per person to camp overnight

Operating Hours: These trails are normally open 24/7 with some exceptions.  On occasion for large events like an endurance race in which 100 or more riders will participate, the trails might be closed to those not participating in the event.  So it is always best to call before you haul.

 

Shady camping / parking areas at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Shady camping / parking areas at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

 Facilities: Primitive camping grounds are located in a large tree lined meadow.  There is no electricity and there are no designated campsites, so you can pick where you want to park or camp.  There is one porta-potty, a few picnic tables, a fire ring, and two water faucets with metal water troughs. Water hoses were attached to the faucets but I do not know if they belonged to another visitor or were provided by the ranch.  I’d suggest you bring your own water hose. There is one horse pen constructed out of 8 metal panels.  The pen is not covered but is located under some shade trees. You may high tie to trees so long as you use tree savers or something like a girth to protect the trees. You may also bring portable or electric pens.  On the north side of the camping area (to the left as you drive in) there are some shady places to park, otherwise you can park along the tree line or out in the open field.  It is first come, first served with regard to parking and/or camping locations.  The water faucets, pen, picnic tables, fire ring, and porta-potty are located to the left (or north) side of the campground under the trees.

There is a single horse pen at Trace Trails which has eight metal panels and is under shade trees.

Water faucet and trough.

Water faucet and trough.

Campground at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Dogs: Dogs are allowed and may be loose so long as they are well behaved… otherwise please keep your dog on a leash. Be aware that some of the trails go near residences who have dogs, and we had two dogs try to chase after our horses.  However, as soon as we turned our horses around facing the dogs they backed off.

Dog & group

During one of our rides at the ranch a fellow equestrian had her well behaved dog tag along down the trails with us and he was having a blast.

Cell Phone Service: Cell phone service was strong and I had no problems using my Verizon cell phone.

Trail Users: Trail users consists of mostly equestrians and maybe an occasional hiker.  There are no motorized vehicles or bikes on these trails.

Mileage: According to the owner, Mr. Beeson, there are more than 50 miles of trails on the 1,000 acre property. The trails are color coded.

Red Trail = 7.5 miles

White Trail = 6.5 miles

Orange Trail = 9.2 miles

Blue Trail = 11 miles

Pink Trail = 16 miles

There are multiple cut-through trails  marked by yellow and green ribbons for which the mileage is unknown.

Maps: Go to the Trace Trails FaceBook page to see additional maps.

Trace Trails Map and Campstie

The green asterisk is where the campgrounds are located (this map is on the Trace Trails Facebook page).

Trail Markers: The trails are well marked with colored ribbons (some colors are faded), white signs with colored arrows, and pie plates.  The property fence line, telephone poles, gas line, blacktop road, and dirt road make great guides to also help you find your way around. The trails heading out of camp are fairly easy to find.  Several of the trails start out north of the water troughs and others start out on the edges of the tree line.  You can also go to the very south of the campground meadow to pick up the trails as well.

Additional information on trail markers provided by Ann Sides (Thanks!):
Trail marking:  the ribbons are on the right side of the trail as you’re leaving camp on the start of the trail as indicated on the maps.   Turns are shown by three markers on the side to make the turn or by an arrow.    Several competitions are held here each year including endurance rides, trail competitions with NATRAC and ACTHA and all of these folks put in LOTS of hours to keep the trails maintained and marked.  Thank you all!!!  Additional thanks to the Beeson family for allowing us to ride on their lovely ranch!!!  And thanks to GOD for creating this lovely place and allowing us to care for it and our horses.

Trail signs at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Trail signs at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Terrain: The soil is sandy and mostly free of rocks; shoes/boots are not required for your horse. The sand can be deep in some areas.  This is a great place to ride if there has been rain, as the sandy soil drains quickly and therefore the mud and bog dries up fast. The trails can be dusty if there has been no rain.  The trails take you through wide open grassy meadows and thick forests. The terrain is mostly level or gentle rolling slopes.  The Green and Yellow cut-through trails usually cut across thick woods and wind in and out of creeks and gullies providing more challenging terrain.  There are more ups and downs, creek crossings, and deadfall on these cut-through trails.

This stock tank is not far from the campground at Trace Trails.

This stock tank is not far from the campground at Trace Trails.

Water: There are two water faucets with troughs at the campground.  On the trail I saw one stock tank and a few creeks from which the horses were able to drink.

Open meadow group

Trace Trails Description:

Trace Trails in Athens, Texas is a privately owned 1,000 acre working cattle ranch in northeast Texas.  This ranch offers over 50 miles of sandy and scenic trails to enjoy with your friends, family, and horses. Dogs are allowed and may be loose so long as they are well behaved, otherwise please keep your dog on a leash. During one of our rides at the ranch a fellow equestrian had her well behaved dog tag along down the trails with us and he was having a blast.  The ranch often hosts trail competitions, benefit rides, and endurance races.  You are welcome to bring your own horse anytime to ride at Trace Trails, but you might want to call first to find out if there is an organized event also going on. Some of the endurance races held there can have as many as 100 riders. Ranch use fees are very affordable and everyone pays by the honor system by depositing their fees in the drop box. Overnight equestrian camping is primitive in that there are no electrical hook ups or designated camping pads.

Patti terrain

Patti is riding Dakota through the thick woods at Trace Trails.

This is a great place to camp and ride, especially since there are numerous miles of trails.  The trails are diverse with flat to rolling sandy terrain, open grassy meadows, and thick forests.  The yellow and green cut-through trails wind through thick forests and in and out of gullies and creeks; these were my favorite trails.  The trails are well marked with colored ribbons — although some colors are faded — and white signs with colored arrows, and pie plates.  The property fence line, telephone poles, gas line, blacktop road, and dirt road make great guides to also help you find your way around.

Heading out on the trails at Trace Trails in Athens.  The purple beauty-berries were everywhere.

Heading out on the trails at Trace Trails in Athens. The purple beauty-berries were everywhere.

Trail Tale & Review:

 

Photo shot by Donna Taker. Ann and Scout, her long time, much loved, trail companion.

Photo shot by Donna Taker. Ann and Scout, her long time, much loved, trail companion.

Trace Trails Review, Nov 7-9, 2014 - By Contributor Ann Sides (Thanks so much Ann!)

I’ve probably ridden at Trace Trails in Athens 7-8 times, but I haven’t ridden there for a couple of years prior to this trip and have never been brave enough to camp out without electricity!!  So this trip was a welcome return back to a place where I’ve had some great rides.  In the past we had jumped from trail to trail, never going from start to finish, and I always thought I was probably missing a lot of good trails.  I was so RIGHT!!

My friend Jackie and I arrived Friday mid-day and got busy setting up camp; stringing the highline and setting up the generator.  We decided to ride a portion of the red trail.  It leaves out of camp on the north end, crosses a county road that is not paved, and through a gate into a large pasture.  It took a team effort to open and close the gate but at least we didn’t have to dismount!  The trail went through an open pasture and then into the woods.  The trails are sandy, wide, shady and well marked.  We rode the north loop of the trail, probably about 4 miles and it was beautiful; gently rolling hills through heavy forest.  There were some gentle ups and downs, and we passed by a deer stand (no one home).  We stopped by a pond about halfway into the ride for the horses to rest and get a drink.  We took the “scenic loop” and it was a little higher with some very nice views.  The entire trail is through woods, and it was truly a delight.  We were joined in the camp by a local cowboy church, Living for the Brand, and they were great campers!!  They cut up a fallen tree and stacked firewood, started a fire, and invited us for supper, breakfast, and lunch!!!  They were real nice folks and we enjoyed getting to know them.  There were two girls with the cowboy church that were horse crazy and loved on the horses.

 

Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Jax on the right is saying “What about me?” Photo provided by Ann Sides.

The 2nd day we were joined by Brenda and Henry McNair, who are some great folks that helped me start trail riding and camping.   They brought their wonderful horses CJ & Sunny.  CJ is a gray Appaloosa and Walker combination and Sunny is a Palomino QH.  CJ is one of the steadiest trail horses I’ve ever been around.  His only problem is that he sometimes falls asleep while he’s walking!!  After a wonderful breakfast of pancakes and sausage provided by the Cowboy Church we rode out on the Pink Trail from the north end.  We planned to ride 2 hours so we only rode the inside loop of the Pink Trail, which is in the same area as the loop of the Red Trail that we rode on Friday.  This portion of the pink Trail has very heavy woods and sandy, shaded trails.  The south portion of the pink trail includes 3 miles of road riding on very lightly traveled dirt roads.

 

Brenda and CJ in front, Jacki and Frisco, and Henry and Sunny. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Brenda and CJ in front, Jacki and Frisco, and Henry and Sunny. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

After a big lunch of hamburgers, again provided by the Cowboy Church, and lots of good visiting around the campfire, Henry & Brenda left for their home in nearby Wills Point.  We decided on a short ride and left out on the south end of the Red Trail.  We planned to just hop around on whatever trail took our fancy.  This end of the trails has a lot of ups and downs and is very heavily wooded, but as usual well trimmed and marked.  Jacki spotted a deer not far out of camp.

Trail marking:  the ribbons are on the right side of the trail as you’re leaving camp on the start of the trail as indicated on the maps.   Turns are shown by three markers on the side to make the turn or by an arrow.    Several competitions are held here each year including endurance rides, trail competitions with NATRAC and ACTHA and all of these folks put in LOTS of hours to keep the trails maintained and marked.  Thank you all!!!  Additional thanks to the Beeson family for allowing us to ride on their lovely ranch!!!  And thanks to GOD for creating this lovely place and allowing us to care for it and our horses.

Saturday evening we were joined by Annette Griffin and her two horses, Tally, a Paint and Percheron combination, and Mister Man Griffin, (Mister for short) a Haflinger and POA combination.  Annette competes in NATRAC on Tally and recently won Sweepstakes in their first year of competing together!!  We were joined on Sunday morning by Julie Whitaker and a Paint horse she was trying out named Laredo; a really pretty horse with one blue eye.

We rode the Orange Trail, which starts in the south end of the meadow.  It was spectacular with some good ups and downs; lovely, lovely ride.  This took us way back on the ranch to places I’ve never been.  We went through several large pastures and stopped by a nice sized pond for the horses to drink.   I finally rode one trail start to finish!!!!

IMG_7906

Julie and Laredo in front, and Annette and Mister. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Saturday evening we were joined by Annette Griffin and her two horses, Tally, a Paint and Percheron combination, and Mister Man Griffin, (Mister for short) a Haflinger and POA combination.  Annette competes in NATRAC on Tally and recently won Sweepstakes in their first year of competing together!!  We were joined on Sunday morning by Julie Whitaker and a Paint horse she was trying out named Laredo; a really pretty horse with one blue eye.

We rode the Orange Trail, which starts in the south end of the meadow.  It was spectacular with some good ups and downs; lovely, lovely ride.  This took us way back on the ranch to places I’ve never been.  We went through several large pastures and stopped by a nice sized pond for the horses to drink.   I finally rode one trail start to finish!!!!

We rode the Orange Trail, which starts in the south end of the meadow.  It was spectacular with some good ups and downs; lovely, lovely ride.  This took us way back on the ranch to places I’ve never been.  We went through several large pastures and stopped by a nice sized pond for the horses to drink.   I finally rode one trail start to finish!!!!

 

IMG_7903

Julie in front, Jacki and Frisco in middle and Annette and Mister, accompanied by our shadow horses!  Photo taken by Julie Whitaker.

 

FullSizeRender (2)

Annette and Mister on left, myself and Jax in middle and Jacki and Frisco on the right. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

 

Trail Tale & Review:

November 8-9th, 2014, provided by contributor Kelly Hurd

I was a fortunate to visit Trace Trails due to last minute changes in our camping plans on the account of the weather. Our original destination was a muddy mess, but since Trace Trails is sandy, the water drains through the soil quickly and that means little to no mud after several days of rain. I joined my American Indian Horse riding club, NETASA, to enjoy Trace Trails during a fall weekend in November.

NETASA, American Indian Horse trail riding club, enjoys Trace Trails in November.

NETASA, an American Indian Horse trail riding club, enjoys Trace Trails in November.

The leaves were starting to turn and the bright purple beauty berries were everywhere. This is a working cattle ranch so there are roaming cattle throughout and gates to open and closed as you ride through the property. During our short weekend visit to Trace Trails I ran into some old friends (Shirley & Vern) by chance, which was a pleasant surprise.

Vern and Shirely live nearby and enjoy riding their Rocky Mountain horses with their riding club, Trail Gaiters and Friends, at Trace Trails.

Vern and Shirley live nearby and enjoy riding their Rocky Mountain horses with their riding club, Trail Gaiters and Friends, at Trace Trails.

Vern and Shirley had brought their Rocky Mountain horses to the ranch and were meeting up with their riding club “Trail Gaiters and Friends.”  Our two clubs met together to ride some of the trails and we had a fun time. Overall it was a great weekend with cool weather for a campfire, good friends and family, good horses, super trails, and good food!  I’m looking forward to riding at Trace Trails again. It is definitely worthy of a return trip.

Curtis George riding Dragonfly, shows me rock formations which are hiding in the shadows of the forest just off the trail.

Curtis George, riding Dragonfly, shows me rock formations which are hiding in the shadows of the forest just off the trail.  This terrain is unusual for the ranch as most of the ground is sandy with little to no rocks.

During this trip Curtis with NETASA showed me all sides of the ranch.  Since this was my first trip to Trace Trails and because we didn’t always stick to one trail in particular (as it was fun to ride the cut through trails and jump around to different trails), I don’t have a good description of each individual trail.  If you know these trails well and can give a good description of each of the colored trails then please email the info to me and I’ll add it on this page.  I also invite others to share their reviews of the trails as well and I will share the information here.

Additional Pictures: 

Riding clubs NETASA and Trail Gaiters and Friends ride through a forest trail in Athens, TX.

Riding clubs NETASA and Trail Gaiters and Friends ride through a forest trail in Athens, TX.

 

There are several deep sandy trails at Trace Trails.

There are several deep sandy trails at Trace Trails.

A new friend made at Trace Trails, Ann Sides, shows me a neat trick she learned from other trail riders to get your high tie nice and tight.  Thanks Ann!

A new friend made at Trace Trails, Ann Sides, showed me a neat trick she learned from other trail riders to get your high tie nice and tight – use a come along hoist.  Thanks Ann!

A post oak tree is highlighted by the early morning sun at Trace Trails.

A post oak tree is highlighted by the early morning sun at Trace Trails.

 

Scott & Curtis meadow

Curtis and Scott enjoying the open meadow trails in Athens, TX.

Emily kindly opens the gate for us at Trace Trails.  Due to cattle on the ranch it is important to always close the gate once everyone is through.

Emily kindly opens the gate for us at Trace Trails. Due to cattle on the ranch it is important to always close the gate once everyone is through.

 

Paul and Doreen enjoy their American Indian Horses, Who Are You and Sing, with NETASA at Trace Trails.

Paul and Doreen enjoy their American Indian Horses, Who Are You and Sing, with NETASA at Trace Trails.

A wide sandy path at Trace Trails.

A wide sandy path at Trace Trails.

 

 

 

Opening

Saturday morning view of the canyon rim and setting moon from our equestrian campsite.

 

pdcsp-signWebsite: 

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon

Contacts: 806/488-2227 or park information at 1-800/792-1112

Reservations: Made by phone 512/389-8900 or on line

at: http://texas.reserveworld.com/Home.aspx

Location: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015

Latitude (degrees, minutes, seconds) N: 34° 59′ 04.84″

Longitude (degrees, minutes, seconds) W: 101° 42′ 06.51″

Directions to Park Headquarters:

South of Amarillo and 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217

Link to location on Google Maps

 



Directions to Equestrian Trailhead: The Equestrian trailhead/campsite is located on the southwest side of the park, south of the circular turnaround. From the park entrance/headquarters, follow Park Road 5 down into the Canyon. Be cautious as there is a 10% grade for two miles as you descend to the canyon floor. At the split we kept left due to park road construction. It is about an eight mile drive from the park entrance to the equestrian site. There are a few low water crossings that will have water over the road after a heavy rain. The equestrian campsite is located behind the equestrian day use area. If hauling a larger rig you will need to be cautious when turning into the trailhead, by taking it wide or circling around in the day use area to come from the opposite direction and get a better angle for your turn from the day use area to the campsite area. Our visit in June of 2014 coincided with park road construction and bridge repairs which made for some very narrow bridge crossings when hauling a three horse living quarter trailer.

Entrance to the equestrian campsite is located behind the equestrian day use area on the south end of the park

The equestrian campsite entrance at Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located on the south end of the park and behind the equestrian day use area.

Camping: Overnight equestrian camping is allowed!

Fees (fees are subject to change, please call the park for most accurate and current fee rates):

Seniors, Texas resident age 65 and up – $3.00 a day

Adults or children ages 13 and up – $5.oo a day

Children under age 13 – free

Equestrian Campsite – $12.00 Nightly (up to eight persons per campsite)

Non Equestrian Campsites with water/electric – $24.00 Nightly

** parking fees are added on for sites with more than two vehicles, your trailer is counted as a vehicle

Horse Unloading Areas: Horses can be unloaded at the Equestrian campsite and day use area located at

the south end of the park south of the circular turn around and at the Light House Trail parking area; you

cannot park on the road.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a Monday after everyone left to go home.

Equestrian Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a Monday after everyone left to go home.

The equestrian campsite does have some washouts and uneven ground as you can see in this picture.

The equestrian campsite does have some washouts and uneven ground as you can see in this picture.

 

Equestrian Trailhead – Campsite Facilities: There are 12 primitive and reserveable equestrian

campsites. These sites are not marked. The area is open and you just pick a spot to park your trailer.

It is not an overly large campsite so maneuvering larger rigs is mildly difficult depending on how many

other trailers are there. The ground is red dirt; there are no gravel or concrete pads. Some areas along

the outside brush/mesquite tree line are not level and there are some washouts in spots. There is

almost no shade.

Pens

Equestrian pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pens3

Metal pipe horse pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Horse pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pens: There are four large connected pipe pens about 24 by 24 feet in the shape of a square. These

are nice sturdy pens. There are no chains or latches to secure the pen gate with, so be sure to bring

something to tie or chain the gate closed. No more than two horses are allowed in each pen. The pens

seem to be on a first come first serve basis. The pens are not covered and there is no shade. You may

also bring portable panels or tie your horses to the trailer or tie to the outside of the pipe pens. The park

asks that you do not tie your horse to trees and that you do not leave your horse unattended. You may spread

manure.

The water pump and trough is in the middle of the horse camping area at Palo Duro State Park and there is also a water pump/facet by the horse pens as well.

The water pump and trough is in the middle of the horse camping area at Palo Duro State Park and there is also a water pump/facet by the horse pens as well.

Water: A water pump/facet is located directly in front of the horse pens and a second water pump is

located in the center of the equestrian campsite area along with a water trough. A second water trough

is also located in the day use equestrian parking area. I’d recommend you bring a water hose.

Picnic areas: Two picnic areas with tables and rustic wood awnings for shade are located at opposite

sides of the equestrian campsite. Each area has a fire ring.

This Picnic area with two picnic tables, a wooden awning, and a fire ring is at the horse camping area near the pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

This Picnic area with two picnic tables, a wooden awning, and a fire ring is at the horse camping area near the pens at Palo Duro Canyon.

This picnic area is close to the entrance of the horse camping area. It has one table and a fire ring.

This picnic area is close to the entrance of the horse camping area. It has one table and a fire ring.

 

Bathrooms/Showers: The equestrian campsite is primitive so there is no bathroom or shower at the

campsite. However a 1/3 mile walk or drive on a slight uphill to the Mesquite Camp Area will take you

to the closest bathroom/shower location. You are not allowed to ride your horse to this area.

Park Store: This state park has a store which provides some supplies , ice, souvenirs, and it has a small

restaurant which serves hamburgers and sandwiches.

eva-cave3

Eva, our Shepard mix at False Cave along the Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pets: Pets are allowed if kept on a leash no more than six feet in length. Pets are not allowed in the state park buildings. You are required to pick up your pet’s waste.

Pests: When the weather is warm be prepared for large biting flies. My fly spray seemed two work for about ten to fifteen minutes against these terrible critters. Some horses had less of a reaction to the bites than others. I could actually see the fly dig its awful head deep into my horse’s flesh. Angel was one of the horses that had a reaction to the bites. She had swollen welts which you can see in some of the pictures of her. I really regretted not having a fly sheet for her and I will not return to this location again during warm weather without one.

Cell Phone Coverage: There is no cell phone coverage on the canyon floor.  We had to drive back up out of the canyon to the park entrance for cell phone service.

Mileage: The park offers approximately 16-18 miles of designated equestrian trails. Trail riders are allowed only on the following trails – Equestrian Trail, Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail.

Trail Users: The trails are shared by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Equestrians are restricted to the Juniper Cliffside, Lighthouse, and Equestrian trails only.

Recommended Reading:
Trails & Tales of Palo Duro Canyon State Park
by Richard Lamaster


MAPS:

 

Please note that North is not at the top of this map but is at the bottom right corner.  The Equestrian Campsite/Area is at the south east end of the park.

Please note that North is not at the top of this map but is at the bottom right corner. The Equestrian Campsite/Area is at the south east end of the park. – Click map to enlarge  -

 

PDC trail map

Click this image to see the full size map.

Trail Markers: The Juniper Cliffside and Lighthouse trail (north trails) are decently marked but

the Equestrian Trail and its branches (south trails) are not marked.Finding the trailheads leading out of the

campsite was a challenge as there were no signs in the equestrian campsite to direct us to where the trails begin.

JC trail marker

Juniper Cliffside Trail Marker

Terrain: The ground consists of red gritty caliche, clay, and sandstone dirt that glitters in the sun. It is

rough and rocky in many areas of the park. Shoes/boots are recommended. There is little to no shade

along the trails.  The wind can kick up a lot of red dirt which manages to get everywhere. I was cleaning red dust

out of my LQ trailer for a while after returning home from our trip.

NETASA riding north on Juniper Cliffside trail.

NETASA riding north on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The Trails:

       North  Trails

The north trails (Juniper Cliffside and Lighthouse Trails) are a little less challenging and

decently marked with milder ups and downs.

Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

From the equestrian campsite the Juniper Cliffside Trail runs north approximately three miles and then

connects to Lighthouse Trail and is decently marked once you find it from the campsite. To get on this

trail leaving from the equestrian campsite go north to the equestrian day use area so that you are facing

the main park road, head left (northwest) from where the water trough is in the day use area and follow

the unmarked trail. From there you will come to the creek and make a slight right following the creek.

The creek will be on your left. From there you turn left before hitting the main road and cross the creek

near the main road, or if the bridge is completed on the main road you might be able to ride over the

bridge. During our visit in June of 2014 the bridge and main road was under construction here. After

crossing the creek stay to the left of the road and you will see the Juniper Cliffside trail sign which when

coming from the equestrian campsite goes northwest and is parallel to the main park road. This route

will eventually connect to Lighthouse Trail.

(See pictures below for an idea of how to get to the Juniper Cliffside trailhead from the equestrian campground and

day use area).

Heading to the Juniper Cliffside trail, the creek is on our left.

Heading to the Juniper Cliffside trail, the creek is on our left.

 

Crossing the creek near the bridge/road construction to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.  The best crossing seemed to be on the other side of the tree then through the creek near the new bridge construction.

Crossing the creek near the bridge/road construction to get to Juniper Cliffside trail. The best crossing seemed to be on the other side of the tree then through the creek near the new bridge construction.

 

Crossing the creek to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.

Crossing the creek to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.

 

After crossing the creek, on the left is the first trail sign for Juniper Cliffside trail when coming from the equestrian campsite.

After crossing the creek, on the left is the first trail sign for Juniper Cliffside trail when coming from the equestrian campsite.

Once you cross the creek (which has gentle sloping banks but can also be pretty boggy after a heavy rain) there

will be no more watering opportunities unless a heavy rain recently poured down on the park. This trail is marked

with wooden signs and blue metal steaks with “JC” and the mileage written on them.

curtis-horseback3

Curtis riding his American Indian Horse, Dragonfly, on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Juniper Cliffside Trail starts out grassy with lots of cedar and mesquite trees. However, the grass soon

disappears and there is very little to no shade for the remainder of the trail. Juniper Cliffside trail

consists of red clay, sand, and rocky patches. This one track trail weaves through hills along normally

dry creek beds and gullies. On Juniper Cliffside there are two wooden bridges which appear to be made

for hikers and not horses. I would not recommend riding over these bridges. The first bridge has a very easy

detour, just ride beside it and through the shallow dry creek. The second bridge is over a deep gully and requires

a short detour to the main park road to skirt around it.

This foot bridge can't be skirted around as the gully is too deep.  Ride to the main park road and along the park road for a short distance to get around this bridge.

This foot bridge can’t be skirted around as the gully is too deep. Ride to the main park road and along the park road for a short distance to get around this bridge.

Paul and Doreen are riding on the main park road to get around the foot bridge on Juniper Cliffside trail.

Paul and Doreen are riding on the main park road to get around the foot bridge on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

 

Curtis, Patricia, Paul, and Doreen in front of False Cave on Juniper Cliffside trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Curtis, Patricia, Paul, and Doreen in front of False Cave on Juniper Cliffside trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Once you get around this bridge you will ride by False Cave which is on the left. This is a high traffic area with

lots of little trails from the road to the cave. To stay on the main trail and follow the wooden posts. You will

pass the “Red’s Rock” sign, and you will pass other trails to your left that says no horses allowed and you will

pass the Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail sign on your left. In this area Juniper Cliffside runs very close to the

road. Juniper Cliffside trail ends or runs into an open area. This is the parking area for Lighthouse

Trail. Ride to your left on the edge of this parking area and you will see the sign for Lighthouse

trail, which also has a white mailbox with red writing that says “Take One.”

Riding north from the equestrian campground on Juniper Cliffside will take you to Lighthouse trail.  JC trail is almost three miles and dead ends into the Lighthouse trail parking area.  Go left at this junction through the parking area to get to the LH trail head.

Riding north from the equestrian campground on Juniper Cliffside will take you to Lighthouse trail. JC trail is almost three miles and dead ends into the Lighthouse trail parking area. Go left at this junction through the parking area to get to the LH trail head.

 

This is a picture of the Lighthouse trailhead when coming from the Lighthouse parking area.

This is a picture of the Lighthouse trailhead when coming from the Lighthouse parking area.

 

Lighthouse Trail is wider and provides no shade. This is a one way trail that is almost three miles,

making about a six mile round trip. Along this trail there are some wooden benches with wood awnings

for shade to rest if needed. Lighthouse trail is also more popular with hikers and bikers, most likely

because of the amazing views. Because I rode this trail on a very early Monday morning I was fortunate

not run into many other trail users.

LH Capitol Peak

View of Capitol Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

LH trail road

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

My recommendation is not to miss this trail; it is too gorgeous not to see. To get to Lighthouse Trail you will

either have to ride from the equestrian campsite up Juniper Cliffside Trail which is about three miles or you can

trailer to the day use Lighthouse Trail parking area. You will see several trail junctions but stay on the main

trail. Trail markers are wooden signs and bright green metal stakes marked with an “L” and the mileage.

Wooden trail sign along Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Wooden trail sign along Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

LH trail sign angel

Lighthouse trail marker with mileage.

 

Lighthouse Rock formation viewed from Lighthouse Trail.

Lighthouse Rock formation viewed from Lighthouse Trail.

Watch out for large holes on Lighthouse Trail due to washouts.

Watch out for large holes on Lighthouse Trail due to washouts.

 

Along this trail you will have amazing views of Capital Peak , Lighthouse, other rock formations, and the canyon.

You can even ride right up to the base of Capital Peak and see your shadow on this monumental mass of exposed

sedimentary rock.  The trail dead ends into a shady area which has a picnic table and bike rack. From here a narrow

hiking only trail that has several rocks across where it starts winds up to the Lighthouse formation. Regulars

informed me they have left their horses tied here so they could hike up to Lighthouse.

LH end of trail

I’d recommend if you want to do this to have one volunteer with you to stay behind with the horses. I did not get

to hike up this trail as I did not want to leave my horse tied up unattended. Park regulations also request that

you do not leave your horse unattended. So plan ahead and bring someone to look after the horses if you want to

explore this hiking trail and see Lighthouse up close.

Link to state park handout about the Light House Trail

 

Heading out on the southeastern Equestrian Trail.

Heading out on the southeastern Equestrian Trail with Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy.

South Trails

The terrain is fairly challenging along the Equestrian Trail south of the campsite. This trail opens

up to lots of additional unmarked branches and loops. You will have a few creek crossing to gain access

to additional trails. The creek in this part of the park is narrow and has steep banks for several of the

crossings, so it can be a challenge. During our visit it had just rained so it was also boggy. Be prepared

for some steep grades and rocky areas here. However, once you cross the creek and go through the hills

it opens up into a lovely flat meadow quite different from the rest of the park terrain.

Chris Shippy is navigating one of the Equestrian Trail creek crossings at Palo Duro Canyon.

Chris Shippy is navigating one of the Equestrian Trail creek crossings at Palo Duro Canyon.

Open grass meadow along the southeastern Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Open grass meadow along the southeastern Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

 

To get to these trails from the equestrian use area once you come to the creek go left/southeast with

the creek on your right. This will take you behind the horse pens and into a large area of unmarked

trails to explore, labeled as the Equestrian Trail on the maps, but there are no trail signs. You can also

get to these south trails by riding out of the campsite between the picnic area and the horse pens. This

area starts out very hilly. There are no trail markers in this area either. You will eventually also have

to find a safe place to cross the creek. If you get squeezed between the beautiful red canyon wall and

the creek on a trail which continues to become narrower and washed out then back track to find your

creek crossing. This area is gorgeous but I could not find a safe creek crossing and had to back track.

Fortunately riders who frequent these trails showed me where to cross.

pdc29a

Do not ride in this area if there is a chance of stormy weather, as the meadow and creeks can quickly flood during

a storm. There are indian pictographs in the hills and large rock formations you can use as landmarks. This

southeast side of the park is also where the Battle of Palo Duro occurred.

Unusual rock formations and boulders along the Equestrian Trail are not only gorgeous to look at but make good landmarks to mark the trail as well.

Unusual rock formations and boulders along the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park are not only gorgeous to look at but make good landmarks to mark the trail as well.

Chris and Christy Shippy take me to see Indian drawings which are located on the other side of this large rock off of the Equestrian Trail.  We also noticed there appeared to have been a small fire in this area.

Chris and Christie Shippy take me to see Indian drawings which are located on the other side of this large rock off of the Equestrian Trail. We also noticed there appeared to have been a small fire in this area.

 

You can see the red pictographs hiding in the shade of this huge rock.

You can see the red pictographs hiding in the shade of this huge rock.

 

Indian Pictographs off of the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Indian Pictographs off of the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Cactus Rock is another boulder type landmark that can be used to help you find your way along the Equestrian Trail.

Cactus Rock is another boulder type landmark that can be used to help you find your way along the Equestrian Trail.

 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park visitor's center view.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park visitor’s center view.

Trail Tale:

Riding at the Grand Canyon is a dream of mine and on my bucket list of places to see from between

my American Indian Horse’s black tipped ears. This past June, we hauled to the next best location, the

“Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro is the second largest state park in

Texas and the second largest canyon in the United States. Encompassing over eighteen thousand acres,

the park is 120 miles long and 800 feet deep. It is an eyeful of brilliant shimmering colors and geologic

wonders to behold; a stark contrast to the surrounding Llano Estacado. Entering Palo Duro Canyon for

the first time is a shocking experience of converging landscapes. As you easily cruise through the flat

treeless high Texas plains, also known as the Llano Estacado, then suddenly you find yourself descending

down a 10% grade from the canyon rim trying hard to watch the precarious road while your eyes tempt

you to sneak glances of the colorful canyon walls. Imagine the sheer force of water, Praire Dog Town

Fork of the Red River to be exact; creating such artistry out of what once was a little gully.

behind the pens

The name “Palo Duro” is Spanish for hard wood, which Native Americans used to make arrows from

Juniper tree branches in the canyon. The park’s history was a big draw for our little riding club (NETASA)

of Spanish Mustang/American Indian Horse enthusiasts. Arriving on a full moon was carefully planned

in hopes of witnessing the legend of Indian Horse spirits running free through their canyon home on

moonlit nights. These mustangs were massacred in the Red River War. Over one thousand Southern

Plains Indian mounts were shot dead by order of Colonel Ranald Mackenzie of the Fourth U. S. Cavalry

after the battle of Palo Duro Canyon in September of 1874. Our full moon arrival also happened to land

on Friday the 13th.

Red Sky

On this evening the skies turned a vicious red and ominous clouds hid all celestial

bodies after we settled in at the Canyon’s floor. We saw no full moon that night. Unfortunately, our

friends were riddled with bad luck; flat tires, a fender bender, and a distraught U joint on their journey

from east Texas. To top it off, as they descended into the stormy canyon their trailer awning was

partially ripped off by strong winds. The night was full of lightening, thunder, and rain. My thoughts of

being on the canyon floor during a storm were a little unnerving. In the early morning hours the weather

cleared and a full moon beamed proudly just above the canyon’s rim. The moon’s glow was true and full

for all to see the remainder of our stay. During the nights at Palo Duro, I heard a frightening rush of wind

pouring down from the rim and crashing into the canyon walls creating an eerie sound, unlike I’ve ever

heard. Could it be the Indian Horse spirits or was it just the wind?

JC heading out

NETASA riding club heading north to Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Saturday morning after being treated to a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage we were ready

to hit the trails despite the slippery red mud from the previous night’s rain. Temperatures were

uncharacteristically low for the month of June due to the blessed rain. Finding the trails leading out

of camp was a bit tricky as there are no markers or signage from the equestrian area. Our horses

were fresh and ready to get moving due to the abnormal crisp air and were frustrated with our lack of

direction. We soon learned that in order to get anywhere, a creek crossing was inevitable. The hard rains

made this normally simple task a challenge as the creek banks consisted of thick mud. I dismounted

and trudged through the mud to find a safe crossing. During our stay conditions improved and our sure

footed American Indian Horses prevailed. That first day we explored Juniper Cliffside trail which runs

north from camp along Red Mesa.

group-trail3a

Sunset ride on Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

 

On Sunday morning I had the pleasure of tagging along with Palo Duro regulars, Chris and Christie

Shippy, who showed me the rugged unmarked southwest trails of “The Equestrian Trail”. We rode

through the hills and up to Cactus Rock, which is one huge specimen of a rock with a head of cactus.

Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy, show us the trails.

Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy, show us the trails.

They took me near Tub Springs to see faded Native American Pictographs which were almost hidden

in the shadows along the bottom of a large boulder. Near the end of our ride we rode to a grass filled

meadow which the horses truly enjoyed. Christie is also one of the talented wranglers in “TEXAS”, an

outdoor musical production in Pioneer Theater. I’d recommend making time to see this show while

visiting. The outdoor theater with its natural 600 foot canyon wall is what makes all the visual effects

a great success. That night we watched Christie in the spot light gallop her horse down the canyon

wall with ease while carrying the Texas Flag. Be prepared for heart pumping canon fire and brilliant

fireworks.

The stage of Texas, a musical drama which runs during the summers in the Pioneer Amphitheater at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The stage of Texas, a musical drama which runs during the summers in the Pioneer Amphitheater at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Christie’s family also helped improve one of the creek crossings and helped out one of our NETASA

members who had a trailer problem. Also camping in the park was Doug and Claudia Sloan. Doug is

an animal wrangler and stuntman who has worked on over 40 films. A better group of fellow campers

would have been hard to come by.

An early morning view from Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Gorgeous early morning view from Lighthouse Trail, notice the moon is still out (upper right corner of the photo).

 

Admiring Capital Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.   To the left is a hoodoo, a a tall, thin spire of rock which typically consist of soft rock topped by harder stone. They generally form within sedimentary rock formations.

Admiring Capital Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. To the left is a hoodoo, a a tall, thin spire of rock which typically consist of soft rock topped by harder stone. Hoodoos generally form within sedimentary rock formations.

My favorite ride was on Monday morning. Everyone was packing up to head home. Fortunately, I was

able to get a few extra vacation days which meant we had one more full day at the park! At dawn, Angel

and I headed out solo up Juniper Cliff to Lighthouse Trail. The sun bathed, Capital Peak and Lighthouse

rock formations as the moon still hung translucent in the blue sky. Angel and I shared the trail with

the park’s natural inhabitants; only until our ride back to camp did we bump into a few park visitors. I

believe Angel enjoyed the peaceful ride and scenery as much as I did. I felt a strong connection with her

as we enjoyed our freedom on the trail. Riding during the magic hours of dawn brilliantly highlighted the

canyon as sun rays projected onto colorful million year old layers of geological history.

Angel reads about the the sedimentary layers of Capitol Peak off Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Angel reads about the the sedimentary layers of Capitol Peak off Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Lighthouse trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Angel and I returned in time to say good bye to our friends before they began their journey home. That

hot afternoon I took our dog Eva to explore False Cave and play in the creek. Chris relocated the trailer

to the best spot in camp and we had the entire place to ourselves. I took Angel out for one last ride

to explore the nearby south Equestrian Trail. Chris and our dog LB tagged along for a while but then

turned back at the creek crossing.

Equestrian Trail creek crossing, located behind the equestrian campsite pens.

Equestrian Trail creek crossing, located behind the equestrian campsite pens.

 

Equestrian Trail creek at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian Trail creek at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Angel hopped over the narrow steep banked creek and we followed it down to a dead end. This side of the stream came

to a red canyon wall and we either had to cross once more or head back. It was peacefully quiet here and a thick

grove of mesquite and oak trees lined the canyon wall. A strange feeling came over me as Angel grassed by the

creek. The sun was setting and it was time to head back. Angel became full of energy and at every break in the

trail she opted to try and take the route which lead back to the canyon wall instead of our campsite. I wanted to

explore more as well but we could not be out alone on unknown trails in the dark. It seemed something was really pulling

Angel back down the trail. At every turn I had to give a little extra push with my aids to keep Angel back on track

to camp. I could not help but wonder if she was feeling the spirits of her ancestors and was that why I also had

such as strange stirred up feeling inside. Later I learned we were very near the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon

which took place on the southeast end of the park.

JC Angel's ears

View between Angel’s black tipped ears as we ride north up Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Palo Duro Canyon offers approximately 16-18 miles of designated equestrian trails. Trail riders are

allowed only on the following trails – Equestrian Trail, Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail.

All of the trails are spectacular in regards to scenery. Although the campsite is primitive and the biting

summer flies are persistent, don’t miss an opportunity to visit Palo Duro Canyon, as the scenery far

outweighs any small annoyances.

Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River is the main tributary of the Red River and one of the main water forces that slowly carved Palo Duro Canyon into what it is today.  This Photo was taken from The   Equestrian Trail.

Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River is the main tributary of the Red River and one of the main water forces that slowly carved Palo Duro Canyon into what it is today. This Photo was taken from The Equestrian Trail.

 

 

Day3LongHaley

Website: www.lajitasgolfresort.com

Contacts:

Lajitas Equestrian Center #432/424-5000 (x5170)

Maverick Ranch RV Park #432/424-5180

Email:

Lajitas Golf Resort – contact@lajitasgolfresort.com

Lajitas Equestrian Center – mdial@lajitasgolfresort.com

Maverick Ranch RV Park – rvpark2@lajitasgolfresort.com

Location: Lajitas, TX –off of Main Street / FM 170 – this is a small town so you can’t miss it.  The Equestrian center is on the south side of the road and the RV park is on the north side of the road.

Entrance Sign

Directions:

Lajitas is approximately 100 miles south of Alpine, TX. From Alpine follow TX 118 South about 80 miles into the Study Butte / Terlingua junction.  Turn right on FM 170 and continue 14 miles into Lajitas.  You will first see the Equestrian Center on your left (look for the large sign and white fences) and the RV park will be next on the right (before the cemetery), and then the resort is on your left.

MavRanchEntrance

Camping:  You can board your horses at the Lajitas Equestrian Center and camp overnight at the Maverick RV Park or stay at the Lajitas Resort – all facilities are a part of the Lajitas Golf Resort.

Facilities:

Barn

For the Horses:  Lajitas Equestrian Center offers boarding to visitors who wish to bring their own horses to ride the trails of Lajitas or ride in Big Bend Ranch State Park.  You can board your horse in the barn which offers 12×12 pipe stalls or if space allows you can board your horse in one of their paddocks.  The barn is covered, has ceiling fans, and is open on all four sides.  The stalls have rubber mats and metal hay racks hanging on the pipe panels.  The barn also has wash racks, a tack room, a bathroom, and an office. Boarders can also make use of the large covered arena (the arena is not lighted) and covered round pen.  There is a staff residence at the Equestrian Center which means a staff member is present at the center almost 24 hours a day and they will contact you if there are any concerns about your horse.  One of the horses in our group was sun bathing in his stall but staff were concerned that he was possibly colicy – they could not reach us by phone due to the poor cell phone service so the manager, Mark Dial, drove over to our campsite and tracked down the owner.  She explained that her horse normally likes to nap during that time of day but to be safe we checked on him and all was fine.  It is a good feeling to board your horse at a facility that truly watches out for the horse’s welfare!  I was thoroughly impressed. There are extra fees for shavings.  You can clean your own stall or pay extra to have staff clean the stall.  Next time I visit I’ll pay extra to have my stall cleaned as there was not enough wheel barrows or manure containers which made the job difficult. That is my only complaint about the facility –hopefully they will purchase more wheel barrows.  Also be prepared to fill out several forms and releases at arrival when planning to keep your horse here, you might ask ahead of time to have these forms e-mailed over.  After a long haul, the last thing you want to deal with is paperwork.

Parking

For the people: You and yours can either camp in your LQ trailer, RV, or tent at the Maverick Ranch RV Park or you can live it up and stay at the Lajitas Resort.  Please see the website for details about the resort rooms, as I did not stay there, but I did explore the resort grounds and found them to be beautiful. We stayed at the RV park.  The RV park has 30 & 50 AMP / water / septic hookups.  You can bring your dogs with you to the RV Park but they must remain on leash.  The park has a nice view, especially if you are in the sites furthest to the back towards the east.  There is no shade in this RV park. Some sites allow campfires. The community center offers guests a spacious air conditioned / heated area to eat, watch movies, use the restroom, take a long hot shower, or wash your clothes. Behind the club house is a patio and swimming pool. The RV park advertises internet access, Wi-Fi, and cable.  At the camp site we occupied, #27, we were unable to obtain these amenities, however, Wi-Fi and internet access was slow but accessible at the community center. Most of the RV sites are pull throughs and spacious, making it easy to park a large rig.

Resort

Officer’s Quarters – resort rooms, at Lajitas.

Pets:  Pets are allowed at the RV park but must be kept on leash. Unknown if pets are allowed at the resort.

Cell Phone Coverage: Very poor to none depending on where you are in the RV park or at the Equestrian Center.  On the trail cell phone coverage is either non-existent or extremely poor.

Fees (subject to change, please call for the most up to date rates):

Equestrian Center – $15 a night per stall or $20 a night per paddock – extra charges for using the center’s shavings and having staff clean out your stall.  $150 a day for a guide/wrangler to show you the trails.

Maverick Ranch RV Park – $39 a night for hookups ($35 a night if you are a state employee, AAA, AARP, or Sam’s Club member).

Big Bend Ranch State Park  / Barton Warnock Visitor Center – $5 entrance fee & $2 equestrian use fee.  If you plan on riding from the Equestrian Center into Big Bend State Park, first check in at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center to show proof of Coggins and pay your state park use fees. We drove over the day before riding into the park to take care of our fees and obtain an entrance permit.  You can also get maps, trail advise, hats, t-shirts, etc… at the visitor center.

Big Bend National Park – I was told by the Lajitas Equestrian Center staff that you can ride into the national park from the equestrian center, however, riding is not allowed there and they said you can be ticketed for this.   I called BBNP – 432/477-2251 – wait for your extension options and then press #3 to hear a long recorded message about pets and livestock.  If you can get through the pet section of this recording you will hear them say horses are allowed in certain areas of the National Park.  I am sure you will have to check in first and pay fees before riding into the park.  The check in center is most likely not very close to the Lajitas Equestrian Center. Please call the National Park for details.   I imagine what the staff is referring to is if you ride into the park without a permit you could be ticketed – also horses are not allowed in all areas of the National Park.  I have not taken horses into the National Park myself so I have no firsthand information on Big Bend National Park.  www. nps.gov/bibe

Mileage:  There is no need to trailer out from the Equestrian Center when you can just ride out the front gate.  From the Equestrian Center you can easily ride your horse just half a mile to get into Big Bend Ranch State Park accessing miles and miles of trails or you can ride the trails in Lajitas (Lajitas Golf Resort Trail System) which offers approximately 20 miles of trails.

Maps:

LajitasTrailMapBig

Trail Markers:

Lajitas Golf Resort Trail System is mainly marked by numbers.  The trail markers are infrequent.

Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP) is mostly marked infrequently with wooden or metal signs.

Day2TrailSign2

 

Terrain: In this region of Texas the ground surface is mostly rocky with some sandy areas mostly found in dry creek beds.  Shoes or boots for your horse is highly recommended.  The trail difficulty level can vary from easy flat jeep roads to extremely rugged single track trails.  Water sources can be scarce as well, so keep this in mind when planning out your route.

Day2Opening

Day2restAngelWhat to bring on trail: Pack plenty of water for yourself and if possible some for your horse as well.  You can carry a great deal of water in a hydration backpack such as a Camelback or Geigerrig. You may also want to bring area maps, and a collapsible bucket to water your horse with. Due to the remoteness of the land I’d also recommend a dual human/horse first aid kit, rain jacket, hat and/or helmet, flash light, matches, knife, hoof pick, sunblock, and extra food/snacks. I also brought an external charged battery for my i-phone.  Cell phone service is poor to non-existent but in a few high areas you can get spotty service plus I had maps down loaded on my iHikeGPS  i-phone application that I could access through satellite without cell phone service.  Due to the rugged terrain it would also be a good idea to bring an extra horse boot to use if a shoe comes off or if you are using boots on your horse, one could easily become damaged.

Trail Users: The trails in this area are shared by hikers, off road bicyclists, and equestrians. Motorized vehicles are also allowed in some areas such as the two track jeep trails.

Day2View2

Description / Trail Tale:

Captivating rugged landscapes called me back to ring in a second New Year in Big Bend country. I brought in 2013 by exploring the Big Bend Trails in Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP) at the centrally located Sauceda Headquarters and Bunkhouse.  New Year’s 2014 trail riding adventure brought me back to this desolate South Texas land eager to explore remote and rugged territories aboard my sure footed Spanish Mustang/American Indian Horse, Angel.  Ringing in the New Year in Big Bend is becoming a tradition for me.

GroupGoodDay1

 

This year we went to Lajitas, boarding our horses at the Lajitas Equestrian Center and camping at the Maverick Ranch RV Park.  Lajitas provides access to their Golf Resort Trail System and to the south entrance of Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Our small group consisted of myself, my husband, and three of my riding buddies; Carol with her Appaloosa Bug, Beth with her Tennessee Walker Patience, and Haley with her paint Jake. Haley and Beth arrived a day ahead of us and were able to explore the local Lajitas Golf Resort Trail System.  The following day they took us out on these trails and I was surprised how many trails branch out of town. This trail system has approximately 20 miles worth of trails, some of which are dirt roads while others are rugged and offer spectacular views.  There is no charge for riding this trail system on your own horse. The trail markers are infrequent and if unfamiliar with the area it would not be hard to get turned around.  Two days of our stay consisted of exploring this trail system.  I did not get to ride each one of the trails, but out of what I did ride my favorite was #5 which climbs up a mesa and follows along the top ridge line providing an amazing view.  As far as wildlife goes we did spot what appeared to be big cat tracks, saw a tarantula crossing a gravel road, spotted hawks, mountain goats, and saw signs of Javalinas.  The oddest sight was stumbling onto the green of the Lajitas golf course while riding amongst cacti in desert terrain.  I could not help but wonder what an amazing amount of water it must take to maintain the turf… an out of place sight no doubt.  The Lajitas Equestrian Center has a string of trail horses so if you don’t have your own horse you can still go on a trail ride in this area. They also put on Stargazer Mesa Dinners and overnight rides. Their horses were in good condition and looked to be well cared for.  The manager of the center and all “cowboy” activities, Mark Dial, is a knowledgeable equestrian with a strong  back ground in AERC, USEF, and also worked as an equine therapist and chiropractor.

Day2MarkTikki2

On New Year’s Eve we celebrated with dinner at La Kiva in Terlingua and enjoyed live music by The Fabulous Vortexans.  The food and music was great and the place packed. The drive from Lajitas to Terlingua is not bad.  Beth and Haley opted to try the Lajitas Resort New Year’s Eve dinner, steak and shrimp, a bit pricy for us but my friends reported it was well worth it as the food and service was great.  On our way home Chris and I were sure we had spotted several unidentified flying objects.  Bright orange glowing orbs were slowly ascending into space.  I thought maybe they were the Marfa lights.  However, when driving into the RV park we got a good laugh after discovering the beautiful floating objects were sky lanterns launched to bring in the New Year by another group of RV visitors.  What a sight they were, I’d never seen them before. We did not stay out too late as our big ride into the state park was planned for New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s day we planned a trip into Big Bend Ranch State Park and booked a wrangler from the Equestrian Center to guide us.  We got lucky to have the manager, Mark Dial, as our wrangler for the day. Mark led us from the Equestrian center into the state park which was an easy half mile ride.  From there he took us on a twenty mile round trip journey from the East Contrabando Trailhead to the Whit-Roy Mine Ruins.  The day was beautifully clear and started out in the chilly mid-30s but quickly climbed up to a warm mid-70s in the afternoon.  We peeled the layers off and the horses were sweaty beneath their furry thick winter hair. There is little to no shade in this land full of cacti, creosote, ocotillo, and sotol. Trees are few and far between in this section of the state park.  Mark shared some of the park’s history as we rode along, to include the Wax Factory Laccolith which used Candelilla plants to make wax and old quicksilver (also known as mercury or cinnabar) mines such as the Whit-Roy Mine.

Day2MiningTown

The Whit-Roy mine ruins served as a perfect resting spot.  Most of this area consisted of old mine ruins and housing for the miners and their families.  A water trough in the corner of the corral had clean water which the horses were eager to gulp down; this was the first and only water for the horses on our trip in the state park. The creek beds were all dry.  The Whit Roy dining hall has been restored along with the outhouse and corral.  The quicksilver boom basically dried up in the 1960s and most of the mines were closed.  Be sure to stay clear of the actual mine sites, we observed these from a distance, as they are great habitats for rattlers and the ground near the mine is unstable and dangerous.

Day2Corral

While we finished our packed lunches under the shade of the old dinning hall’s front porch ramada, our horses rehydrated and had a nice rest.

Day2WaterAngel

 

Before leaving, Haley hopped off Jake to check out one of the old living quarter mine ruins but Jake wanted to see too, so he poked his head into the doorway.

Day2JakeCurious

 

 

We concluded our Whit-Roy exploring; it was time to head back.  After mounting up I took another long look at the old mining town and just a bit further out I saw the huge Wax Factory Laccolith rising out of the land like some crazy foreign object.  The most impressive site for me is the Big Bend country itself, God’s unique South Texas creation, nothing is comparable.  It is a harsh rugged land for miles and miles, beautifully vast and wild.

Day2DownHill

We set aside a day to drive along the famously beautiful FM 170, also known as El Camino Del Rio. Be prepared to make several stops and have your camera ready to capture roadside photo worthy vistas, such as La Cuesta (The Hill).   Don’t expect to travel fast, as the FM 170 fifty mile stretch of curves between Lajitas and Presidio has some of the steepest paved grades in Texas, La Cuesta is a 15% grade – I do not recommend this route for hauling horses.   La Cuesta is approximately 12 miles west of Lajitas.

MovieSetChurch

For fans of the Lonesome Dove saga, don’t miss seeing the Contrabando movie set off El Camino Del Rio where scenes from Streets of Larado and Dead Man’s Walk where shot.  The eye catching sets sit just off the Rio Grande.  Right off FM 170 about half way between Presidio and Lajitas is also Closed Canyon, the hike entrance is just a few minutes’ walk from the road and leads into a 15 foot wide slot Canyon with 150 foot high walls.  The Canyon eventually leads into the Rio Grande, but most people turn around before that due to steep drop offs and dangerous terrain.  We did not do this hike but I heard the hike to get into the Canyon is easy and the view is worth the effort… next time.

view

Other Activities in Lajitas outside of horseback riding include, golfing, stargazing, hiking, biking, exploring, fishing, rafting the Rio Grande, being pampered at the resort, etc…..  There is plenty to do in this area of Texas, above is just a small list of possibilities.  I’m looking forward to 2015 New Year’s adventures and expect to be back in Big Bend Country to ring in 2015.

More Pictures!

Horse Facilities:

overview

Paddocks

Lajitas Equestrian Center barn stalls.

 

arena

Lajitas Equestrian Center covered arena.

CoveredArena

Inside the arena.

Paddock

Lajitas Equestrian Center paddocks.

String

Lajitas Equestrian Center trail horse string – ready to head out.

BarnView

View from inside of the barn.

Maverick Ranch RV Park

 

 

 

ParkSign

Location: Dripping Springs (near Austin, TX)

Address: 23610 Hamilton Road, Dripping Springs, TX 78620

Contact:512/264-1923

Website: https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/reimers-ranch

Directions: From the intersection of Ranch Road 12 and Hamilton Pool Road, going northwest on Hamilton Pool Road it is five miles to the park entrance road which will be on your right if you are going northwest on Hamilton Pool Road.

Equestrian Camping: None

Equestrian Trailhead: After going through the park entrance gate house stay on the paved park road, the road is curvy so go slow. I did not see a sign for the trailer parking / equestrian trailhead, but it is on the right behind a metal barn structure.  The trailer parking area at the equestrian trailhead is mostly dirt, with very little gravel.  The parking is also not large but you can park a big rig there so long as there are not too many rigs parked.

Barn

Horse trailer parking is on the other side of this metal barn. There is not a sign for the equestrian trailhead / parking area.

BarnParking

At the end of our ride, we are heading to the water trough on the other side of the barn.

Parking

The horse trailer parking area is not spacious but large trailers can be accommodated so long as there are not too many equestrian visitors.

Parking3

I had no problem parking my two horse trailer, but I did have to back up some to get out. There were a total of five trailers when I visited in Feb. 2014.

Parking4

This side of the trailer parking area is the farthest from the metal barn and was empty during my visit. It is possible you could get blocked in depending on how everyone else parks. However, I don’t think this park gets overly crowded with equestrians, so that possibility is unlikely. This is a popular park for off road cyclists.

Fees: $10 per vehicle and $2 per trailer

Facilities:At the equestrian trail head and trailer parking area there is a water facet and water trough under the barn awning. There are two picnic tables close to the barn under the trees. There are no other facilities in this area. However, if you continue just a short distance west on the main park road there is a pavilion and restroom facilities on the left.

Water

The water trough is located under the shade of the barn awning.

WaterAngel

The water in the horse trough was clear and clean! Angel enjoyed a long cool drink of what appeared to be fresh clean water. I’d recommend dismounting for your horse to drink here, as the awning is low.

Mileage: 4-5 miles of equestrian trails. I used my MotionX iPhone application to clock our miles.  Riding clockwise and taking Turkey Loop,  MotionX  reported the mileage as 5.11 miles.  On our second ride out we rode counter clockwise and skipped Turkey Loop, MotionX documented this ride as 4.35 miles.

Map:

MiltonReimersParkMap

Trail Users: The majority of trails at this park are for hikers and off road bikers only. However, equestrians may share the multi use 4-5 mile trail with hikers and mountain bikers. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trails with the exception of the park rangers.

Trail Signs: Overall the Multi-use equestrian trail is easy to follow and fairly well marked by wooden signs with horseshoe symbols.

Caroline&Carol

Trailhead trail marker sign just behind the trailer parking area near the metal barn. Carol on Bug and Caroline on Jack returning from our second ride out.

GroupSign

The trails are well marked and easy to follow. If it says multi-use and/or has a horseshoe symbol then you are on the right trail.

TurkeyLoop

Taking Turkey Loop will add approximately one mile to your overall distance covered.

Terrain: The terrain on the multi-use equestrian trail is mostly a flat level sandy clay like surface with very few rocky areas. The terrain is not challenging but does provide wide open views of the hill country.  I only saw one water source, a creek, along the trail but the trail did not directly lead to the creek and it would have been steep and full of brush to try and get down into the creek. The Equestrian multi-use trail does not provide access to the Pedernales River. According to the map, from Turkey loop (northeast side of the park) a trail breaks off and does go to an overlook near the river.  This part of the trail is marked as a primitive hiking trail and is unfortunately not part of the equestrian multi-use trail.

Cell Phone Service: Good

SignTrail

Description: 

Milton Reimers Ranch in Dripping Springs, TX is part of the Travis County Park System and is the largest parkland acquisition in the history of Travis County, totaling 2,427 acres according to the Travis County Parks’ website.  This park is well known to mountain bikers and rock climbers providing 18 miles of bike and hike only trails with extremely challenging terrain. The park is fairly new to equestrians and contains a 4-5 mile multi-use trail which allows horses!   That is not a lot of trail when compared to the park’s size, but it is progress considering how many parks do not allow equestrian use at all.

Although the trail is marked for multi-use, it is primarily used by equestrians.  Don’t let the concerns of extremely challenging terrain and the thought of frequent encounters with off road bikers deter you from visiting this park with your horse.  During my visit I saw two or three bikers at most.  Riders who frequent the park state that bikers rarely use the equestrian multi-use trail due to the lack of challenging terrain. When I did a Google search on the park, all sorts of bike videos and comments were found on how fun, challenging, and difficult the rocky terrain is at this park. This may be the case for the 18 miles of bike trails but it is not so with regard to the horse trail.

The equestrian multi-use trail is wide (two track) with no tight spots and would mostly likely work well for horse drawn carriages and carts.  The terrain is flat and non-challenging.  Furthermore the surface of this trail is mostly sandy clay dirt with very few rocks; my horse did not need to wear her boots. The land is wide open with lots of space on both sides of the trail and very few shady areas. The wide open trails also give  you room to do some technical work with your horse such as circles, circling other riders, serpentines, working on getting passed and being passed, and other maneuvers not easily done on a tight single track trail.  My mare is very forward and would prefer to be in front all of the time, so taking advantage of the open space to do these exercises and changing positions from being last, being in the middle, and being in front is a great way to improve our trail etiquette.  For these reasons the wide open space is a plus for me and having equestrian friends to ride with who put up with me doing all this is an added bonus as well.  A negative for me in regards to this park is the distance from my home versus the limited trail mileage, but if you live nearby or prefer to ride a shorter distance, then you just might love this park.

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