By Lauren Allen
When is the last time you took your horse on a trail ride? The Carolinas are home to an astonishing variety of terrain, ranging from winding mountain tracks to sandy gallops through the surf. There are many miles of glorious riding paths to enjoy, and riding out has benefits far beyond taking in the scenery. Trail riding can sharpen your skills, build partnership with your mount and improve both your own and your horse’s mental and physical health. If you aren’t lucky enough to have bridlepaths at your riding facility, you can often trailer to the trails. In some places, you can even rent a suitable horse and take a guided ride. Here is a quick survey of some of the best places in the Carolinas for horseback riders to visit.
Many riders avail themselves of the generous offerings in the North and South Carolina State and National Park system.
In South Carolina, Kings Mountain State Park in Blacksburg has 15 equestrian campsites and 30 miles of riding trails that range from rolling hills to rocky outcroppings that boast spectacular views of the Piedmont region.
Lee State Park in Bishopville, South Carolina offers seven miles of trails, featuring forested and swampy scenery in the Sandhills region. There is also equestrian camping, and a stable and show ring available for rental.
H. Cooper Black Jr. Memorial Field Trial and Recreation Area in Cheraw, South Carolina has 27 equestrian campsites available, and a stable with 24 stalls. There are more than 20 miles of trails with sand roads, and a show arena.
Hunting Island State Park in Beaufort County, South Carolina offers horseback riding on the beach. The equestrian beach has over four miles of coastal beach available for riding in the months of December, January and February each year, with the purchase of a permit for $25 per horse. Ranger recommendations are to consult the tide schedule in order to ride at low tide.
For more information on riding at a South Carolina state park, call 866-345-PARK or go online to SouthCarolinaParks.com. A current negative Coggins is required at all parks in South Carolina.
In North Carolina, the DuPont State Recreational Forest in Cedar Mountain, near Asheville, welcomes equestrians on almost all of its multi-use trails, with mountainous terrain featuring streams and waterfalls. Riders must be prepared to encounter bicyclists and trail hikers.
The Pisgah National Forest, also at the western edge of North Carolina, links 500,000 acres of hardwood forest with Tennessee and Virginia, and features whitewater rivers and waterfalls. Pisgah welcomes horseback riding and camping, and Pisgah Forest Stables offers a variety of trail riding experiences on their horses during the season. Trails are open to mountain bikers and hikers, so be prepared for company.
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park is in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are approximately 25 miles of wide, winding trails open for horseback riding and carriage driving, and riders can make arrangements to camp at the adjacent Blowing Rock Equestrian Preserve.
For more information about North Carolina National Parks visit NPS.gov/state/nc/index.htm
For more information about trail riding destinations in North Carolina, visit Ride North Carolina: nchorsecouncil.com/ride-north-carolina
Private Equestrian Preserves
Broxton Bridge Plantation in Ehrhardt, in the Lowcountry county of Bamberg, South Carolina features over 6,000 acres of riding trails through pine forests and following the Salkehatchie River. The plantation has been in the Varn family for 11 generations and, according to the owner, Gerhard Varn, the peak season for trail riding there starts in the fall and goes into the crisp winter days. Each trail is well maintained, and the sandy footing provides excellent drainage. Paths are wide enough for two horses to enjoy winding through the hardwood forests and around cotton fields. The plantation also hosts competitive endurance rides several times a year at the national and international level. For more information go to BroxtonBridge.com
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina offers two options: bring your own horse or ride one of theirs. The Biltmore Equestrian Center has an equestrian trail system that runs throughout the estate, and is almost entirely exclusive to horseback riders. According to the director of equestrian activities, Elizabeth McLean, there are 80 miles of trails open daily, with an additional 40 miles of competition trails on the west range of the estate that are used for endurance rides and trail competitions.
“Our trails vary from generally flat, wide paths along the French Broad River, to rolling hills and single track as you head out of the river valley. They can also offer a variety of experiences, depending on whether you’d like a quiet ride in a more secluded part of the estate, or the sweeping views of the Biltmore House.”
The “Ride Biltmore” program is for riders who wish to bring their own horses. Riders may purchase a one-day, five-day, or annual equestrian pass. Primitive camping and several stabling options are available for overnight guests. Discounts are offered to annual equestrian pass holders and guests who are staying at one of the estate’s lodging options.
Guests also have the possibility of guided trail rides or carriage rides with estate-owned horses at Deerpark Carriage and Trail Ride Barns. “Our trail herd consists mostly of draft crosses or quarter horse varieties. Our carriage horses are all Belgian draft horses,” says Elizabeth McLean. The full list of offerings and prices can be found on the website: Biltmore.com
A relatively new option is the Western Experience: Spy Coast Farm at Tryon International. Tryon International Equestrian Center is situated on 1,600 beautiful acres at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tryon, North Carolina. Visitors can now book opportunities to ride experienced trail horses through the rolling forests and even through the Green River. Two one-hour-long rides a day are scheduled at 9:00 AM and 1:00 PM, and the maximum party is 12 riders. Joshua Orvin, who is the events coordinator at Tryon International, tailors the rides to the needs of the group.
Riders in Tryon vary from seasoned competitors who are showing at the facility and want to share an enjoyable horse experience with their whole family, to, for example, the staff of an area doctor’s office enjoying a company retreat. Orvin describes the Spy Coast horses as “top notch” and says that the groups meet at the General Store at Tryon International to sign waivers, then head off together in a shuttle van to the Spy Coast Farm stable nearby. From there, they embark on their rides with three or four stable hands along as guides. The trails are wide open and sometimes touch on Tryon’s spectacular international cross country course. Visit Tryon.com for more information.
The Walthour-Moss Foundation in Southern Pines, North Carolina stewards approximately 4,000 acres of unspoiled woodlands. The preserve is a sanctuary for wildlife and is well known for its sandhill trails that welcome equestrian riders and drivers. Riders must sign a waiver and carry a cell phone, and the preserve is open daily from sunrise to sunset. For more information visit walthour-moss.org
The Hitchcock Woods in Aiken, South Carolina is a historic 2,100-acre haven for equestrians dating back to the days of Aiken’s winter colony in the 1900s. The Hitchcock Woods Foundation manages the property, which is the largest privately owned urban forest in the country, and riders and carriage drivers are welcome during the daytime hours, as long as they stay on the beautiful pine woods trails and in control of their horses. Groups of ten or more must register with the foundation in advance at 803-642-0528. For more information about hours and where to park, visit the website hitchcockwoods.org
Camden Hunt Country in Camden, South Carolina is the territory of the state’s second oldest foxhunt: an approximately 10,000-acre preserve set aside for equestrian use. Terrain is predominantly pine woods with sandy footing, with a few swampy low spots to traverse. There are jumps scattered throughout (and a path to ride around each one.) Visitors may ride on the trails by paying an “occasional rider subscription” available at $12 per ride for up to five rides per year. Release waivers and negative Coggins must be on file with the Camden Hunt. Visit camdenhunt.com for more information.
Trail riders interested in group rides and camping can also visit JudgesRideList.com for an ongoing list of organized trail rides in the Southeast – there are one or two almost every weekend throughout the year.
Be Safe and Be Smart
Be sure that you have adequately prepared for the trail you are about to take. Will there be traffic, hikers, bicyclists? Have you trained your horse to encounter these potential spook triggers? Practice getting your horses confident encountering a variety of moving vehicles, and be sure to school them in crossing water before you are in a situation where you have a river crossing.
Ride with a friend and a fully charged cellphone, and bring a map—you may even be able to use an online mapping app like AllTrails on your phone, to help find your way around . . . and most important, back to your trailer.
Packing a small first aid kit is a good idea. Wear a helmet, maybe also a safety vest. Is there a tag on your tack and a way to identify your horse if you somehow part company? Do you have a way to water your horse? Don’t just count on your unicorns drinking from a river if they have only seen water buckets their whole life! Be sure to have a bucket of water back at the trailer if your ride is long.
Most important, clean up after yourself and your horse. Being a good guest on the trails is the best way to help make sure these beautiful places continue to welcome equestrians in this ever more urban world.