Photo by James Emery
Despite the effects of urban sprawl, Southern California maintains hundreds of miles of excellent horseback riding trails. From the ocean to the desert and everywhere in between, you can find maps and general descriptions of numerous equestrian trails on LA Trails, a website that serves hikers, bikers, and horseback riders alike.
For the more adventurous, Trail Source is another excellent source of equestrian trail information for not just Southern California but the whole country. It’s a a pay subscription service that offers a lot of information including lodging, trail maps, detailed descriptions and maps to trail heads for a fairly inexpensive price.
A couple of local parks with easy trail access and a wide variety of terrain are the Sunland/Lakeview Terrace area near Hansen Dam and Happy Camp, located in Moorpark. Be advised, however, that both parks areas can have steep terrain. Research the trail you plan on taking to be sure that you and your horse are up to it.
By far the closest and most accessible hub of equestrian trails can be found in the heart of the city in historic Griffith Park. There are over two-dozen trails from a quarter of a mile to four miles long. The names vary, from sounding like they were yanked right out of a western movie like the Mineral Wells Trail to the more bland Old Zoo Trail, they wind through the more than 4,000 acres that make up Griffith Park. Since 1896 equestrians have been able to wind through shady canyons and give their horses a chance to graze and have a cool drink of water without fear of mountain bikers.
Two words of warning, however; many of the trails involve steep changes in terrain. Be sure that you and your horse are up to the challenge as there are often short but sharp descents/ascents that could prove difficult for older or unfit horses.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Griffith Park is teeming with activities during the weekends. You’re likely to run into everything from races involving starter pistols to mariachi bands and hordes of curious children who may come running up to pet your horse. Weekdays are much quieter.
Finally, if you’re crossing the LA River from the Los Feliz side of the park, keep in mind that the water crossing can be treacherous at certain times of the year.
Safety Tips: Remember that especially in the summer, rattlesnakes can be found on nearly all Southern California Trails, even ones deep inside the city. Many of the parks also have wildlife such as deer and coyote. Wearing a helmet in case your horse spooks is more than just a good idea, it’s the right thing to do.