Replace your staycation with a ‘horsecation’ by visiting area horse camps
Planning another “stay-cation” this summer, to catch up on chores? Fencing? Mowing? Cleaning? While you are sitting there, watching time pass you by, taking Snapchat and Facebook photos of your animal menagerie, maybe a short, simple vacation “outside of the box” is in order?
If you own a horse, there are not only affordable options, but trips that are close, and will add some new life to your photo albums. And if you don’t want to take your own horse, there are a number of close-to-home places that have horse loaner options.
Horse camps in the National Parks have become relatively commonplace and with horse ownership at record numbers in the United States, it’s time to utilize the opportunities.
A recent study commissioned by the American Horse Council Foundation and conducted by the Barents Group counted roughly 9.2 million horses in the U.S., this includes both recreational and commercial horses. Out of the grand total 3.91 million are used for recreational purposes, 2.72 million for showing, 1.75 million for other activities including farm work, rodeo, polo, police work etc. and 840,000 are used for racing. Colorado ranks ninth, with 256,000.
According to the 2017 statistics, horse fever pays off. The horse industry impacts the American economy more than motion pictures, railroad transportation and even cigarettes. It also employs more than 700,000 people, and recreational riders alone effect GDP by $11.8 billion.
Park managers recognize the value of horse owners, and are adding “horse camps” in some areas.
Just west of Fort Collins, Colo., the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, in the Roosevelt National Forest offers a developed, horse-friendly, campground, and hundreds of miles of horse-friendly trails. Canyon Lakes Ranger District is located in north-central Colorado and encompasses approximately 650,000 acres in the Roosevelt National Forest, mostly in Larimer County. The Canyon Lakes Ranger District is home to four wilderness areas, three national recreation trails, two historic districts and Colorado’s only wild and scenic river.
Dubbed the Jacks Gulch Recreation Area, the campground offers an accessible group site with electric hookups, and five equestrian campsites, with stalls, and each site accommodates one horse trailer. Additional single-family campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Campground reservations for this area are made through the National Recreation Reservation Service at 1-877-444-6777 or online at http://www.recreation.gov.
In Grand County, Colo., the Sulphur Ranger District, offers a first come, first serve, horse-friendly campground in the Williams Fork Velley next to South Fork Creek. While it is the only campground on the Sulphur Ranger District designated for horse camping, the trails are reportedly worth the trip. There is a small corral in the campground for one or two horses and direct access to the South Fork Trail.
Recreational opportunities abound in this haven located high up in the Rocky Mountains. The Sulphur Ranger District covers over 442,000 acres in Grand County, and is surrounded by mountain peaks, meadows and lakes.
In northeast Wyoming, Keyhole State Park has three sets of horse corrals. The park is on the western edge of the Black Hills, between Sundance and Moorcroft, and is easily accessed off Interstate 90 at exit 165.
Within site of the famous Devils Tower, Keyhole State Park is a mecca for both resident and migrating birds of all species, and offers excellent fishing on approximately 14,720 acres of water. The horse-friendly park offers corrals with water and areas to picket horses in fields. With trails in the park, and the Black Hills close by, the riding options are endless.
Another Wyoming “horsecation” opportunity can be found at Medicine Lodge. The horse corrals in this state park are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Within the corral area are five large pens and a large water gap area that can accommodate multiple horses. The area, which is now Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site, has been continuously occupied for more than 10,000 years. Homesteaded in 1881 by Byron F. Wickwire, Medicine Lodge was originally a working cattle ranch. The ranch was purchased in 1972 by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department which created the 12,000 acre Medicine Lodge Wildlife Habitat Management Area.
Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site is open year-round with well-maintained access to the park no matter the conditions.
Some horse-camps are still a bit of a hidden secret and require a little research to find. One of those best kept secrets is hidden in South Dakota, at the southern gateway to the Black Hills, on the Angostura Dam Recreation Area.
The dam, built in 1949, is a popular vacation spot for water activities, but in 2014, at the Sheps Canyon area, Game Fish and Parks opened its horse camp, with 11 non-electrical campsites. Each has a fire ring, picnic table and a 20×20-foot steel corral. The horse camp is connected to a trail system that follows the western shoreline of the Cheyenne River. The trail system meanders through GF&P state park property, as well as the GF&P Hill Game Production Area, and offers direct access to thousands of acres of National Forest Service lands. This best-kept secret is seven miles south of Hot Springs, S.D. on Hwy. 71. SOUTH DAKOTA
A trip up into South Dakota with horses opens up lots of vacation possibilities. Custer State Park has made horse-friendly trails common place.
Willow Creek Horse Camp, in the Black Hills, offers a new trail that takes riders within view of Mount Rushmore. Riders can access a number of trailheads, from several different horse camp options, that offer day-long horseback riding. Each horse-friendly site has a picnic table and campfire ring. Tie-up areas are provided for horses, with some even on the trails, and campers are allowed to bring portable corrals.
This is just a few of numerous options for horsecations. Guest ranches, working cattle drives, vacation rentals and more offer other “horsecation” choices.
Visit duderanch.org to find members of The Dude Ranchers’ Association, which was formed in 1926 to preserve this special way of life and the wonderful environment in which dude ranching takes place. Some offer a “bring your own horse” option, so make sure to ask, if that’s your plan.
But before you travel out of your horse’s comfort zone, make sure you’ve done your research and have all you horse papers in line. Individual states set health and inspection requirements for animals moving across and within state lines. The latest information pertaining to travel regulations and noncompliance penalties are posted on each state’s Department of Agriculture Web site.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website also offers detailed information about documents required to transport horses both domestically and internationally. They provide owners with an overview of equine travel regulations and links to each state’s equine document requirements on their website.
Horse owners also can consult their veterinarians and shippers for assistance in meeting domestic and foreign travel requirements.
In addition, most state parks require all hay, hay cubes, straw, grain and other crop or mulch products brought on to National Forest to be certified “weed free” using North American Weed Management Association standards, or better, regardless of how they are used (livestock feed, bedding, erosion control, mulch, etc.).
So pony-up, get your papers in order, and hit the trails, “horsecation” style. ❖
— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Beulah, Wyo. When she’s not writing, she’s riding her horse or playing with her grandson. She can be reached at email@example.com.