Hikes are better with friends, and some trailblazers say man’s best friend is the perfect companion, especially if your four-legged companion happens to be of the equine variety. If you fall into this category or have been looking for a good place to start a trail riding tradition, there are plenty of places near and far that can have you saddled up and ready to ride in no time.

Horse Ranches and Guided Tours

Sunset Chevrolet LogoEZ Times Trail Rides in Elbe, Washington, has been serving the South Sound for nearly 30 years. Owner Jeff Celskki cleared and shaped all of the trails around his Elbe ranch when he moved to the area in 1989, and the routes he created take riders past points of interest like Lake Adler, the Nisqually River and several overlooks that offer views of the Elbe Hills. Rates vary per trail and number of riders, but rest assured that horses here hit the trail rain or shine, sleet or snow. You can learn more about taking in a one-, two- or three-hour guided ride, designed for equestrians of all ages and experience levels, on EZ Times Trail Ride’s website. Kiddos are welcome!

Riding Horses in South Sound
If you don’t own a horse yourself but have always wanted to learn to ride, a good place to start is at a nearby stable or equestrian park. Photo credit: EZ Times Outfitters

Access miles of trails in the Puyallup River Valley when you visit Orting’s Northwest Horse Park. Riders here can enjoy wide open spaces, but also feel safe in the knowledge that seasoned equestrians are on site if any questions or concerns arise on the ride. And, because lessons are available at the park as well, this is a great place to identify areas where horse and rider can both improve before they ever step out on the trail and into wilder terrains.

Great Trails Near Tacoma  

Louise Caywood, a lifelong resident of Pierce County and 22-year member of Back Country Horsemen of Washington (BCHW), has a few nearby suggestions for riders ready to hit the trail. “BCHW helps to keep these and others across the state cleared of brush and tree falls so equestrians can have nice public and private trails to recreate on,” says Caywood.

Nisqually State Park, she tells us, offers riders miles and miles of beautiful forest trails. Washington’s newest state park boasts a paved parking area, as well as room for six horse trailers and a hitching post. There are also nine trails in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that are located in the Nisqually Watershed. Although some are steep, trails like Big Creek and Teeley Creek are longer, relatively easy to climb and lightly used–perfect for your pack animal companion. Traversing the Yelm-Tenino Trail, also located in the watershed, is a whopping 27 miles long and connects the towns of Yelm, Rainier and Tenino to guarantee a scenic trip. Check out Keene Horse Camp and Cody Horse Camp for access to beautifully maintained trails and plenty of equine amenities in the area, too.

Riding Horses in South Sound
Once you and your mount get the basics of trail riding down, explore Washington’s wild places on horseback and experience old growth forests, roaring rivers and historical rail trails. Photo credit: Omar Prestwitch

Elbe State Forest, home of the Nicholson Horse Trail System, offers plenty of space for your horse to stretch his legs. An updated map of the trail system (linked above) details the best places to explore the wilderness on horseback in this old railroad community. With views of the crystal-blue Lake Alder, streams and creeks are fun to traipse through if your mount is comfortable with water, as are a handful of bridges along the route. Stop off in the town of Elbe on your way back to check out the world’s smallest church and a quaint restaurant constructed out of locomotives.

The experimental Charles Pack Forest, owned by the University of Washington and located near Eatonville, is home to verdant greenery, wildflowers in bloom, streams, roaring waterfalls and an elaborate network of trails. In this free-to-the-public park you’ll find more than 50 miles of hiking and horse trails (which are marked clearly for use for rider convenience) and back roads on 4,300 acres. The forest offers stunning views, beautiful waterfalls and lush, old growth groves that you and your horse will both enjoy whatever the weather.

Great Horseback Rides for a Day Trip

Riding Horses in South Sound
Local riders suggest that, if you’re unsure about how your horse will fare in the great outdoors, visit a horse camp or park first. Trailer training, trail direction practice and exposure to potential spooks are all part of a smooth ride on the trail. Photo credit: University of Washington

John Wayne Pioneer Trail is a well-loved pick for long, scenic rides (including a few organized ones throughout the year), the John Wayne Pioneer Trail measures roughly 224 miles and is one of the longest converted rail trails in the United States. Travelers will make their way across numerous bridges and trestles that offer incredible views of canyons, dense forest, rolling hills and more. Bring a headlamp and lantern to guide your mount through a 2.3-mile railway tunnel that cuts through the Cascade Mountain Range. The westernmost trailhead, located just 35 miles outside of Seattle, is by far the most popular starting point. Follow this uphill route to connect with the scenic Snoqualmie Valley Trail and amble your way along the eastern outskirts of Seattle for an unforgettable ride.

The Snoqualmie Valley Trail is a scenic, 31.5-mile trail offers clear blue mountain lake views in the south and rolls into pastoral farmland in the north. Riders will cross several trestles, take in the sights of historic towns and mountains along the way and even have the opportunity to make a detour before or after their trip to visit the roaring, 268-foot Snoqualmie Falls. There are a handful of graded climbs, but for the most part this packed-gravel trail is level. You can access this King County railroad trail via Rattlesnake Lake or the McCormick Park in Duvall.

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