Places to Ride

Here is a list of places to ride in Virginia and Maryland.  I haven't ridden at all them yet, but I'll include notes for the places I have ridden and links to any blog posts that focus on the location.  Note:  When I say a trail is easy, I mean that it is on flat to gently rolling hills; Medium means gently to steeply rolling hills; Difficult means steep hills and/or mountains.  Last update on August 23, 2015.

Maryland

Sugarloaf Mountain - Located in Dickerson, Maryland, this park is a multi-use park with a mansion to rent for events, as well as hiking, biking, and horse trails.  You can read about my first ride at the park here.  I recommend reviewing the trail map for the park before you ride there, partly so you can get your bearings and partly so you can identify the location of the horse trailer parking, which is not marked with a sign at the park.  Instead, you'll see a sign that says, "Turner Farm: Private Property."  The entrance is at the intersection of Comus Road and Mt. Ephraim Road and it has quite a bit of a dip in it.  The parking area is grass on a gentle hill.  Note that the horse trail is the yellow trail, which is a little over 7 miles long.  I would consider the bulk of the trail to be of medium difficulty, with the added challenge of very rocky sections that include larger rocks and small boulders.  Hoof boots or shoes are recommended.  The horse trail, unfortunately, does not go to the summit of the mountain, but the vast majority of the trail is hilly, with a few steeper sections, so it is a great conditioning trail, and if you need more miles, you can do the loop twice.  A couple of other things you'll need to be aware of is that the park is actively used by hikers with dogs and there are a couple of short sections of trail that follow the road, which is heavily traveled with slow-moving vehicles.  As of August 23, 2015, there is no charge to ride at the park.

Virginia

Bull Run Regional Park - Located in Centreville, Virginia, this park is a multi-use park with camping, picnicking, mini-golfing, a shooting range, soccer fields, a pool, and bathrooms.  Hiking and equestrian trails include the Bluebell trail (.75 miles), the Yellow Trail (1.5 miles), and the White Trail (1.3 miles) over easy terrain.  The big selling point of this park, though, is that it provides access to the 17 mile Bull Run-Occoquan Trail.  This trail covers much more difficult terrain and is great for conditioning rides.  Entry to the park costs $7 per day or $30 per year if you do not live in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church, or Loudoun County.

Fountainhead Regional Park  - Located in Fairfax Station, Virginia, this park offers a lot of water activities, as well as biking, hiking, and equestrian trails.  Fountainhead is home to the trail head for the Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, which ends at Bull Run Regional Park.  There is no fee to ride at the park.

Iron Mountain Horse Farm - Located in Ivanhoe, Virginia, this farm looks like one of the most ideal places to ride.  The farm has 2 barns that include 78 12x10 stalls, 6 bathrooms, a bathhouse, camp sites with water and electrical hookups, a tack shop, a nearby farrier, and hundreds of miles of trails in Jefferson Forest.  You can ride on your own or join one of the many guided rides that are offered throughout the year.  There is also an NATRC competition in June.

Manassas National Battlefield Park - Located in Manassas, Virginia, this 5,200 acre park offers over 20 miles of trails and access to the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail.  There are two parking locations for horse trailers - one on Groveton Road and the other on Vandor Lane.  The Groveton location has the most trailer parking - enough for 30 plus rigs.  The trails are predominantly on flat to gently rolling hills, with a few steeper hills sprinkled throughout the park.  The footing is firm in most places, and most barefoot horses should be fine.  There are some graveled or rocky locations, though, so if your horse has sensitive feet, you may want to bring your boots, just in case.  Hikers use the trails too, but no bikes are allowed.  Particularly on nice weekend days, the park is fairly busy, so be prepared to slow down for other riders and hikers.  The biggest drawback to this park is that it is split by two major highways, and while you don't have to cross the busy roads to get in a good ride, you are limited if you don't.  Entry to the park costs $3 per day or $20 per year.  If you don't have an annual pass, you have to park at the Visitor's Center off of 234 to pick up a daily pass before you ride, or you can come a day or two before your ride to pick up the pass because it is good for 3 days.  My recommendation is to get the annual pass if you think you think you'll ride more than a couple of times at the park because it's a pain to have to go to the Visitor's Center first before you ride.

Addendum:  I scanned the map I picked up at the Visitor's Center below.  What didn't make it on the scan is that the Main Loop is 10 miles, the Brawner Loop is 8.5 miles, the Portici Loop is 3 miles, and the Matthews Hill Loop is 5 miles.  The park website does have a Google Earth map for the trails, but it never seems to work for me, so this is the best map I've found.




Raymond R. "Andy" Guest Jr. Shenandoah River State Park
   Location: 350 Daughter of Stars Drive, Bentonville, VA 22610
   Size: 1,619 acres, with 5.2 miles of river shoreline
   Trailer Parking: Follow signs from park entrance about a mile into the park.  Parking for about 10 trailers in a gravel lot.  A three step mounting block is available at the parking area.
   Horse Trails: 14 miles, with hiking and biking allowed on all sections
   Terrain: Easy to Difficult
   Fees: $6 weekday/$7 weekend per visit
   Map: http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/documents/shenandoahriver.pdf

Sky Meadows State Park - Located in Delaplane, Virginia, this 1864-acre park offers hiking, biking, and horse trails.  You can read about my experience riding at the park here.  The park website states that there are 10.5 miles of horse trails.  You need to know that those trails are split, with about 7 miles on one side of the park and 3.5 miles on the other side.  The trails are divided by a busy state highway that can be crossed, but traffic can be heavy and unwilling to slow down.  There are mounting blocks on both sides of the highway, so you can get off and lead your horse across the road.  One thing that I found challenging was deciphering which trails were for horse use based on the park signs, so I got a park map and highlighted the horse trails.  My map is below:


There is a nice paved parking lot for horse trailers, but it is not located at the main park entrance.  Instead, it is about one mile north on Highway 17 on the east side of the road.  The entrance is marked with a sign that says, "Lost Mountain," so it can be confusing if you are looking for a park sign.  You can pay at the main entrance and turn around or, if you have exact change, you can put the money in an envelope at the horse trailer parking entrance.  As of August 15, 2015, the park fee is $8 per trailer and one horse plus $2 for each additional horse.

The trails are beautifully maintained and vary from easy to difficult.  One section of trail is a bit rocky and heads up the mountain, so it is quite steep in parts.  The rest of the trails are easy to medium difficulty and are primarily on grass, with some sections on gravel or dirt.

Whitney State Forest  - Located south of Warrenton, Virginia, this 148-acre park offers about 6 miles of trails that are shared by hikers, horses, and bicycles.  You'll need a use permit from the State in order to ride.  In 2013, the permit costs $16 and is good for a year.  Here is the website with the information:  http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations/licenses.asp.  Honestly, I'd probably skip riding at this park if it wasn't just 10 minutes away from my barn.  The trails are marked fairly well, but there's no place to get a paper map.  There's just a picture of one at the entrance and the colors of the trails aren't marked.  (I think there are blue, yellow, and green trails.)  Plus, the trails sort of zigzag all over the place, so it's hard to develop a cohesive route.  And the trails are not maintained as well as they would be at a national park.  There is one place on the blue trail that is impassable on horseback.  Parking is not that great either.  There's a small gravel lot and enough people use it that it can get a little logistically difficult to park and get out of the lot with a horse trailer.  And you've got to buy a permit to ride there.  I'm all for supporting the trails, and I would even be willing to help cut or clear branches if only I could find someone to contact about what I can and can't do.  The park website is woefully inadequate and there's virtually no information on it.  So, if the park is close to you and you already have the use permit, it's not a bad place to do some conditioning because there are a lot of hills.  But, if you have any other decent place to ride, I would give this park a miss.

2 comments:

  1. Hi, wandered in from Dom's blog. Don't know if you already know the place, but as I didn't see it in your list here, I wanted to mention Meadowood in Lorton. I'm not sure if the mileage is what you'd be looking for for training, but I've hiked a bunch of the trails there with my dog and they're well maintained horse trails in a mix of hills and flats. http://www.blm.gov/es/st/en/fo/lpfo_html/recreation.html There are mountain biking trails in the system, but we stay on the east side of the system which is bike-free (they freak my dog out). Access is free and there's trailer parking at the Mustang Trailhead which seems to be infrequently used. Hope that's helpful!

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    1. Hi, octopus.gallery. I actually used to live not too far from Meadowood. I knew it was a BLM facility but wasn't sure about the trails anymore. It's good to know that they are still accessible, so thanks for the tip!

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