New York State is often misrepresented as being urban in nature. Contrary to this image, the state is largely rural, particularly north of I-90. The Adirondack Park, situated in the state's northeastern region, encompasses approximately six million acres and is constitutionally protected state forest preserve.
Adjacent to the western edge of the Adirondack Park - to the east of Lake Ontario, south of Lowville in Lewis County - are two public forest areas managed by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, (the DEC): the Independence River Wild Forest, and the Independence River and Otter Creek State Forest. There are arguably 65 wonderful miles of riding trails through these two adjacent wilderness areas. They're called the Otter Creek Horse Trails, and this is where Vanessa and I found a slice of trail-riding heaven.
The Otter Creek Horse Trails are a series of old sandy roads and wooded trails that traverse a beautifully diversified region, populated with wildlife. Once off the sandy roads, the trails wind their way along sand flats and through wooded areas, access picturesque glacial ponds, and have climbs that lead to fine river vistas. The state provides a map of the trails, which all loop and are well-marked.
If you and your horse like water, the trails follow or cross the Independence River and no less than seven smaller waterways: Otter, Little Otter, Beaver Meadow, Chase, Burnt, and Crooked Creeks. All eventually flow into the Black River that continues on north into Lake Ontario. It's truly a beautiful area in any season of the year. Yes, even in winter.
Most riders agree that the greatest attraction of The Otter Creek Horse Trails is the Assembly Area, a state-managed, exclusively equine camping facility that the riding public can use for free. From there, you can access all the Otter Creek Horse Trails.
The Assembly Area is a well-maintained, horse-friendly zone comprised of a series of campsites connected by one-way driveways. It has trailhead parking and an overflow camping area. The state provides a dumping station that enables campers to empty their black-water holds when full or upon leaving.
You and your horse will like the Assembly Area amenities. There are 100 roofed tie stalls that have horse water taps within reach. The public restrooms have running water, but no showers. There are accessible toilets and three mounting platforms in camp to assist persons with disabilities. Additional mounting aids can be found at rest stops along the trail.
Each camping area has horse ties, hefty picnic tables, concrete fire pits, and a manure-dumping enclosure. For gatherings, the state recently built a pavilion with a community fire pit. The state has also taken into consideration diversity in rider interests. Two stud stalls are available for those who enjoy taking their stallions down the trail. Vanessa and I agree that these are some of the most horse thoughtful facilities we've seen east of the Mississippi River.
There's not much more than minimal regulatory control needed in the Assembly Area. Riders are asked to register at a central kiosk. Rules and notices about trail problems are posted there. There's a good supply of maps. You'll also find a ranger station with a pay phone that's usually manned by groundskeepers during the day. An emergency call to 9-1-1 will summon the law or medical help.
In terms of horse papers, bring your current Coggins certificate to show your horse is negative for equine infectious anemia. If you're not from New York State, a 30-day health certificate from your veterinarian is also required.