When most people hear New York, they think New York City — a city of pavement paths and concrete terrain, not a place associated with tranquil trail rides. What many people don’t realize is that Manhattan is only a small portion of the state, and that open country north and west of the city boasts peaceful, horse-friendly trails and campsites.
New York’s state parks, forests, wildlife preserves, and private properties beckon riders of all abilities and interests. Diverse terrain, from stone-dust paths and rolling hills to rugged mountainous paths with scenic views, await you.
Several favorites and a few lesser-known trails in New York are highlighted here. Countless other public and private trails are available.
Western New York
Allegheny State Park
Overview: With more than 65,000 acres, Allegheny State Park is the third-largest state park in the United States. Nestled along the western New York/Pennsylvania border, the Allegheny State Park caters to trail riders. Twelve horse-friendly campsites with covered tie stalls provide easy access to 17 designated equestrian trails within the park.
Trails: "The riding experience is varied, as the trails follow ridge tops or dip down into streambed valleys," explains Jim Toner, a park staffer. "There’s flat and moderately hilly terrain. On the maintained trails, there may be a grade of up to 7 percent; on the unmaintained trails that could be up to an 18 percent grade."
Trails follow the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains and are most popular during "leaf peeping" season, the fall tradition of enjoying leaves as they transition from lush summer greens into vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges.
Horse accommodations: Three tie-stall buildings (four stalls per building) and a spring-fed water trough for the horses are included with the reservation fee. "A potable water supply is available, but limited," Toner says. "Most people bring their own." Reservations are required.
Fee: $22 per night Sunday through Thursday; $25 per night Friday through Saturday.
Season: Allegheny State Park is open seasonally from mid-May through mid-October.
Contact: For more information or to make a reservation, call (716) 354-9101, extension 256.
Letchworth State Park
Overview: Have you ever wished you could visit the Grand Canyon, but live on the East Coast? Magnificent views of the gorge known as the "Grand Canyon of the East" are only a short drive south from Rochester.
At the turn of the century, a wooden train trestle spanned the Genesee River and its nearly 600-foot-deep canyon. The train was the main transportation service for the Buffalo Branch of the Erie Railroad Company. When the trains were running on schedule, the conductor would stop in the middle of the bridge and encourage passengers to walk onto the tracks and peer down into the gorge, explains Roland Beck, Park Manager.
William Pryor Letchworth, philanthropist, was a passenger on one such trip. After staring into the depths of the canyon, he purchased 1,000 acres in 1859 and established his estate, the Glen Iris. In 1906, he deeded the property to the State of New York for preservation as a park. "The park expanded to its current 14,350 acres during the 1940s," Beck adds.
Trails: The Genesee River divides the park and horse trails are open on the east and west sides. Approximately 12 miles of linear trails meander past ponds, skirt the Seneca Indian Council House and the Burial Site of Mary Jemison, frontierswoman and adopted Seneca Indian.
Even though you can’t see the gorge from horseback, you can park your rig near the falls. From there, you can see the area the Seneca Indians called "She-ga-hun-da" ("Vale of the Three Falls"), the point where the Genesee River plummets over Upper, Middle, and Lower Falls. This is also known as Inspiration Point.
Horse accommodations: None; horse camping isn’t permitted.
Fee: Vehicles are charged $6 entry fee.
Season: The park closes during the winter months.
Contact: For more information and a trail map, call (585) 493-3600.
Sugar Hill State Forest
Overview: The Sugar Hill State Forest encompasses 12,000 acres seven miles west of Watkins Glen. The area was first settled in 1802. It then suffered from agricultural abandonment and was purchased by the State of New York in 1930, coinciding with the Great Depression.
In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps in an effort to provide employment. At Sugar Hill, the Corps erected fire towers and planted trees, laying the foundation for the park as it is today.
Trails: You can enjoy 45 miles of looping trails along the Six Nations Trail System that traverses the hills separating Keuka and Seneca lakes. Two trailheads welcome riders and offer camping areas with tie-stall buildings.
The main assembly area is located near the Sugar Hill Fire Tower, off Tower Rd., on the park’s north end. This area provides ample parking, water and flush toilets, handicap accessible mounting ramps, and 16 tie stalls.
A second trailhead on the south side of the park off Evergreen Hill Rd. offers four tie stalls, an outhouse, and a nearby stream for water. (Treat the water before drinking.)
Horse accommodations: Campsites and tie stalls are available on a first come, first serve basis.
Season: Late spring to early fall is the best time to ride in this area.
Contact: For more information, call
(607) 776-2165. For trail maps, visit www.dec.ny.gov/lands/37446.html.
Central/Upstate New York
Otter Creek Horse Trails
Overview: Situated on the Independence River Wild Forest, approximately an hour north of Utica, the Otter Creek Horse Trails are the "champagne of trails for horse riders," according to Mark Wehnau, New York State Horse Council Eastern New York Delegate for the New York State Trails Council (started by the NYS Office of Parks & Historic Preservation).
Trails: Bordering the western edge of the Adirondack State Park, 65 miles of trails follow sandy roads and wooded paths. Several creeks — including Otter, Little Otter, Beaver Meadow Chase, Burnt, and Crooked Creeks — as well as the Independence River, cross or follow the horse trails. You may encounter deer, bear, coyote, fox, grouse, wild turkey, snowshoe hare, and diverse bird species. Catspaw Lake and Pitcher Pond are often home or hosts to migratory birds.
Horse accommodations: Primitive camping is available at the trailhead within the Independence River State Forest. Reservations are on a first come-first serve basis for the 100 tie stalls and two stallion box stalls. Handicap accessible mounting blocks are available at the trailhead and at three scenic overlook areas along the trails.
Season: Water for horses is available mid-May through Columbus Day.
Contact: For more information, call (315) 376-3521. For a map of the Otter Creek Horse Trail System, visit www.ded.ny.gov/outdoor/8088.html.
Lake Luzerne Campground
Overview: Lake Luzerne Campground is located on Fourth Lake in the Lake George region. There are 174 tent and trailer sites, hot showers, flush toilets, a trailer dump station, a recycling center, a picnic area (with tables, fireplaces, and charcoal grills); two swimming areas, paddocks, and barns. The campground also offers mobility-impaired accessibility.
Trails: Though the horse trails within Lake Luzerne Campground are limited to a few miles, neighboring trails allow you to choose from shorter, few-hour rides to day-long treks. "Once you get there, talk to other riders," Wehnau advises. "They’ll show you trails that are excellent."
Riding with local enthusiasts or repeat visitors opens access to thousands of acres of trails. "The trails are for serious riders," Wehnau notes. "They are stony, not sandy, and steep in some parts." Sections of the trails follow the Hudson River, with areas where you can take your horse into the water. "There’s a creek near the campsite that can be stirrup deep at times," Wehnau notes.
The climb to the top of Beech Mountain is rocky, steep, and rugged. At the top, sweeping views of the Adirondack foothills and Double H Hole in the Woods, (founded by Paul Newman for children battling critical illnesses) reward visitors making the trek.
Local outfitters, such as Bennett’s Riding Stable, provide horses if you are unable to travel with your own.
Horse accommodations: Twenty-two campsites are available. Each site includes a 30-by-40-foot corral. Reserve your site ahead of time.
Fee: $22 per site.
Season: Mid-May to early September.
Contact: For more information, call (518) 696-3113. For information on Bennett’s Riding Stable, call (518) 696-4444, or visit www.lakegeorgeny.com/horses/.
Lake George Trail System
Overview: The Lake George Trail System offers challenging trails and primitive backwoods camping.
Trails: Hitching rails are available at Dacy Clearing, a trailhead approximately 10 miles into the woods down a single lane dirt road. "The trail ascends Shelving Rock Mountain, an elevation of 1,130 feet, and includes several bridges, as it used to be an old carriage trail in spots," says Mary Lupo, secretary with the Regional Department of Conservation office.
Fishbrook and Inman Pond are a popular stop along the trails, but it can be boggy and wet, making it difficult to reach the ponds. "These trails are for experienced riders," Wehnau says. "Some trails go up over mountains, and when you descend the other side you’re practically sliding on your horse’s rump."
Portions of the trail are multi-use trails, meaning you could see hikers and mountain bikers. Sections of the trail skirt scenic Lake George, offering breathtaking vistas and photo opportunities.
Horse Accommodations: Primitive camping. No reservations are required, but a permit is required if you’ll be camping more than three nights.
Season: Closed to trail riding in winter.
Contact: For more information, call (518) 623-1265.
Brookfield Trail System
Overview: The Brookfield Trail System is a 13,000-acre park located in southeastern Madison County.
Trails: The park offers 130 horse and snowmobile trails. Old logging trails serve as the main arteries throughout the trail system. Trails are hard-surface dirt roads and nearly six feet wide. "There aren’t really scenic views on the Brookfield Trail System, but it is user friendly and has a good trail map," Wehnau says.
Along trail #60, you’ll cross the largest bridge in the system, known as Convict’s Bridge, named for the convicts who built it.
Horse accommodations: There are 150 campsites in the park. The main assembly area off of Moscow Rd. in East Hamilton features covered and uncovered tie stalls, two stud stalls, and a pavilion. Other amenities include drinking water, bathrooms, and mounting blocks. Camping for more than three nights or in a group of 10 or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger. Camping is prohibited within 150 feet of water, roads, or trail.
Season: Fall is the most popular time for the Brookfield Trail System, when riders enjoy the scenery of changing fall leaves.
Contact: For more information, call (607) 674-4017, or visit www.dec.ny.gov/lands/8243.html.
Bear Spring Mountain
Overview: The Bear Spring Mountain preserve was founded in 1885 to protect the area’s water sources and to provide space for outdoor activities. Foresters manage the trees, maintain the trails, and oversee selected tree-cutting and harvesting inside the 7,200 acre wildlife management area.
Trails: "Bear Spring Mountain is our little secret in the Catskills," says Wayne Wawrzonek, Conservation Operations Supervisor for the park. "The scenery is beautiful, but the trails are not heavily traveled, so you are not fighting with other users."
The trails cross a section of the Catskill Forest Preserve along its 20.6 miles of trails in southern Delaware County. A combination of easy, moderate, and difficult trails welcomes riders of wide-ranging riding abilities.
Horse accommodations: Forty-one trailer and tent sites are available for seasonal
The Crosspatch: www.thecrosspatch.com
Horse & Mule Trail Guide USA: www.horseandmuletrails.com
Mid-Hudson Horse Trails Association: www.midhudsonhorsetrails.org
Nassau-Suffolk Horseman’s Association: www.nshaonline.org
New York City Parks & Recreation: www.nycgovparks.org
New York State Horse Council: http://nyshc.org/pages/trails.html
New York State Parks & Recreation: http://nysparks.state.ny.us/
Ride New York e-book: www.ride-newyork.com/index.html
camping at Spruce Grove, the designated horse area. Tie stalls can accommodate 24 horses. Day-use parking is allowed, and mounting ramps are available. Reservations for a minimum of two nights are required and can be made through Reserve America (below). Or, you can make your reservations onsite.
Fee: Through Reserve America, campsites are $18 per night, plus a $2.75 registration fee. Reservations made on site aren’t subject to the $9 reservation fee.
Season: Camping is permitted mid-May through Labor Day. During the winter, the trails remain open, but aren’t maintained.
Contact: For more information, call (518) 357-2443. To reserve a campsite, call Reserve America, (800) 456-2267 [CAMP], or visit www.reserveamerica.com/camping/.
Highland Lakes State Park
Overview: Orange County, a densely populated area along the northern edge of the New York City Metropolitan Area, boasts scenic horse trails in undeveloped wooded areas. Inside the 3,000-acre park, a local 4-H club marks and maintains a series of horse trails, notes Tim Sullivan of the Department of Environmental Conservation. Tin-can markers with horse symbols outline the paths.
Trails: The seven- to eight-mile trails are more rugged than an average hiking trail in the area, but all of the overhead branches have been pruned to make riding more enjoyable. The terrain isn’t steep or mountainous, but can be swampy. The trailhead is located east of Middletown.
A short drive from Highland Lakes State Park is Goose Pond Mountain, where there’s a set of short trails open to horses. The terrain is similar to Highland Lakes State Park, but the trails aren’t maintained and don’t have horse-trail markers.
Horse accommodations: None; horse camping isn’t permitted.
Season: There are no set hours or season of operation, but late spring to early fall is the best time to ride in this area.
Contact: For more information, call Tim Sullivan, (845) 786-2701, or visit http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/5/details.aspx.