Imagine riding a rocky gorge trail directly through the heart of Washington, D.C., or perhaps riding northward on the Potomac River's famed C&O Canal, or to the south on gentle colonial-era tidewater trails boasting historic mansions.
Ready to go? Here's a listing of organized rides, trail-riding destinations, and overnight-stabling facilities in the D.C. area.?(For a feature article on urban trails, see "Build a Bridle Path," The Trail Rider, September/October 2012.)
This fall, there are three organized trail rides near D.C. offered by Maryland's Trail Riders of Today. (To sign up for the rides, you must join TROT for $20; go to www.trot-md.org.) All levels of trail riders participate. Call ahead to reserve a spot.
Cedarville State Park, Brandywine, Maryland
Date: September 15, 2012.
Description: This ride covers 20 miles of mostly flat earthen trails, bridges, and concludes with a picnic. Sodas and water are provided; bring lunch and chairs. There's a $4 park-entry fee for out-of-state riders. Horse camping is offered at the park. Ride starts at 11:00 a.m.
Contact: (703) 599-8355; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agricultural History Farm, Derwood, Maryland
Date: October 6, 2012.
Description: See this national farm treasure in its fall colors. You'll find mowed grassy paths, forest trails, streams, and bridges. Hot cocoa, sodas, water, and pumpkin bread are provided; bring your own sandwiches and water for your horse. Ride starts at 10:00 a.m.
Contact: (240) 393-1217; email@example.com.
Manassas Battlefield Fall Color Ride and Blessing of the Horses
Date: October 27, 2012.
Description: Civil War enthusiasts will enjoy this fall ride at the famed Virginia battlefield. The National Park Service charges $3 per adult entering the park. Once inside the park, go to the Groveton Rd. horse-trailer parking area. Details to be announced by the event host, Battlefield Equestrian Society.
Contact: (703) 361-1339, ext. 0; www.battlefieldequestriansociety.org.?
Anacostia Park, College Park, Maryland
Date: November 24, 2012.
Description: Anacostia is Washington, D.C.'s less-famous river. This is a favorite TROT ride and closes out the club's season. Spacious trails close to downtown D.C. stretch from the University of Maryland campus to the town of Bladensburg, where British troops defeated the Americans during the War of 1812. Expect to encounter cyclists, fishermen, some asphalt, and a scenic view of historic Lincoln Cemetery. Water and granola bars provided. Ride starts at 10:00 a.m.
Contact: (301) 937-0014.
Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.
Description: This wooded park was established in 1890, and bridle paths are required by law. Administered by the National Park Service, it's in the middle of downtown D.C. Park your trailer at the park's nature center, check in, grab a map, and ride from dawn to dusk. Counting the nine cross trails, there's 12 miles of riding. Some trails are shared with hikers and bikers. Bring water for your horse. Note that grazing is discouraged. No fees.
Contact: (202) 895-6070; www.nps.gov/rocr/.
C&O Canal National Historic Park, Potomac, Maryland
Description: Running from D.C. to Ohio, this historic canal on the Potomac, with its dramatic series of locks, is now operated as a trail by the National Park Service. The trail is open to riders at the Swains Point Lock just north of D.C. It runs for 80 miles to Offett St. in Cumberland, Maryland. This parking lot is 16.6 miles from the trailhead in downtown Washington. Before arriving, call the park rangers at the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center (number below). They can direct you to Swains Point Lock, where you can park your rig. No fees.
Contact: (301) 767-3714; www.nps.gov/choh/.
Rosaryville State Park, Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Description: Rosaryville State Park is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Its 10-mile riding trail includes Mount Airy, the famous plantation home and stables of Colonial Maryland's Proprietor, Charles Calvert, Third Lord Baltimore. Mount Airy was frequented by George Washington. The park is used for annual horse competitions, but generally is open to visiting riders. Expect several steep climbs and descents, cyclists, and bird watchers. Call ahead. No fees.
Contact: (301) 856-9656; www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/rosaryville.asp.
Pohick Bay Regional Park, Lorton, Virginia
Description: Pohick Bay Regional Park, managed by the North Virginia Regional Park Authority, offers a myriad of interconnecting trails and bridle paths. This region, called Mason Neck, is a tributary of the Potomac River, and lies south of D.C. You can ride alone on your own horse (contact the park office for maps), or sign up for a guided riding tour at Tamarack Stables for a small fee. Horses for your additional guests can be provided. You won't get to ride at Mount Vernon, but local riding trails include Gunston Hall, the plantation home of George Mason, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution. Stabling for visiting horses is available at Tamarack.
Contact: (703) 339-6104; www.nvrpa.org/park/pohick_bay/.
Cedarville State Park, Brandywine, Maryland
Description: With 20 miles of trails on 3,500 acres, Cedarville State Park is a local favorite for Washington D.C. trail riders. A pond, streams, and bridges dot the trail; however it lies inland from D.C.'s Potomac River. This park is a principal horse-camping destination in the region. The primitive campground with bathhouse features a loop trail and is a great launching spot for your tours of other D.C.-area trails. The park is open from April through the end of October; the trail is open year-round. Daily-use fee is $4 for out-of-state visitors.
Contact: (301) 888-1410; www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/southern/cedarville.asp.
Anacostia Tributary Trail System, College Park and Bladensburg, Maryland
Description: Ten miles of interlinking trails, managed by the Prince George's County Department of Parks and Recreation, are open to riders. These trails, close to downtown D.C., include War of 1812 historic sites. Expect street crossings and sharing the trail with urban users. This spacious, self-guided trail is comfortable for mid- to advanced-level riders. The best starting point and primary parking area for horsemen is behind the Herbert Wells Ice Rink Park. Secondary parking is at the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds community riding ring at the Prince George's County's Acredale Park in College Park. No fees.
Contact: (301) 699-2255 or (301) 277-3717; www.pgparks.com/your_parks/trail.htm.
Underground Railroad & Natural Trail, Sandy Spring, Maryland
Description: Located at the Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, the trail offers two miles of natural footing. You'll see sites special to the story of African Americans who sought freedom before the Civil War. Prior to arrival, contact park employees for availability and guidance
Contact: (301) 650-4373; www.montgomeryparks.org.
Manassas Battlefield Trail, Manassas, Virginia
Description: Civil War buffs love this trail, which is located in Manassas National Battlefield Park. Horse-friendly, self-guided rides start at the designated horse park on battlefield grounds' Groveton Rd. Trails sensitive to heavy rains. Fee is $3 per adult for a three-day pass. Call Jim Burgess for information.
Contact: (703) 361-1339, ext. 0; www.nps.gov/mana/.?
At this time, visiting riders who prefer boarding their horses to campsites will find there's a short list of available stables and backyard horse owners who rent stalls for vacationing horses. In fact, there are none in D.C. city limits. However, services are growing, along with an interest in touring area trails. The following stables in nearby Maryland and Virginia have expressed interest in providing stalls, when available.
Domino Acres B&B
Description: You'll find stabling for two horses and room for two riders just 15 miles from D.C. Enjoy farm fresh eggs at breakfast.
Contact: (727) 542-8697; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pleasant Prospect Farm
Description: Fall means foxhunting in the D.C. area, and no farm in the region participates more completely than Pleasant Prospect in Brookfield, Maryland. Watch as weekly hunts gather at the farm. Daily boarders are accepted at this excellent facility. More distant from D.C. than the other facilities, it does adjoin trails on a river called the Patuxent.
Contact: (443) 375-6448; email@example.com; www.pleasantprospectfarm.com.
Description: On the Virginia side of the Potomac lays the beautiful Tamarack stables in Lorton, with its own access to miles of trails.
Contact: Jerry Majewski, (703) 339-5160; www.ridetamarack.com.
Prince George's Equestrian Center
Description: This is the Capitol's Horse Hotel. You'll find daily boarding on Pennsylvania Ave. in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, 12 miles outside of D.C. This is also one of the East's finest horse-show facilities. Call for availability, and bring your own feed /bedding. (There's a feed store nearby.).
Contact: (301) 952-7900; www.showplacearena.com.
David A. Turner, a member of Trail Riders of Today, is a lifelong horseman and Washington, D.C., speechwriter. He and his partner, Randy G. Crawford, live in Maryland's Broad Creek Historic District on a five-acre horse farm, where they keep their Tennessee Walking Horse and board horses for area trail riders.