Best Horseback Trails

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Winston Churchill once said, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”

While owning a horse many be beyond practicality for most of us, the Shenandoah Valley has many professional outfitters that can put you on a mount — regardless of your experience – and take you up a trail you may not have even known existed. From riverfront paths to open pasture to high mountain vistas, seeing the Valley from horseback is an epic experience you will never forget.

Here are a few options for to consider when you get the urge to saddle up:

Fort Valley Ranch 
Fort Valley Ranch is located just outside Luray. They offer guided horseback trips, with their mounts or yours, in the vast Massanutten Mountains. You can ride miles of marked trails on the Ranch as well as find direct access to trails in the National Forest. In addition to riding, multi-day Ranch Packages in their bunkhouse cabins are available.

Owner Bill Schumacher was quick to point out the Kennedy’s Peak Loop as a favorite with trail riders. “The Kennedy’s Peak Loop consists of Stephens Trail and a portion of the Massanutten Trail. The loop is approximately 9 miles,” he told us. A stone and timber fire tower atop the Peak offers 360-degree views along the ridge of the Massanutten Mountains with the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west. Below the peak, the South Fork of the Shenandoah River wanders through the Shenandoah Valley. The observation deck of the tower provides a great spot for a lunch break, including a tie rail for horses just below the tower. Of course, fall is the perfect time to go.

Jordan Hollow Stables 
Located in Stanley, a few minutes’ drive south of Luray, Jordan Hollow Stables lies in the shadow of Shenandoah National Park. Mountain views, when the foliage allows, are breathtaking. They are a family-owned and operated business offering trail rides for children and adults with all levels of riding experience. An experienced guide will take you on a 1.5-hour excursion; choose a group or private ride, a walking or walk/trot pace and one of three times to go: 10:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., or 2:30.

Co-owner Lisa Cubbage told us, “Some highlights of our rides – we go through 150 acres of wooded trails crossing the Hawksbill Creek. The property is filled with much wildlife — wild turkey, deer, fox and the occasional bear. We also have a miniature petting zoo with baby goats, chickens, and chicks and our two beautiful blue peacocks.

“Most of our horses are rescued from kill shelters and are very receptive to the kind responses we have from our guests. They are very beginner-safe and well mannered. Our trail terrain is very safe which allows us to offer Walk/Trot rides. We also offer Private rides and Special Occasion packages.”

Skyland Stables 
(Mile 42.5 on Skyline Drive) is usually open until November, and a fall horseback ride in Shenandoah National Park would be a hard experience to top. If you rent a horse from them you must ride the guided trip. The generally level route crosses Skyline Drive, goes through the Limberlost area, and through an old apple orchard. Reservations are needed. Call 877-847-1919. Guided trips can be either one or 2.5 hours.

Alternatively, you can bring your own horse and find more than 180 miles of (yellow-blazed) trails to explore. (See list here.)  Keeping horses on certain designated trails minimizes impacts on hikers and on the trails and streams. Review the horseback regulations here.

Star B Stables
Next time you’re near Staunton, swing by Star B Stables. Star B’s Faye Bartley told us, “We are a family run stable that offers an hour long beautiful ride. We take riders six years old and up. No experience is needed as the horses we use are very well trained. All rides are guided by a well experienced guide. The ride is a scenic trail along a creek, through the water and a short ride into the woods. We have great reviews online from satisfied customers and really enjoy meeting different people from all states, as well as local people. Rides at Star B are by appointment by calling 540-885-8855.

Banner photo courtesy Fort Valley Ranch

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