How to Add Horse Trails at Your Campground

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January 4, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Jan Hancock

Jan Hancock

Editor's Note: This column was provided by Jan Hancock, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based author and equestrian consultant providing planning and design services to public land agencies, landscape architects, planners, engineers and the outdoor recreation community. She was contracted by the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation and the USDA Forest Service to write the comprehensive “Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds,” published in 2008. Contact her at or toll free at (877) 727-7117.

When you add the words “equestrian,” “horseback riding” or “horse camping” to your website, just watch the jump in the number of web searches and new web visitors. You will quickly see the potential for increased business.

Looking for ways to increase your overnight traffic and ramp up your campground reservations?

Try adding some recreational trails for equestrians, mountain bikers and hikers to your campground facilities and watch your business treasures grow. Equestrians and other nature lovers travel to campgrounds where they can walk, bike or ride on trails, and equestrians generally stay longer when they have places to recreate with their horses.

How easy is this to do? Very. Really simple, basic loop trails are generally inexpensive to build, relatively easy to maintain, and add a whole new dimension to the appeal of your campground facilities.

People like to use trails that are loops, starting and ending at the same place. They also like to know how long the trails are, so they can estimate the time it takes to travel on them. A good loop trail for horseback riders should be a minimum of four to five miles total from start to end.

A real bonus is a loop trail system that has one or two interesting destinations, such as a small lake, a viewpoint or other special natural, historic or cultural feature. If your property has any trees or forested areas, horseback riders and other trail users also really enjoy having some intermittent shaded trail areas in the summer months.

Visit Your Competition

You’ll need to know who else in your area is also offering horseback riding trails combined with overnight camping facilities. You can refer to some specialized equestrian travel and camping directories, both printed and online. If someone has a facility within 30 to 60 miles from yours with extraordinary equestrian amenities, then your efforts to attract that campground user may not produce the economic boost you are seeking. Ask your local fairgrounds, equestrians and retail feed stores that sell equine products where people camp and ride trails in your area. They will know. Then go visit these places to see what trails and amenities they provide.

Getting Started

Partner with a local land management agency, university or community college landscape architectural intern or a professional landscape architect to help you determine if your land is suitable for an equestrian trail. You might only need to add a connecting trail and an access gate to an existing trail system near your campground property.

Truly knowledgeable trail design experts exist in municipal, county, state, and federal land management agencies, and these are among the first places to go for assistance. Your local or regional National Park Service offices have consultants in their Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program. This would be one of the best places to begin.

You want your trails to be well designed so they won’t erode with rain and snow runoff, and also be easy to maintain. These professionals can help you do that, and also help you avoid building your trail route near protected water sources, or sensitive plant or animal habitat areas.

When you get your potential trail route locations and some interesting destinations identified, work with topography maps and designate the trail route. Get feedback on your trail design layout from the professionals and local equestrians.

Then, using small stakes and color flags, lay out your trail route and see how it looks on the ground. Your entire trail route must have an area above and on the sides of the trail that provides an “envelope of space” that is a minimum of 4-6 feet wide and 10-12 feet high.

Trail Construction

Once the exact route has been finalized, then the actual construction of the trail can begin. Building a trail basically consists of clearing off a pathway approximately 24 inches wide down to the natural soil surface. This will require removing any existing ground cover and rocks using various trail construction tools, such as a hoe, polaski, pick mattox and rake, available at many hardware stores.

Look up and out while building the trail tread. It is important to trim vegetation, move large rocks, or remove any other obstacles such as tree roots, in the pathway. Always trim shrubs and tree limbs flush with the trunk of the tree or branch to avoid sharp, protruding sticks that could injure trail riders or their horses.

You can also hire professional trail builders to construct your trail, and they will have all of the tools necessary to complete the job, start to finish. A good source of trail builders can be found in regions served by the Youth Volunteer Corps of America (, or newly established federal government volunteer website ( or seek the assistance of local volunteer trail building organizations.

Install Signs

People want to know where they are going. Provide signs at the beginning of the trail system, and show a map of the trails with some obvious landmarks along the route indicated. This is where you indicate the length of the trail at various points, in case someone only wants to experience part of your trail system. If you really want to make your trails users happy, install mile marker signs at each mile along the trail route.

Let your trail users know at the trailhead sign if they have to cross water, bridges, train tracks, or paved roads – places where they or their animals could be challenged. Any areas along the trail where there might be loud noises, beehives, kites, model airplanes, livestock or other distractions should also be noted on your sign map.

Marketing Your Trails

Build it and they will come. Consider the seven million horses in America, 70% of these horses are owned and ridden by recreational riders. That’s a big new market for campgrounds with adequate acreage for riding trails. If your facility is located along the nation’s major highways, you can observe a constant flow of trucks and horse trailers traveling these highways and thousands of horseback riders seeking new seasonal destinations for camping and riding.

When you add the words “equestrian,” “horseback riding,” or “horse camping” to your website, just watch the jump in the number of web searches and new web visitors. You will quickly see the potential for increased business.

People camping with horses really want to know the details of what your campground offers. What type of trails you have, (smooth and flat, rocky and lots of hills and valleys, great vistas, etc.) and what type of campsite areas you offer (room for 34-foot horse trailers with living quarters). Equestrians will also need to know what type of amenities you provide for them and their animals. Most horseback riders need a place to keep their horses overnight safely that is within sight of their camping area. Amenities such as full hookups, restrooms, showers, corrals, etc., are important. Marketing effectively to equestrians will require this type of detailed information.

Take photos of your equestrian-friendly facilities and trail system and add these to your website. The calls and emails will start coming in once you have helped your next new horseback riding customers visualize themselves at your campground.

Information Resources

If all of this sounds reasonable to you, and you would like to explore some excellent resources to help you gain some knowledge, go to the online version of my book, “Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads, and Campgrounds.” This book has been published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration ( The References section listed in the Table of Contents has an abundance of related information and case studies.

A 300-page printed version of this book is available at no charge as well. An online order form is available at

Looking Ahead

Contact me if you need help getting started. I can’t wait to visit your campground once you have some equestrian trails and great campsites available for my horse and me!

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