12 Destinations for Horse Camping in California

Updated March 3, 2022
Woman with two sons cuddling with a horse

For equestrians who love the outdoors, horse camping is a fun recreational activity that combines sleeping under the stars with endless trail riding. California's stunning landscape offers numerous horse camping opportunities across the state, ranging from primitive sites to full-service amenities.

1. Lake Perris

Lake Perris

Lake Perris is located in Southern California, southeast of Riverside. This state-owned campground has seven horse campsites with fire pits, picnic tables, and two horse corrals. Campers have access to horse watering troughs, potable water, and chemical toilets. Each campsite can accommodate up to eight people and two horses. The campground accepts reservations in advance, or campers may select from available sites on a first-come, first-served basis.

Be prepared for long lines at the check-in gate on the weekends, or plan on visiting Lake Perris midweek to avoid the crowds. Bring shade and sunscreen because the campsites have very few trees. The wind typically starts blowing around 2 p.m. each day, providing some relief from the heat, but stirring up the dust. The lake is warm, clear, and free of leeches.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Riders can access the 9.1-mile long Lake Perris Loop Trail from the campground, and this trail passes beautiful rocky hills and fields of wildflowers. The trail features a gentle climb (less than five percent incline), though it can be steeper in sections. The overall elevation gain is less than 500 feet.

Season Dates and Cost

The Lake Perris recreation area is open year-round. Day fees are $10 per vehicle and campsites are $21 per night.

2. Green Valley Falls

Green Valley Falls campground is part of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, located 15 miles south of Julian or 80 miles east of San Diego. This campground has 15 horse campsites, and two of these are ADA-accessible. Each campsite can accommodate two horses and eight campers. Campers have access to flush toilets, camp furniture, potable water, and pay showers.

Many campsites have thick brush around them, creating a private environment. Campers can gather firewood from downed branches, or they can bring their own, but the campground does not have any vendors on site who sell firewood. Due to California's lingering drought, the waterfalls dry up in late summer, leaving stagnant water pools that attract mosquitos, so bring adequate bug spray. Visitors report that the camp hosts are extremely welcoming and the bathrooms are clean.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Horse trails pass through oak woodlands and open meadows in Rancho Cuyamaca State Park. The creeks have several swimming holes for cooling off on a hot day. For additional riding opportunities, the horse trails in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are a short drive from the campground. The trails here are majestic but can be sandy and loaded with cactus spines, so plan accordingly.

Season Dates and Cost

Due to inclement weather, this campground is open from April 1st to November 29th. This campground requires reservations, and the cost is $30 per night.

3. Jack Brooks Horse Camp

Jack Brooks Horse Camp is located in Sam McDonald Park in San Mateo County, 11 miles east of Pescadero. This camp has three separate areas that accommodate different sized groups. Area 1 accommodates 40 people and 40 horses. Area 2 and Area 3 hold 10 people and 10 horses each. All three areas share 48 paddocks, six tie posts, and one wash rack. Campers may bring portable corrals, as well. The campground has restrooms with flushing toilets and showers. Campers in any area have access to an outdoor kitchen with a refrigerator, freezer, and microwave.

Trail Riding Opportunities

The Northwest portion of the park includes redwood forests, while the southeast portion features grassy meadows. Riders can see the Pacific Ocean from the ridge tops. Popular equestrian-friendly trails include:

Season Dates and Cost

The campground is open from mid-May to mid-November each year, and campers must make reservations in advance. Area 1 costs $150 per night Sunday through Thursday, and $275 per night on Friday and Saturday. Areas 2 and 3 cost $75 per night Sunday through Thursday, and $150 per night on Friday and Saturday.

4. Dripping Springs Campground

Dripping Springs Campground

Dripping Springs Campground is within the Cleveland National Forest, just adjacent to the Agua Tibia Wilderness in Southern California, and 40 miles east of Escondido. The campground has five horse campsites with horse corrals, potable water, and vault toilets. All sites are nonelectric and do not have showers. Each campsite can accommodate eight people and two horses.

Trail Riding Opportunities

A network of trails lead south from the campsite into the Agua Tibia Wilderness's chaparral forests. A few of the popular routes include Wild Horse Trail (10.1 miles) and Dripping Springs Campground Trail (13.2 miles). Reviewers on AllTrails.com note these trails are stunningly beautiful when the wildflowers bloom, especially the California poppies.

The trails are clear with very few rocks, but be aware of poison oak in the area. Note that summer months can be very treacherous due to the minimal shade covering along the trails. Opt for cooler seasons, if you can.

Season Dates and Cost

The campgrounds are open year-round. The cost for equestrian and standard sites is $15 per night.

5. Montaña de Oro State Park

Montana de Oro State Park

Montaña de Oro State Park is 6 miles southwest of Morro Bay and parallels the San Luis Obispo coast. Hazard Canyon Horse Camps by way of Islay Creek Campground has three equestrian campsites and two equestrian group campsites available by reservation from mid-May through mid-October, and on a first-come-first-served basis the rest of the year. The campsites are slightly inland, but campers can still hear the ocean. Campsites include water for horses and pit toilets, but potable water is not available.

Several Trip Advisor reviewers say this state park is beautiful, and February to mid-March is the ideal time to visit. The cliffs are breezy, offering relief from the summer heat. For riders who wish to watch the sunset, arrive at the cliffs early to get the best spot because crowds gather at this time.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Riders follow trails from the campsite to the beach or through the eucalyptus forests. The whimsical eucalyptus are a highlight for most visitors. Take them in by following the Bloody Nose trail (5 miles), which has the most trees of the trails in the area. Take Cable Trail for beach access.

Season Dates and Cost

The campgrounds are open year-round. Equestrian campsites are $50 per night, and the group campsites are $150 per night. The park has free entry for day use.

6. Bridalveil Creek

Bridalveil Creek

Bridalveil Creek Campground in Yosemite National Park has three sites available for horse camping, and each of these can accommodate up to six people and six horses. Campers must haul out horse manure at the end of their stay. Campsites include fire rings, picnic tables, and food lockers. On-site bathrooms feature flushing toilets and potable water. Bridalveil Creek is located 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, and campers access it by a two-lane road.

A Trip Advisor reviewer warns this campground is cold, even in mid-summer, so pack appropriate clothing. Be prepared for bears and store food accordingly because this campsite is in the wilderness.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Riders can access trails throughout Yosemite National Park from Glacier Point, located near the campground. The Bridalveil Creek Loop is a nearby 6-mile trail that features a few creek crossings and is accessible year-round. Ostrander Lake Trail (12.1 miles) is another popular trail. For a multi-day equestrian trek (30 miles), you can consider taking the Buena Vista Crest Trail to Royal Arch Lake.

Season Dates and Cost

The elevation is 7,200 feet above sea level, so this campground is only open from early July through Labor Day each year. Campers must make reservations in advance, and the cost is $30 per night.

7. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Whiskeytown Horse Camp Site 1

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Shasta County is 20 miles west from Redding. Horse Camp is the only campground that allows horses within the recreation area. This campground features two sites that accommodate six people and two tents each. These campsites are primitive but have vault toilets and potable water.

The creeks have several pools for taking a dip, but reviewers on AllTrails.com say the water is frigidly cold year-round. Late spring is the best time for viewing the falls, and the valley views are stunning from the tops of the trails.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Horse trails pass stunning waterfalls and old-growth forests as they wind to the tops of the mountains. Elevation ranges from 1,000 to 3,500 feet above sea level. The Swasey Recreation area has some shaded, well-groomed trails shared by mountain bikers and horseback riders.

Season Dates and Cost

The campground is open year-round, and campsites are on a first-come-first-served basis. The cost is $20 per night, although you'll also need to pay an entrance fee for use of the recreation area, which is $25 per vehicle.

8. Lake Oroville

Loafer Creek Equestrian Campground

Lake Oroville is 8 miles east from Oroville and 76 miles north of Sacramento. This recreation area allows horse camping on the southeast side of the lake at its Loafer Creek Equestrian Campground. The campground has 15 campsites that accommodate eight campers and two horses each. Amenities include horse wash racks, tethering stations, feeding stations, and a round pen for warming up horses before riding. The campground also has flush toilets and showers.

For those who want to camp in comfort with their horse, this is the spot to go, according to reviewers in Yelp. The bathrooms are clean and well maintained, and campers who wish to have a fire can purchase firewood on site. The horse facilities are in good repair.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Equestrians can ride directly from the campsite into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Riding trails are suitable for beginners, and riders have access to several 8- to 9-mile loops directly from the campground. Of these, Loafer Creek Loop and Freeman Trail are very popular. Feather Falls is also an incredible sight to see.

Season Dates and Cost

The campground is open from mid-April to October, and the cost is $45 per night.

9. Vern Whitaker Horse Camp

Vern Whitaker Horse Camp

The Vern Whitaker Horse Camp is located within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, less than two hours south of Palm Springs. It's an equestrian-only campground with 10 sites. Each can accommodate a vehicle with a trailer, eight people, and two horses. Each site has four corrals, so you can bring up to four horses for an additional fee. You'll also have access to amenities, including a fire ring, barbeque grills, potable water, flush toilets, and shower.

Peak season is from late fall to early spring due to the weather in the desert park. During warm months, the temperature can reach unbearable heights (100 to even 120 degrees Fahrenheit), so precautions are necessary. Shade is limited everywhere, even within the campground. However, each campsite should have at least a small tree to provide some shielding from the sun.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Campers and day riders have easy access to over 30 miles of trails from the grounds. Coyote Canyon is a historic route, as it was part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. Try Lower Coyote Canyon Trail or the South Coyote Canyon route. Ocotillo Flats Trail is another popular trail riders can take, and it's a great place to see wildflowers.

Season Dates and Cost

The Vern Whitaker equestrian campground is open all year, but reservations are highly recommended during peak season from October to April. Fees for camping are $35 per night or $10 for day use.

10. Mount Tamalpais State Park

Mount Tamalpais State Park

If you're planning to go camping with both equestrians, mountain bikers, and beach goers, Frank Valley Group Horse Camp is the perfect location. After all, Mount Tamalpais is referred to as the birthplace of mountain biking. Frank Valley campground is located within the Mount Tamalpais State Park but just 1 mile away from Muir Beach.

The campground offers a single site that can accommodate up to 25 people, 10 vehicles, and 12 horses. It's a tent-only ground with no hookup. However, you'll have access to potable water, pit toilets, a fire ring, corrals, and troughs.

Trail Riding Opportunities

Take the Miwok or Coast View Trail to explore the network of trails within the state park. Dias Spur, Dias Ridge, and Redwood Creek are other notable multi-use trails. The Muir Woods National Monument is also nearby (although horses are not permitted within the monument), or you can head 1 mile west toward Muir Beach.

Season Dates and Costs

The Mount Tamalpais State Park is open for camping and day use year-round. Reservations are recommended for Frank Valley Horse Camp, given the fact that there's only one site at this campground. Each night is $75.

11. Horseshoe Meadow Equestrian Campground

Horseshoe Meadow Equestrian Campground

You can find Horseshoe Meadow Equestrian Campground in the Inyo National Forest. It's closest neighboring town is Lone Pine, and it's also close to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States. Horseshoe Meadow has 10 drive-in campsites, limited to four heads per site. Each is equipped with a horse corral and hitch rail. You'll also find potable water, vault toilets, fire ring, and bear-proof storage lockers.

The drive to the campgrounds is winding and steep, so pull trailers with care. And be cognizant of the ascent, as the final elevation at the grounds is just over 10,000 feet. It's also located in an active bear area, so use necessary precautions, such as storing food in bear boxes.

Trail Riding Opportunities

From the equestrian camp, you can make your way right to the neighboring Cottonwood Lakes campground, where you'll find the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead. This stunning 16.1-mile trail takes you through the John Muir Wilderness and alongside all five of the Cottonwood Lakes. Creek crossings might be unavoidable. There are several side trails you could venture off on along the way. Permits aren't required for day use of the trail, though you'll need to get one if you intend to do any overnight camping in the wilderness.

Season Dates and Cost

This well-known horse camp is open from June through October due to inclement weather. Camping costs $12 per night. However, you can't make advanced reservations; all campers must register at the campground.

12. Cuneo Creek Horse Camp

Cuneo Creek Horse Camp

Cuneo Creek Horse Camp in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park is an excellent place to get a true Northern California horse camping experience. The park spans 53,000 acres and houses redwoods over 1,600 years old. The horse camp boasts five equestrian family sites and two group horse sites. Family sites can house one vehicle and two horses. The smaller group campsite can accommodate 25 people with 12 corrals, and the second is large enough for 65 people with 22 corrals.

The campground offers potable water, flush toilets, and showers, although they are coin-operated. There are also amenities for your equine friend: a sand rolling pit, water troughs, pipe corrals, and tie rails.

Trail Riding Opportunities

The Cuneo Creek grounds offer easy access to several equestrian trails. A few of the most popular are Indian Orchard Trail and Homestead Trail. Expect creek crossings on both. These trails connect with other networks, so you can go for as short or as long a ride as you'd like. Take Johnson Trail by way of Homestead Trail or take Indian Orchard Trail to Fox Camp Trail.

Season Dates and Cost

The campgrounds are open from the first Friday in May until mid-October, depending on the weather. Family sites are $35 each night, whereas the smaller group site is $135 per night and the larger is $200.

The Perfect Escape

California's horse camping options vary as much as the state's landscape. For equestrians seeking adventure and escape from hectic daily life, horse camping is the perfect opportunity for extra saddle time while enjoying California's beautiful outdoors.

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12 Destinations for Horse Camping in California