"Oh, give me land, lots of
land under starry skies above
Don't fence me in." Cole Porter
There are few places left where you can saddle up and just ride. Big Bend Ranch State Park is one of the absolute best.
The Park terrain makes it as easy or as hard as you want. Ride the old ranch roads and trails and explore mountains and arroyos to your heart's content. There are roughly 240 miles of multi-use trails good for horseback riding. Horses are also allowed in backcountry areas except where specifically excluded.
As always, good to check with the Rangers to get the best information and latest news, and to let them know where you’ll be.
An equestrian fee of $2 per horse per day is charged, in addition to other Park fees. A backcountry use permit is required for day use or overnight stays.
You must bring your own weed-free horse feed and all horses must have documentation of a current Coggins test.
Shoes or boots on your equine are good planning, says local equestrian Misty Valdez. She notes that cell phone is a hit and miss in Park and that a satellite phone, good GPS and maps are an advantage (Also true for bike, foot and other Park adventurers, too).
Good maps include the Big Bend State Park Discovery Map and Big Bend Ranch State Park map. There are also topographical maps available online.
Shoeing equipment is recommended by the Park, which offers sage advice that “if you think you need it – bring it.” The rugged terrain is hard on horses and horseshoes, so make sure that you and your horse are physically fit, says the Park.
Also, don’t expect to find water, or very little anyway, on the trail. So make plans. It is especially hot and dry in the summer, and hard on horses and people alike. Call the Rangers ahead of you visit to ask about availability of water for your horse while on the trail.
Horse camps in the park
Specialized campsites in the Park provide pens and trailer access. Some have water; others require you bring your own. The road into the park is rough and bumpy but even large living quarter horse trailers can make it, advises Misty – “just go slow and easy.”
Call Park Rangers to verify conditions and the following information before going to any of these sites -- things may have changed.
Aqua Adentro Pens is really the only spot you can pull into with a large living quarters trailer without taking out the tanks underneath, says Misty. There are lots of riding opportunities from this campsite. The Ocotillo is still part of the fence around the corrals. “I felt very privileged to put my mule in the pens that true cowboys and vaqueros used when working the ranch.”
There are three large shade shelters and livestock corrals, dry vault toilet, fire rings and picnic tables. Check with Rangers about water for your horses.
There are other horse camps in the park but you will need a regular stock trailer with high clearance to reach them:
Escondido Pens has woven wire pens and a spring-fed water source for horses and mules, shade shelter picnic table, dry vault toilet, and fire rings
Jackson Pens has woven wire pens, a water trough, fire ring and picnic table. You will want to check with the Rangers before pulling a trailer down this road, and plan on carrying in water for your horses.
Javelin Pens has woven wire pens, a picnic table and typically has non-potable water. The Park does not recommend pulling a horse trailer to this site.
Fresno Campsite cannot be accessed with a horse trailer. You have to ride to this camp. There are two hitching rails, a picnic table, fire rings, and if you are lucky, seasonal water.
Park equestrian information: