Carmel Valley Trail Rides, Carmel Valley Ranch, horseback riding, trail ride
Before there were beautifully manicured mounds of lavender swaying in the breeze, there were cows grazing beneath Coastal Live Oak trees strewn with Lace Lichen. Cowboys looked after their herds of cattle and cow dogs trotted alongside the horses while keeping stray calves in sight. Today, you may not see the cattle, but meander past the purple flowers, up high into the ridgeline of Carmel Valley’s Robinson Canyon, and you’ll step back in time – cowboy time at Carmel Valley Ranch.

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Miniature donkeys Pickles and Pumpkin are waiting for you at Hilltop Corral. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

This 500 acre playground, tucked into the folds of Carmel Valley, is bringing back the cowboys and cowgirls of yesterday. Kids will be drawn to Sugar and Cookie like children waking up to Christmas morning surprises, only Sugar and Cookie are not bites to eat, they are miniature ponies waiting to be pet. Let’s not forget Pickles and Pumpkin, the miniature donkeys on display, and then there’s Goatis, the friendly goat who likes to give playful head butts. Better than Dr. Doolittle’s menagerie, there is plenty of fun waiting to be had at the Hilltop Corral.

Molly Heneks, goat, Carmel Valley Ranch

Molly Heneks & Goatis at Carmel Valley Ranch. Photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

I had the opportunity to take a trail ride with some of the cowgirls of Carmel Valley Ranch. Carmel Valley Trail Rides owner Molly Henekes is the real McCoy. That is to say that Henekes grew up in Carmel Valley with her feet firmly planted in the saddle and a deep rooted passion for nature, the outdoors and horses. Carmel Valley Trail Rides opened in 2014 in memory of Molly’s father R. Kent Henekes. Carmel Valley Ranch has partnered with Henekes to offer guests of the ranch, and members of the public, trail rides and a unique Equine Perspectives program offered by Jill Rivoli, another CRV cowgirl.

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Carmel Valley Trail Rides photo © 2015 Nancy D. Brown

The ranch offers a few different trails that explore the rambling oaks and rolling hills of Carmel Valley Ranch. The main trail is a great combination of chaparral studded hillside with lovely valley views of redwood dotted canyons, and ancient oak groves dripping in Lace Lichen. This trail is great for all experience levels. Whether it’s your first time or you have horses you ride every day at home, you will enjoy the leisure pace and relaxing aroma of wild Button Sage while taking in picturesque views and listening to the Cicades sing in Carmel Valley. This trail ride on horseback is a little slice of heaven.

The regular scheduled rides are walk only. If you crave a little more adventure with a quicker pace, the ranch can book a private trail ride. I’m told the two hour “roller coaster” trail ride is a great one if you want something a little more daring but maybe don’t want to bounce up and down in the saddle for an hour of trotting.

Carmel Valley Ranch offers one and two hour private rides that can accommodate more speed for those with a courageous spirit. They also offer private horseback riding lessons should you choose to learn more about western horsemanship or if you prefer an enclosed environment in the riding arena.

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Horseback riding through lace lichen.

Need to know:
Chaparral Loop Trail Ride 60 minute trail, ages 8 & up $140. Check the website for current pricing.
Sunset Twilight ride, 60 minute trail ride, ages 8 & up, $190
Pony Rides lead-line $65, ages 2-7 years old

Photo opportunities: Sugar, Cookie and Otis the miniature goat – aka “Goatis”

Insider Tip: 25% discount offered on trail rides for Monterey County residents and CVR Members Sunday – Thursday. For additional insider tips follow @Nancydbrown on Twitter @ridinghorseback and @Carmelvranch.

If You Go:
Carmel Valley Ranch (831) 915-5595
One Old Ranch Road, Carmel, California 93923