It is peak season in California’s premier national park, but as my daughters and I amble down the dirt road linking Tenaya Lodge to the Yosemite Trails Pack Station, you’d never guess it. For this visit, we’ve shrugged off the summer congestion of the central valley loop and settled in at the four star resort by Yosemite’s South Gate entrance. We walk on, past ponderosa pines, oaks, manzanita shrubs, and wildflowers, noting the trailhead where we started our guided hike earlier in the day. We step aside as one car, only one, passes by us en route to the stables.
Yosemite Trails Pack Station: Where Yosemite’s first horseback riding vacations began
As we arrive at Yosemite Trails Pack Station, I can see there’s no question what style of riding we’ll be doing today—or which part of the United States we are in. Three generations of trail-dusted cowboy hats say it all: Western.
While the Knapp family has run Yosemite Trails since 1966, the pack station’s history dates back to the early 1900s, when enthusiastic descriptions of the park from John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt led people to travel across the country and saddle up right here to explore the park the same way we are about to 100 years later.
We are here for the most popular ride offered by Yosemite Trails Sleigh and Saddle Co., and the best for beginning and young riders, the 1-hour Big Creek Trail Ride, which includes two creek crossings ($45, riders must be a minimum 7 years and 46” tall). More experienced riders can opt for the Vista Pass 2-hour horseback ride that takes them up to scenic vista points with panoramic views, through an alpine meadow, and includes four creek crossings along the way ($90). And the Giant Sequoia half-day horseback ride brings guests right into the lair of the giants, calling on southern Yosemite’s famous 2,000-year-old trees ($160).
Gearing up for our horseback ride at Yosemite
We check in for our ride with the other guests, get fitted for our riding helmets and matched to our horses. All of the American Paints and Quarter horses here have been raised by the Knapp family on their cattle ranch, where these horses spend their winters. (Yes, the Knapps are real cowboys.)
During the 30 minutes before the ride, we are taught the basics and nuances of riding their horses, with plenty of opportunities to show how ready we are to ride—or practice up for any of us who are not. Watching my eager daughters who have little riding experience work on these small details in the safety of the corral gives all three of us more confidence before setting out on the trail. Better still, we practice guiding our horses around the perimeter of the corral and a series of cones before the 1-hour ride begins.
On the trail with Yosemite Trails
Our trail ride takes us through the forest on a mostly-shaded trail, which is very welcome on a hot Yosemite summer’s day. Soon after we begin, my daughters get their first chance to practice leaning with their horses as we climb up the trail, and eventually make our way back down. The highlight for them, of course, is the first creek crossing, when each by herself rides into the creek, allows her horse to drink, and then takes it up the other side to the group. They couldn’t be more proud.
The girls chit-chat the entire walk back to Tenaya Lodge, where we’ll have a quick swim before my kids enjoy an evening of Kids Camp, while I check into the spa for a massage followed by dinner with my husband. If you ask me, it’s the perfect way to round out a family horseback riding vacation.
Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite horseback riding vacation details
Tenaya Lodge can help you plan your horseback riding vacation May through November, weather permitting. Additional riding opportunities in other parts of the National Park are also available for those interested. As mentioned, riders must be at least 7 years old.
Additional activities at Tenaya Lodge
In addition to horseback rides, Tenaya Lodge has plenty of activities to keep guests busy, including archery, a rock-climbing wall, guided hikes, bicycling trips, an arcade, a full-service spa, one outdoor and one indoor swimming pool, and four restaurants.
June through August, Tenaya Lodge also hosts outdoor “Summerdale Barbecue” dinners in its small recreation of a wild west town, complete with live entertainment, a campfire and s’mores (offered most weeks, Tuesdays through Saturdays).
If you go:
1122 Highway 41
Fish Camp, California 93623
Yosemite Sleigh and Saddle Co. – http://yosemitetrails.com/
Article and photos by Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks and blog at www.TravelswithBaby.com. I was a guest of Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite and Yosemite Trails Sleigh and Saddle Co.