When I was 11 years old, I joined my best friend Molly for her family’s annual gathering in Montana. At some point during our stay, Molly and I were allowed to hop on two horses at the ranch and ride off into the sunset. I’m pretty sure at that point in life neither one of us had ever ridden a horse. Regardless, we were delighted to have those horses to ourselves, and when they began galloping across a wide, rolling field, we were laughing, squealing and hanging on for dear life.
If that same event were to take place today, it would be ruined by the prospect of danger and disaster that today’s parent anticipates at every turn in a child’s life. Thankfully, nobody was paying attention on that day in the early 1980s, and the experience paid off as pure joy for Molly and me.
I now have two daughters and classify myself as “cautiously adventurous” when it comes to our outdoor excursions. I want my daughters to experience outdoor joy that will enrich their lives-without sending them off into the sunset on two horses in Montana.
So far, my revised version of the Montana horseback riding escapade has been guided trail rides in the Chattanooga area and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
If you, too, want your family to experience a horseback riding adventure, check out these facilities that offer trail rides-and more-in the Chattanooga area.
Blanche Manor Horseback Riding
177 Deal Hollow Road
Hours: Open year-round; call for reservations.
Cost: $30 per person for 1.25-hour beginner trail ride. Check website for other package prices.
Ages: Ages 6 years and older can ride. No double riding of any kind. State law requires anyone under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while riding a horse.
Weight limit: 260 pounds.
Blanche Manor offers a variety of guided trail rides through its 350-acre property in Copperhill, with stops along the way at creeks and to enjoy panoramic views.
“At the end of the ride, we stop at a point where you can see three states: Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina,” said Blair Redlhammer, manager of Blanche Manor, which has been in business for 16 years.
The facility is home to 19 horses, mostly quarter horses and gaited horses, and offers a variety of rides and packages, including 1.25-hour beginner and advanced trail rides, proposal packages, pony rides, and wagon rides paired with fireside dinners. Their “Saddle and Paddle” adventure includes a half-day of Ocoee River rafting with OAC combined with a 1.25-hour horseback ride at Blanche Manor. Overnight options at Blanche Manor include a lodge, bunkhouse and two yurts.
Fall Creek Falls Riding Stables
2009 Village Camp Road
Hours: Open March-October seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Cost: $25 per person (cash only)/$15 per person for campers at the park.
Ages: Ages 3 years and older can ride. State law requires anyone under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while riding a horse.
Weight limit: 250 pounds (with some variance depending on a person’s balance and athletic abilities).
Fall Creek Falls Riding Stables, located within Fall Creek Falls State Park, offers 2-mile guided trail rides through the woods of the state park. The facility has been in operation since the early 1970s and has been owned and operated for 12 years by Dale Hankins, who also operates the stables at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Hankins has 17 walking, racking and quarter horses, and two mules. Trail rides are offered on a first come, first served basis.
“We mainly serve families who are camping at Fall Creek Falls State Park,” Hankins said. “A few years ago, I had an 87-year-old woman who came to ride with her three granddaughters because it was on her bucket list.”
Tennessee Dude and Guest Ranch
1050 Ray Hixson Road
Tennessee Dude and Guest Ranch is one of the Sequatchie Valley’s best-kept secrets, offering so much more than trail rides for the horse enthusiasts who flock there from around the globe. Families can stay for a weeklong family dude ranch vacation or a shorter guest ranch stay, and each guest receives a working ranch horse at check-in as a faithful partner for their entire stay.
If you are simply interested in a daylong adventure, check out their four-hour and six-hour Ranch and Ride programs, which include learning to groom and saddle a horse, basic training and safety, and a ride. Groups can sign up for a chuck wagon dinner and barn dance, and the ranch offers National Horse Camp each summer for new beginners and intermediate riders ages 8 to 15 years.
Trails End Ranch
224 Trails End Road
Hours: Trail rides by appointment only Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Walk-ins welcome Saturdays (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Sundays (12-5 p.m.).
Cost: $30 per person/$50 doubles.
Ages: Ages 6 years and older can ride alone; 6 years and younger can ride with an adult. State law requires anyone under the age of 18 to wear a helmet while riding a horse.
Weight limit: 250 pounds.
Trails End Ranch, located on 200 acres bordering Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, has been owned and operated by the Crawford family for 55 years. The ranch offers one-hour guided trail rides along Chickamauga Creek and is home to 20 trail horses (mostly quarter horses).
“We cater to beginners and visitors to the area-the horses are saddled and ready to go,” said Shawn Crawford, who manages the facility for his mom, Billie Crawford. “Come out, take a trail ride, have a picnic, and enjoy the day.”
Trails End Ranch also offers riding lessons and boarding; summer camps; and birthday parties (for up to 15 kids), which include a one-hour trail ride, hayride and bonfire. The ranch will host its first rodeo June 17-18, which will include cowboy fun such as bull riding and barrel racing.
Jenni Veal enjoys exploring and adventuring with her family in the great outdoors. Visit her travel website www.YourOutdoorFamily.com to learn more about outdoor family travel adventures in the United States. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.