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Trail Riding on San Juan Island

dirt path through a forest
Content and Photo by Cameron Sinclair Published on August 12, 2017

Now, when you think of San Juan Island, trail riding might not be the first thing that pops into your head. However, it will surprise you how many locals are avid horse riders. There are even a number of horse trainers on our little Island, including my mother. Following in my mum’s footsteps, I am one of those Islanders that spends a lot of my free time with our horses! So if you are a horse-lover, be sure to ask for me when you check into Harrison House Suites and I will give you the scoop on all my favorite rides. Here’s a little insight into one of my favorites. And of course, you can do any of these trails on foot as well.

Mt Young may have stunning views and straightforward trails, but it also has many people. And with the delicate moss, slippery rock, and traffic, you cannot ride horses to the top of it. So I tend to lose myself in the rest of the Mitchell Hill and Roche Harbor preserves on the back of my trusty steed. That horse is usually my tough little mustang mare that lives for exploring and trail riding.

What’s Ahead of You on this Trail

trail riding on san juan island With wide old logging roads, or daring mountain bike trails. Its perfect for an exciting ride. Going from open grassy trails, to soft woodsy passages. Rolling hills with offshoot trails to steep rock formations. Places to gallop or to meander through. Antheia and I will start at the Horse Trail Road parking lot and pick a direction. Cantering until we come to the next split in the trail, snap decision, and we continue on. Either towards cool and dark Cedar forests, sunny alder groves, simple drooping evergreens, or towering maple trees. Every twist and turn brings us new sights. Trails edged by ocean spray, arching and creating tunnels to secret worlds. When I was smaller I would imagine entering a fairy realm through those tunnel like trails. Picturing fairy horses galloping alongside us.

Don’t Forget to Take in All the Little Things!

trail riding on san juan island As we near Briggs lake the trails get grassier. Daisies and foxglove have gone by, all the yellow and purple gone leaving only green, the stalks rustle as we pass through at a good clip. Salmon berry bushes take the place of ocean spray in the wet ground. Antheia grabs a leaf as we head through, we are both thinking of the berries that decorate like little jewels in June and July. Golden Salmon berries and red ones, huge tangles of blackberries, and little hidden clusters of thimbleberries. Briggs lake is part of a watershed, so horses and dogs are not allowed within fifty feet of it. So turning back up a hill, away from the lake, we charge along a trail edged with salal. It rustles with deafening intensity. Her ears prick up as a doe bounds through it ahead of us, disappearing into the fir trees.

While I ride with the purpose of getting lost, knowing my horse can find our way home, it is a serious maze. Not every trail is perfectly mapped (that would be nearly impossible, and where would the fun be?). Each change in undergrowth transporting you to an entirely different world. With such subtle and wild beauty that is under appreciated in the face of the stunning views of Mt. Grant and Mt. Young. Don’t get me wrong though, you will find Antheia and I on Mt Grant most Sundays. I believe in appreciating all forms of beauty on this Island.

So grab a map and a hiking buddy, four legged or two, and get out there! And then, when you come back to the Harrison House Suites from your adventure, be sure to let me know how it was! 

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