Every girl dreams of owning a horse when they are a kid. Otherwise companies would not make things like ‘My Little Pony’, rocking horses, or Breyers figurines because there wouldn’t be any money in it. However, when little girls grow up to be adults they realize that horses require big trailers and big trucks and big wide open spaces. So they settle for hiking horse trails with the much angrier and grumpier mini-equivalent of the horse: a goat.
Location: Saddleback, Upper Falls, and Raven Rock Trails of South Mountain State Park
Is it goat approved? Yep. This park has phenomenal horse camping and riding facilities, and perhaps because they have such a wonderfully inclusive arrangement (with bikers, hikers, and horses sharing the trails) they were open to me bringing a pack goat. Provided of course, that I did a special activity permit. Luckily the day 2 weeks after the approval of the permit was a really great day to go out for a hike!
How you get there: Easy. Google it. You’ll be winding through a lot of back roads, so take a GPS or good written directions. You want to park in the horse trailer parking, which is the first massive parking area to your left as you enter, just past the park office.
Time for hike: The distance is approximately 4 miles one way, so 8 miles total.This is an out and back hike.
Best season to do this hike: Winter. I went on a day that started in the 20’s and still met plenty of people and two horseback riders. I weep for the level of traffic you would meet during the summer!
Trails to Take
Starting off at the parking area for horse trailers you want to get on Saddleback Trail, (note in “Beware” section that this trail is closed during wet conditions). You can either get on Saddleback from inside the horse campground, (a small connector trail runs out from around campsites 7-4, but this is only usable when horse campers are not present), OR you can get on from the trailhead in the parking lot, which is near the trail kiosk. Either way, Saddleback is a continuous moderate climb the whole way, (but this means it’s also a nice descent when you come back tired).
The trail goes out through the woods, crosses the river, and then climbs up the hill, with split rail fencing on the side of the trail in places. Just follow this trail for a little over 3 miles, till it intersects with Raven Rock Trail. An interesting thing about the trail signs in this park is they don’t really tell you what trail you are getting on…rather they tell you what direction you need to go to reach another trail or point of interest.
Anyway, you want to go right at this intersection, and just as you do you will see a great overlook of the mountains that is an unexpected treat and photo magnet. After this overlook the trail will begin to descend VERY steeply. Once you’ve escaped the tendency to take about a billion photos here, continue down to the next trail intersection, where you want to turn left and go down hill. This is a mountain biking trail, so be wary. At the bottom of this trail is another water crossing.
On the other side of the water crossing is a huge backcountry campsite. The trail continues through here, and up to the turn to go to the waterfall where there is a nice picnic area with a spot to tie up horses (or goats if no horses are present). If you are hiking with some buddies, consider stopping here for lunch, tying the goat up, and while your buddies eat/watch goat, hike the 0.5 mile strenuous trail down to the waterfall. I have it on my husband’s authority that the waterfall area is well worth your time, (if you have any to spare). However, the trail to the waterfall is way too tight to take a goat with you.
After lunch, head back the way you came, though getting up that hill again might be a trial with a full stomach!
- The entirety of Saddleback Trail is closed when it is raining or the ground is wet. Plan accordingly, and potentially call the park before visiting to ensure it is open.
- This park requires a special activity permit to visit with goats, but they are pretty cool about it. Park manager prefers that goats stay on equestrian trails, since most of the hiking only trails are very heavy trafficked (even in really cold weather). While it does curtail some of the fun, trust me, I sent a non-goat companion down one of these hiking only trails – they are not suitable for goat kind! They are very tight and very peopled.
- You will meet horses on Saddleback Trail. To avoid being trampled I’ve found that getting off the trail by several feet and holding still allows the horses the best chance to come to terms with the mini horse with the horns without freaking.
- The second half of the trail, as you approach the turn around, is very steep and very down hill. A goat that is not accustomed to doing 8 miles will struggle to reascend this area on the way back, so if you have a barn potato in tow, expect to have to stop and wait on them on this stretch. Also, a lot of this stretch is mountain biking trail, so keep an eye out.
- Water crossings are moderately shallow and may become deep at flood stage. Remember most of these trails are assuming you are on horseback, not on foot!
- Unleash the goat on water crossings if you don’t want a goat to accidentally plunge you into the river.
In sum: Lunch with a goat is a moral quandary. If I give the goat part of my snack bar…it will want more of my snack bar. And we all know what happens when you give a mouse a cookie…