California Riding Magazine • February, 2010

Trail Travels
Wildwood Canyon State Park features delightful canyon and more.

by Sherli Leonard

Few locations in Southern California offer such excellent riding as Wildwood Canyon State Park in Yucaipa, about five minutes away from the I-10 freeway. I have ridden there several times, partly because it’s so close and partly because it’s so lovely.

The trails in this new state park are safe for beginning riders and horses, even though they have some steep climbs and a few rocky spots. When accompanied by a solid trail-mate, a green horse should handle everything on the trail.

My riding buddy, Tracey, and I staged in the large, flat open area between the road and the park fence. The area has no amenities – no water, toilets or tie rails. All of those are on the other side of the fence, into which you cannot take the trailers. Okay, so they still have some work to do to make it perfect!

From the staging area, we rode east through an opening in the fence into the obvious picnic area. You will see a large sign identifying this as Wildwood Canyon State Park, and the trail will be very obvious as it works up a hill into a small canyon with enormous oaks shrouding the path.

At a fork marked with a sign post and arrows, we went right, and soon arrived at a picnic site with tie rail, water spigot and picnic table. We were only 10 minutes out, so didn’t feel like snacking yet.

At this point, we could have taken a small trail up a hill to the right, or the trail past the tie rail. Nothing is marked here, so we felt like we were shooting dice. We elected the trail past the tie rail, following the trail through a few gullies to a small plateau. From there we could have gone right up an old jeep road along the side on the mountain, but we went left and worked our way past a small house to another dirt road.

At this point, we just wandered, experimenting with this trail and that trail, eventually making a loop that brought us back to the road past the house. The views are terrific, of open pastures and rugged hills. When we come back another time, we will keep heading north and experiment with the various trails. For this time, we re-connected with the picnic area and followed the small trail up a hill.

This actually becomes the main trail through the park, meandering neatly up small hills before it drops down a long ridge into the most delightful oak-shrouded canyon. You should end up here no matter which trail – and you will encounter two or three, without markers, unfortunately – you choose.

The trail through the narrow canyon has been used for years, and in some places is almost two-feet deep. Either riders will have to get taller horses, or one of these days, a trail crew will have to widen the path so we don’t bump our stirrups.

Thoroughly immerse yourself in this moment. Be absolutely quiet, and hear the soft thump of hooves on the moist trail surface. The horses will carefully pick their way if you let them feel a light hand on the rein. On a hot summer day, this place will offer a cool and welcomed respite from the heat. This is a sweet, sweet trail; you will want to come back many times.

Over The Hills We Go!

Too soon, the trail quickly climbs out of the canyon and plops you on another ridge which carries you in a hurry up a hill. This is a rocky trail, so let a quiet horse go first to set a reasonable pace. The trail will make a sharp turn and take you just as quickly down another steep and narrow – but very safe – draw onto a broad canyon with wide, flat trails. From here, we went right, down hill, as the afternoon was turning bitter cold, and we were hankering for the warmth of the truck and trailer.

This trail works through a rural residential area and finally to Wildwood Canyon Road, a speedway for motorists enjoying a Sunday afternoon drive, at breakneck speed, no less. When we reached the road, we went right on a wide dirt road that parallels the main road until we saw a sign alerting drivers about horses crossing. At that point, probably the most dangerous part of the ride, we stopped, looked and listened and made a dash for the other side where the trail picked up and went down into the creek bottom, almost always dry, but plenty rocky.

The trail through the creek bottom could have taken us many miles downstream, but we were ready for relief from the cold. When a trail went up to the top of the bluff to the right, we took it into an old section of Wildwood Canyon Park, saw the park entrance road ahead of us, and made another crossing of Wildwood Canyon Road. The trailer at the staging area was only about a quarter of a mile away.

The particular loop we followed in a clockwise direction took us about an hour and a half, with our horses, Ronda and Toby, moving along at a reasonable rate. When we go back, we’ll try some of the trails we passed up this time, although it will be hard to avoid the temptation to go back to the little canyon.

This park has no overnight facilities. If you are coming from a distance, stay at Bogart Park, a Riverside County Regional Park in Beaumont about 15 minutes away. It has excellent camping for equestrians and excellent riding, too. Ride there one day, and trailer over to Wildwood for another day of riding. However you get there, don’t miss it: Wildwood Canyon State Park is one of the best riding areas in all of Southern California.

Terrain: Hills, ridges, canyons, and flats; excellent trail surface, some rocky patches.

Difficulty: Rider: Beginners should be very safe; Horse: beginning and beyond.

Facilities: Large, flat dirt staging area, just outside of park fence; dry, no toilets, tie rails, or corrals.

Cost: No cost.

Operating times: Open all year, dawn to dusk; trails not safe immediately following rain.

Directions: From I-10 about halfway between San Bernardino and Banning, take Live Oak Canyon Road/Oak Glen Road exit and go north to the first stop light; turn right on Calimesa Blvd. to the stop sign at Wildwood Canyon Road; turn left (north) about four miles to Wildwood Canyon Park (a local park), on your right; watch for a small blacktop road to the left, lined with white fence on one side and split-rail fence on the other, and turn left. About 100 yards further, pull into the staging area and get ready for a great ride.

Information: The State Park System still has no phone number for this park. You can call me if you want to check on weather conditions before you go. I just might want to load up Ronda and join you. 909-389-7810.