Touring a park by horseback gives you a whole different perspective on things.
Last week I backpacked about 8 miles through Lake Somerville State Park near Brenham, admiring bald eagles and nearly stepping on a non-venomous snake.
This week I climbed aboard a friendly little mare named Summer and explored about 5 miles of equestrian trails at Pedernales Falls State Park.
Highlights of the latest adventure? Slowly clattering down a rocky slope to the edge of the Pedernales River, then hopping off my horse and letting her mow a little grass while I took some photos. Zooming through S-turns at a trot, enjoying the breeze in my face and the enthusiastic step of my horse. Spotting an armadillo trundling along the trail, and following it for a hundred yards before it ducked into the underbrush.
And catching up with equestrian Elaine Swiss, a competitive endurance rider who lives in Round Mountain and trailered two of her horses to Pedernales Falls so we could share a ride.
Pedernales Falls offers more than 10 miles of equestrian trails. Some are steep, some are rocky, some are flat and some are twisty. They roll through tall grass, rock gardens, open fields and thickets of ash juniper.
The equestrian trails are open exclusively to equestrians – they’re closed to cyclists and hikers, which means riders don’t have to worry about encountering a fast-moving bike that might spook a horse.
The equestrian parking area is spacious, with plenty of room to maneuver a trailer. There’s a water trough, too.
The only hassle? You must reserve a day pass in advance, by going to the park website at https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls. You can pick from a morning or afternoon entry. I chose an afternoon slot, and we arrived at the gate at about 1:45 p.m. We had to wait 15 minutes for the gate to open, then another 15 minutes in line to show our pre-printed day pass.
To bring in a horse, you must show proof of a Coggins test. Shoes or boots are recommended for the horses. And check before you head out if it’s been raining. The trails sometimes close due to muddy or wet conditions.
The park is located at 2585 Park Road 6026, about 10 miles east of Johnson City. A day pass is $6 for adults; free for ages 12 and under. Hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. The park remains closed for day use on Mondays and Tuesdays until further notice.
Pedernales Falls State Park is not the only Central Texas park that offers equestrian access. The Slaughter Creek Trail at 9901 FM 1826, McKinney Roughs Nature Park at 1884 Texas 71 West in Cedar Creek, Milton Reimers Ranch at 23610 Hamilton Pool Road in Dripping Springs, and Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area at 2820 County Road 414 in Spicewood all allow horseback riding. Check each park for details.