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Saddle Up—Los Vaqueros Group Camp

Equestrian camping at its finest.

Los Vaqueros group camp in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park is one of my favorite places to camp and ride with Cricket in our area. Located just an hour from Ramona, there are more than 100 miles of trail to enjoy. The trails within the park connect to trails within the Anza-Borrego State Park and the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada, so the trail possibilities are nearly endless.

Being a group camp, it is available to groups of equestrians and going with a large group is the only affordable way to reserve this amazing camp. There are 45 corrals and the camp fee is $550 per night, so do the math and you can see that $12 per person and horse per night is much more affordable than $550. Of course you can go with fewer than 45 horses, but the fee remains the $550 per night.

I camped with Ramona Trails Association and San Vicente Saddle Club members so we could split the cost, have great company and ride with wonderful friends.

Los Vaqueros camp is popular with equestrians for good reasons. Equestrian camping is challenging to find around San Diego, and a site as beautiful and with such wonderful accommodations is a rare thing indeed. Easy to find and navigate and offering large, clean restrooms, wonderful warm showers, plenty of shade, a group fire ring, picnic tables, comfy corrals and water conveniently located for all equines and amazing trail access, who wouldn’t fall in love with this camp?

While there are no hook-ups for motor homes or live-in trailers, you won’t miss them.

Waking up in the cool morning and setting the coffee pot to percolate on the camp stove, the blue jays and songbirds flutter overhead in the trees. All the horses nicker (a soft whinny) as each owner makes his or her way to the equine they own in order to feed them and fill water buckets. A perfect morning in my book. Friends begin to discuss where to ride for the day and breakfast is enjoyed. Woodpeckers knock on the trees as they ready for the winter and store their nuts and seeds in the bark for later. Aaahhhh….

The trails around Los Vaqueros Equestrian Camp range from single track to fire road. Some are soft and easy on a horse’s feet, but most of the trails are quite rocky. The fire roads have gravel strewn about, and Cricket isn’t a big fan of gravel poking her feet as we plod along. A shod mount or some sort of boot is definitely recommended.

The area was ravaged by wildfire in 2003, so there is little shade on most of the trails. The trees will take a very long time to recover, as the seedlings are only about three feet high.

On warmer days Cricket and I ride early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat of the day. Most of our visits have been on the cooler side, which has always been a joy. Up in the mountains the weather can turn on a dime and become windy, rainy, foggy or hot and humid and thunderstorms can arise, so being prepared for any weather condition is a must.

Bugs and insects can annoy even the most patient horse or rider, and they can be abundant on most of the trails at times. I’ve tried fly spray to ward them off, but those little “no-see-um” gnats are amazingly persistent. I’ve put clear swat on Cricket’s face and ears, attempting to make her more comfortable, but even that has its limits.

I have a fly protection mask that attaches to her bridle and covers her ears, and that has resolved our bug issue—well, Cricket’s bug issue. You may remember that I’ve mentioned she can’t stand bugs and that she flips her head about trying to get them away from her. After a short time we are both so annoyed we’d rather be back at camp, so the riding fly mask is our saving grace. We are able to go out for four- to six-hour rides and she remains comfy.

From Los Vaqueros camp you can ride south into Descanso, east into Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, north to Canada (along the Pacific Crest Trail). The westerly direction is a little bit more limited, but stunning nonetheless.

During our last campout we heard that one of the trails, the Azalea Glen loop, contains a boggy area, and it proved to be true. Equestrians need to be careful along this trail, as the underground stream can rise closer to the surface and create safety issues.

Another safety issue in the area is the deadfall. The trees that burned sometimes fall across the trails and cut off portions of trails. We had this problem along the Sweetwater loop in the south portion of the trails. We simply turned around and went back the way we came and took a different off trail to continue our ride.

Always keep in mind that rattlesnakes are common and difficult to see. We had two wander into camp one night, and typically encounter a few while out riding on the trails.

Not everyone in your party need be an equestrian, as hiking is allowed and bicycling on many trails is very enjoyable. Tent camping, trailers, motor homes, horse trailer sleeping or even the back of your truck under the open sky are all possible at Los Vaqueros.

Reservations must be made by using Reserve America and can be made up to six months in advance. Los Vaqueros is not open in the winter months, typically Dec. 1 to April 30, but sometimes the State Parks Department changes the availability, so check the website prior to planning a visit. Join a group or gather a whole bunch of friends to make reservations and enjoy the great outdoors at Los Vaqueros camp.  

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