Horseback riding along the San Pedro

The Tombstone Equine Company leads a trail ride in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area.

The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, or SPRNCA, is a great place to ride your horse. The Old West history of the area adds to the experience. You can follow in the hoof prints of the Earps and Clantons, Jeff Milton, Cochise, Geronimo and all the other famous people who once roamed our area. You can visit ghost towns, mills, and a fort or just enjoy the high desert landscape

The San Pedro Trail is the main place to ride. This trail runs most of the length of the preserve, from the border to St. David. It can be accessed from a number of trailheads where you will find parking areas for your trailer, information kiosks and horse pass-throughs or gates (see the list below). Each offers a different experience, from easy riding on a road to a more challenging trail.

The most popular is Fairbank. There are two great equestrian routes that start there. First is the four-mile Fairbank Loop. It begins at the townsite parking area, goes north for two miles and then loops back along the river. The other is a ride to the Little Boquillas Ranch headquarters. Start in the Little Boquillas corral parking lot across the highway from Fairbank. Follow the San Pedro Trail along the old road west and then south. After 2 1/2 miles, you will reach the old headquarters complex. This is a good stopping place (you can go further); retrace your route.

Another popular ride starts at the Millville trailhead off Charleston Road. Park in the trailhead lot and follow the trail east. Take the San Pedro Trail; do not bring your horses into the ruins or petroglyph loop trails. The San Pedro Trail goes east of the Charleston Hills, diverging from the Millville ruins loops. Again, ride as far as you like before retracing your route to the parking area. This is a more rugged route.

A final example begins at the Hereford Road access point. Park in the lot south, across the highway from the bridge, down a short road. Look for the signs. You can access the San Pedro Trail headed south from here along the edge of the riparian zone adjacent to the river. Other access points with parking areas for horse trailers can be found at the Escapule, Murray Springs, Terrenate, San Pedro House and Palominas trail heads.

Backcountry camping is permitted anywhere at least one mile from a parking lot or developed area. There is a $2 per night fee. There is an established backcountry campground on Miller Canyon Wash 4 miles south of the San Pedro House, off of the San Pedro Trail. It features a pit toilet, tent pads and tables.

There are hazards: low-hanging branches, holes and drop-offs, tall grasses, rattlesnakes, quicksand in the riverbed, sinkholes, abandoned mines and test pits. We advise against riding in the river. Scout your route before you go. Be prepared for the needs of yourself and your mount. Let someone know where you are going and what to do if you do not return on time. Know your horse. Can it navigate these trails? Can it tolerate other horses if going in a group?

As equestrian activities become more popular in the SPRNCA, several problems have emerged, most related to horses in high traffic areas like the Fairbank townsite, the San Pedro House and trailhead parking areas. Here are some guidelines.

— You are welcome to ride your horse across developed areas (Fairbank townsite, San Pedro House gardens) to reach trails as long as they do no damage. Please do not stop in the developed area to tether your horses, wash them or anything else. You are responsible for cleaning up after your horse in these areas. Throw the manure out of sight into the bushes.

— Do not muck out trailers in the parking lots or elsewhere.

— Do not ride horses into historic or archaeological sites. This includes Millville, Terrenate, Contention and the Fairbank cemetery. Tether your horses at the hitching rails, if provided; do not ride horses into sites, this can cause erosion and damage. All artifacts are protected by law. Metal detectors are not permitted.

— Please exercise care where and when you ride. A horse ridden on a muddy trail can significantly degrade that trail for some time.

— Leave no trace. Wildlife and vegetation are protected.

Don’t have a horse? The Tombstone Equine Company has a BLM permit to take riders into the SPRNCA. They offer trail rides along the Fairbank Loop and elsewhere. You can contact them at 520-255-4441. Their tours are walk only, led by trained trail guides and wranglers who can provide an experience of a lifetime.

Our recommendation? Get on your pony and ride in the SPRNCA.

Ron Stewart has lived in Sierra Vista since the 1980s. He is now retired from a career working at Fort Huachuca for the Army. He has been on the Board of Directors of the Friends for the last 10 years.