Best Trail Rides

The horses are perky and the scenery spectacular. These saddle-savvy operations will have you hoofing it in no time

In L.A. you can be toiling in a downtown office building one minute and galloping along an oak-shaded canyon a half hour later. No other metropolis has as much equestrian activity. While most rental stables cater to neophytes—the pace slower than the 405 at rush hour—a handful enable intermediate and advanced riders to get out and run. Here are our favorite guided adventures. 

Sea to See
Laura Toston and her crew at Malibu Riders (818-510-2245) take groups to three locations: the Big Sky setting of Paramount Ranch, the Tolkienesque woods of Malibu Creek State Park, and the panoramic hills of Zuma Canyon. Toston’s background is endurance riding, and her horses are alert and fit. The Zuma excursion, at $75 an hour, is particularly energizing. The trail to the top winds through tall yuccas and dense chaparral that is awash in wildflowers from late winter to early summer. Around every other bend is a heart-stopping coastline vista. Experienced riders move at a brisk trot or an easy lope, depending on the degree of ascent, but you’ll be tempted to slow down just to devour the scenery. The Malibu Creek site is otherworldly at twilight, when everything acquires a golden glow. At $50 an hour, it’s one of the most reasonable escapes in town. 

Run for the Hills
Griffith Park is infamous for its cattle-call trail rides and horses that can’t wait to get back to the barn. Not so with Hooper Trail Horses (310-633-0383), based out of the private Silver Spur Stables (1900 Riverside Dr., Glendale).  David Hooper has a bachelor’s in equine studies, and his outings are sessions in trail expertise. He takes one rider at a time—on a fine-moving palomino named Trigger—and only after you’ve proved to be at least an advanced beginner. He’ll escort clients with intermediate to advanced skills to every corner of Griffith Park, from the observatory to Mount Hollywood. For those with just an hour or so to spare, there’s the Oak Canyon route ($95). Two- to four-hour rambles through the park ($125 to $150) might also meander to the Bronson Caves or along the Bill Eckert Trail to the old zoo. The better rider you are, the faster you’ll go. Try not to grin as you pass those shuffling nose-to-tail groups on your way back to the stables. 

Mane Attraction
There are few places in the country, let alone the county, as horse crazy as the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Entire neighborhoods boast a steed (or two or three) in the backyards, and you’ll see a fair share of these enclaves on an excursion with Wagon Wheel ranch (4057 Via Opata, Palos Verdes Estates, 310-567-3582). The affection and respect PV native Pat Murnane has for his horses is readily apparent. The majority of his business is fun rides (think children’s birthday parties), and the Terranea Resort sends its guests here (one group from Mongolia was unfazed by a day of heavy rain). Experienced riders get to range farther afield on the 35 miles of peninsula trails. During a weekday two-hour private ride (ask for the smooth-gaited pinto named Twister), guide Kathleen Yesnick points out the fauna (hawks galore) and flora (the South Coast Botanic Garden) as you canter past grand homesteads. There’s no “ranch” per se; patrons meet at a large trailer parked next to the Palos Verdes Stables for the $50-an-hour interludes. And no, you’re not in Wonderland—those are Murnane’s pet rabbits hopping around the grounds. 

History Lesson
The philosopher-cowboy would have loved what’s happening at Will Rogers Trail Rides (310-662-3707), based at his Pacific Palisades estate (1501 Will Rogers State Park Rd.). Guide Janice Merrihew shares anecdotes from the early-20th-century pundit’s life, which revolved in great measure around horses. The pace is always gentle; the folks showing up for the $55 hourly weekend trips, which accept last-minute drop-ins, are likely rank beginners. Appointments are required for weekday sorties, and the final ride at 5 is especially desirable. The loop goes to Inspiration Point, where on a clear day you can see past downtown’s high-rises all the way to PV, and you’ll get a backdoor look at Steven Spielberg’s incredible domestic domain.     

Photograph by Jen Rosenstein