View Bluff Country from the back of a horse

Splash and dash in the Yellow River State Forest.
Photo by Lana Dahlstrom

The bluff country of NE Iowa, SE Minnesota, and SW Wisconsin offers miles of unspoiled scenic beauty to make your horseback riding trip memorable, fun, and challenging.

Riders will find trails that offer water obstacles, woods, flatlands, hills, bluffs, rocks/gravel, scenic overlooks, challenges, and unknowns. Some trails are suitable for beginners to advance riders.

Need some gear? Deb Thompson, the owner of Hoffmann Stables located outside of Preston, Minn., on Highway 52, explained that they do not have any trails or rent horses. But, Thompson stressed, “We carry all the equipment needed for horses and riders.” Hoffmann Stables is the first stop before riders head to the Forestville Mystery Cave State Park.

Forestville Mystery Cave State Park is a short 7.7-mile drive from Preston and is open for horseback riding from May to October. A trail pass is required to use the trails and is available online at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website dnr.state.mn.us or at the park.

This is Bluff Country, Outback Ranch, Houston, Minn. Photo submitted

Forestville has 55 horse campsites, with 23 of the sites having electricity. Riders can make reservations online at the DNR website.

There are 17 miles of horse trails in the park. This park is unique from other parks because riders and their horses can stroll through the main street in Historic Forestville, a living history museum. Matt Eidem, Historic Forestville site manager, shared, “The horses really add to the atmosphere at Historic Forestville and really looks like a lot of fun for the folks who are coming through.”

Wagon rides by John Hill at Historic Forestville. Photo by Heather Hill

Outback Ranch is located southwest of Houston, Minn., in the Yucatan Valley at the base of the wooded hills. Owner Holly Wieser mentioned that they do not rent horses. She explained that the ranch owns 260 acres with 40 miles of private trails. Wieser shared, “Our visitors like riding here because there is a variety of trails – woods, overlook, grass, rocky, and sandy. Riders like that we have individual pastures.”

There are camping spots with electrical, cabins, bunkhouses, and primitive camping, as well as tent camping at the ranch.

One of many online testimonies. “I belong to a group of about 120 trail riders form SE Minnesota. We get together every Wednesday for a day ride somewhere in the area from Red Wing to the Iowa border. They look forward to the ride here on the Outback trails and the Wet State Forest. The trail system has whatever challenge you want, from easy flat riding to challenging terrain. The views are spectacular!” — Dennis Eich.

Now, this is the way to ride a horse, as seen wiht Becca Erding at Forestville State Park. Photo by Edna Jacobson

Outback Ranch connects to the Wet Bark Recreation Area. There are 11 miles of horseback riding trails. The trails go through the woods, have scenic views, rolling to steep trails, and grassy to rocky trails. Riders should note that there are no water crossings, so there is no place to water the horses while on the trail. There are five primitive campsites in the campgrounds. It is recommended that horses be in good condition!

The horse trailer parking area at Wet Bark Recreation Area has picket lines and a small corral. Portable corrals are allowed in the parking area. A trail pass is required.

A well-kept secret is the Sawmill Trail, located on the east side of Spring Grove. The trailhead is located behind the Farmer’s Coop Elevator on the south side of Highway 44. There is no campground, but overnight camping and parking are allowed on the grassy knoll. There are no porta potties or water, just a fire ring, and new highlines.

Dr. Bryce Niemeyer, Chosen Valley Veterinary Clinic, gives a talk to riders on trail emergency, at Historic Forestville.
Photo by Heather Hill

The 10-mile Sawmill Trail is an easy trail that crosses all private land. The trailhead overlooks the picturesque valley and means through wooded areas crossing Highway 27 and 16 and the sawmill, which the trail is named after. Spring Grove resident and rider Lori Stoen explained, “There is very little rock, so shoes are not necessary unless your horse has sensitive feet.”

Riding the 10-mile Sawmill Trail on the lush outskirts of Spring Grove.
Photo by Lori Stoen

La Riviere Park, a 300-acre nature park near Prairie du Chien, Wis., is touted as one of the region’s largest horse camps. The park has a six-acre camp with 80 campsites with water and electrical hookups. The campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Camping is free. Donations are accepted.

There are six miles of horse trails in the park with access to additional trails off the park on private property. Riders experience the many wonders of nature as the trails take them through the woods to open fields and many hills and valleys. Some trails are not marked, and several can be challenging to the inexperienced rider.

The 8,500-acre Yellow River Forest near Harpers Ferry, Iowa, offers 38 miles of equestrian trails that weave in and out through oak-hickory woods home to wild turkeys, deer, Cooper’s hawks, and woodchucks. Several scenic views in the Paint Creek Unit are accessible by horseback. In addition, there are two large primitive camps at Little Paint Creek Unit.

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again.” — Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

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