California- Palm Springs on Horseback

Adventures in horse riding Palm Springs with Smoke Tree Ranch

By Michele Tchernotzkas

Located in the foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains, Smoke Tree Stables offers a variety of horseback riding tours in the heart of Palm Springs, California. Riders venture through unique desert shrubs, California fan palms, beautiful smoke trees and an abundance of natural wildflowers.

The stables are part of Smoke Tree Ranch, which has been an established destination in the desert for over sixty years, and welcomes both beginning and advanced riders, who want to observe the desert flora and fauna on horseback.

With an average of 350 sunny days each year and a variety of activities, Palm Springs is a top vacation destination. While on vacation with a friend's family, I was eager to ride.
As I headed down the desolate road toward the ranch, I initially drove right past the hand written marked “Smoke Tree Stables." It can be easy to miss. Quickly turning the car around, I headed back towards the ranch. In the absence of the traffic, I noticed the sand colored smoke trees and colorful wild flowers that line the road, the picturesque San Jacinto Mountains rising in the distance.

The wranglers paired me up with a horse named, Rascal, who thankfully didn't live up to his name, for our two-hour trek into the desert to Andreas Canyon. A small branch from a nearby smoke tree brushed my head as we began the ride. I looked up to examine the radiant purple hue emanating from the leaves surrounding us.

As Rascal climbed the rocky terrain up the wash, moving slowly in the hot desert sun, I felt a blast of hot air. It was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit when I left, certainly not conditions for trotting or cantering. Luckily, we walked parallel to a creek. Our guide suggested that we stop and let the horses drink before continuing our trek. Rascal was more than happy to oblidge. He seemed to know the route pretty well.

Dense vegetation lined the stream, including large palm trees. The shrubbery provides a home for numerous lizards and insects. The local cottonwood trees offer protection for the variety of birds that inhabit the area. Roadrunners, hummingbirds and quail are often seen along the trails. Our guide warned the group of the prevalence of rattlesnakes and urged us to get back on the trail once our horses had had enough to drink. Once I heard rattlesnake, it didn't take Rascal and me long to get back on the trails.

Rascal and I continued through Andreas Canyon, observing the giant fan palms and breathtaking rock formations. The ride back towards the ranch led us down a steep, rocky path. In the distance, the blazing sun slid behind the mountains as dusk neared, and I began to feel a slight relief from the desert heat. The ride had been hot, but well worth it in order to get an in-depth look at a very unique desert oasis.

How you can go: Smoke Tree Stables provides a variety of trail riding packages tailored to each rider's ability and the amount of time that they have to ride. Group rides range from one to four hours. The ranch also offers private rides. At the time this article was published, riders aged seven and up were welcome.