I will write up reports on all the locations I regular condition at (mostly central California), and I'm open to accepting writeups from other riders in other states.
Before I get too far into this, I thought I would post a sample write up of a location I do most of my endurance conditioning at - Del Valle Lake in Livermore CA. If any of my readers have time, I would love some feedback. Too much information? What else would you like to see included? Would information like this make you more likely to check out a new trail? On the website, the boot ratings would be actual pictures.
Please note that the pros/cons are my personal opinions only, and are written from an endurance conditioning/riding perspective. Many of the cons can be pros and vice versa. For example – a heavily used trail with other recreational users may be listed as a con, but could be seen as a positive attribute since it means that trail management has an incentive to continue trail maintenance. The pros/cons are intended to be “considerations” rather than judgments on the suitability for of the trail for YOUR conditioning.
Trail attributes for each location are rated in “boots”.
- 1 boot – A heavily used public use area with little to no natural beauty. Wonderful place to be if there’s a chance of a unplanned dismount and you want paramedics called, less wonderful if you are looking to “get away from it all”.
- 4 boots – Limited use with spectacular views. Probably not a great location if you are trying out a new, green horse as we might find your remains only after a long search with the help of a SAR dog...
- 1 boot – Good for bare hooves. Typically sand or dirt with no significant rocks or gravel.
- 2 boots – Some rock or gravel that might be a challenge to a sensitive barefoot horse, or a long stretch of asphalt. Carry a set of boots on your saddle just in case.
- 3 boots – I’ll probably chose to boot the front hooves, especially if I’m doing the ride at “endurance speed” of mostly trot. Gravel and/or rocks on a majority of the trails.
- 4 boots – I’m likely to boot all four hooves especially at endurance conditioning speeds. Significant gravels or rocks or other challenging footing conditions
- 1 boot – Practically a flat canal bank. These trails, depending on use and visibility, may be good trails to do speed work or go out for a light hack on an unconditioned horse
- 4 boots – are you conditioning for the Tevis? Trying to teach a horse to be a good navigator and keeper of their feet? These trails have single track, drop offs, boulders, low branches, and stream crossings – possibly all at the same time.
- 1 boot – Nothing. No toilet, no hitching post.
- 4 boots – Home away from home….kinda
“Value for Cost”
- 1 boot – Why did you come here?
- 4 boots – Incredible trail for practically free.
- 1 boot – generally unsuitable for endurance conditioning rides
- 4 boots – an incredible resource for conditioning for endurance rides.
Del Valle Livermore
Location: Livermore, CA
Website/Contact: East Bay Regional Parks http://www.ebparks.org/parks/del_valle
GPS tracks available?: Yes
Terrain Type: Hills
Footing Type: Majority hard packed jeep roads with some gravel. Some dirt single track.
Best endurance uses: Long training rides (20-30 miles), de-spooking, ponying a second horse, hill training, heat training (summer), winter conditioning.
Wilderness Experience: 3 boots
- Depending on the season, day of the week, and what trails you chose your wilderness experience will vary between 1 and 3 boots. As I’ve never felt like I couldn’t get away from the majority of users if I wanted, I feel the 3 boot rating is fair, especially considering some of the magnificent views from the trails of the lake. I have encountered wildlife such as bobcats here when riding in the early morning before most of the trail users.
Booting: 2 boots (recreational pace)/3 boots (endurance pace)
- If you know the trails, you can easily bring a barefoot horse here and stay on the softer dirt trails. But, because so much of the trail is hard packed road with some gravel and with significant up and down grades, I usually chose to boot the front hooves, especially when planning on a significant amount of trot and canter.
Trail Difficulty: 2 boots (jeep roads)/3 boots (single track)
- Most trails in the park are wide trails with no other hazards beyond the incessant hills. Some of the single tracks can get technical, so be careful and make sure you are on a marked trail and not someone’s improvised wilderness excursion.
- I haven’t found the maps that are provided to be especially helpful, except to let me know the locations of main trail heads.
Amenities: 3 boots
- Depending on the staging area you use, you will have picnic tables, water troughs, flush toilets, and hitching posts.
Value: 3 boots
- A good overall value, especially if using the day-use staging area.
Overall: 3 boots
- For endurance conditioning, it doesn’t get much better than this. Just be aware that at peak use times this is a very popular running/biking/hiking/walking-the-dog spot. If you are looking to add hills into your repertoire, this is the place for you.
Pros: Mostly graded jeep roads that drain well, you can condition here all year long. There are some single track options that are very pretty, but use caution when using them after a storm – they are easily destroyed by hooves when they are wet. The roads are great for hill training and are wide enough with good footing to trot and canter, provided your horse is conditioned for hills. Visibility is good on most of the roads, but use caution going around corners, especially at speed, as these roads are multiple use and it’s very likely you could meet a bike coming the other direction! There are miles and miles of trails here and lots of options for multiple loops or a longer single loop combined with a lollipop. It’s very easy to do a 20-25 mile training ride here. Most roads are suitable for taking along a pony horse. Cost is reasonable if using the day use staging area. The scenery is beautiful and you can get some really interesting landscape photos. The header on the blog section of the website is a photo from a December ride at Del Valle.
Cons: It’s all hills – not many level sections to do speed work. Multi-use trail with a lot of non-equestrian users. There are some sections of trail that can get VERY steep. These are easily avoided once you are familiar with the trails. I usually dismount and walk these sections. Depending on the length of drive and your comfort level driving in traffic, it may only be practical to condition here on a monthly basis due to its bay area location. It’s expensive to pay the use fee at the main gate on a regular basis. It’s much more affordable to use the day use staging area (area 3 below), or if you are a resident in the east bay, to buy a season pass. Like most central California trails in midsummer, it can be hot Hot HOT – which is great if you are conditioning for Tevis. Some parts of the trail are more shaded than others.
Other Users: Expect to see bikes, cows, and dogs. Some trails that are away from the lake are used less and are a better option if you want to get away from the crowds.
Staging: There are 3 staging areas. Two are accessible from the main gate. The area numbers are mine and do not reflect any official designation. All staging areas connect through the trail network.
- Area 1: The one on the opposite side of the lake from check in, next to the horse camping area is the most secluded and the best bet with a larger rig. It’s more primitive than the other staging areas, but with picnic tables and nice shade trees. The trails are not immediately obvious but there are more options for multiple loops and scenic trails. If you are riding on the Oholone wilderness trail, stage out of this area.
- Area 2: Also assessable from the main gate, this area is located on the same side of the river as the check in station, near the boat launch. A nice tidy dirt staging areas complete with hitching posts. Several jeep roads lead out of this staging area.
- Area 3: This is on the opposite end of the lake, in the day use area. The gravel parking lot is easily assessable, but not exactly easy to find, even with the directions provided by the park. My advice is to use a combination of written directions provided by the park and GPS coordinates. This area is day use only and requires cash to self pay. There’s only one trail out of the area and it starts off with a nice BIG hill – great if you have a fresh horse. There is a single track that you can ride on that follows the lake shoreline shortly after ascending the hill, however if you are a first time visitor, it is best to follow the main road. After a couple of miles several roads branch off and you can chose to go up in the hills away from the main traffic, or stick closer to the shore line.
Water: Water is available at each staging area and on the trail. The lake is not usually accessible on the trail so utilize the troughs when you find them.
Gates: There are periodic gates on the trails. The majority can be opened on horseback with a bit of patience, but I usually dismount.
Favorite Trail: Stage out of area one. Go through family camp, or (in low water) wade upstream and use the back trail to go around family camp (look for a trail on the left side of the stream/river). Then stay as close to the lake as possible until the wide jeep trail ends and follow trail through the gate on your right. When you are finished, either come back the way you came, or take one of the many trails back away from the lake and make a loop.