Nevada State Parks is growing and its newest property is being developed with equestrians in mind. The new Walker River State Recreation Area is made up of four separate historic ranch properties, totaling 12,700 acres across Lyon and Mineral counties. A defining feature of the sprawling recreation area is that it includes 28 miles of the East Walker River, something the state agency is hoping will attract kayakers, fisherman, hikers, campers, and horseback riders.
Amazingly, the majority of the former ranchlands that make up the new recreation area were privately owned for more than a century and have never been accessible to the public. Spread over so many miles, Walker River Recreation Area is topographically diverse, with a mix of mountains, arid hills, desert valleys, and riparian areas. The region is home to sage grouse, bighorn sheep, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and a variety of bird species. The recreation area is also filled with historic houses, barns, and other structures.
Walker River SRA is being developed in phases, with officials estimating three years to complete basic public access and facilities. However, portions of the park are already open and more will open later this year. We were fortunate to get a behind the scenes tour last month and discovered that Nevada State Parks officials are considering equestrians as a user group.
The Pitchfork Ranch is the northernmost property that makes up the new park. Park officials plan to open this section in September 2018. It will include day-use and group-use areas, campsites with toilets and showers, and in the future, a full hook-up campground. The Pitchfork’s ranch house (best described as adobe minimalist style) will become a visitor’s center and store. The ranch also contains several smaller homes, barns, corrals, and other outbuildings. Much of the surrounding country is high desert scrub and arid hills,
but along the river you’ll find grassy meadows, sycamores, and cottonwoods.
Equestrians will be able to access the Pitchfork for riding and camping. There is a multi-use trail that meanders alongside the river (approximately 14 miles, out and back) or head out into thousands of acres of public land surrounding the ranch. The terrain at the Pitchfork and the surrounding area is sandy and relatively flat. This part of the park has a lot of potential for equestrians. There is existing infrastructure that could be used – corrals, pens, and arenas – for group events like clinics or shows. This is also the most easily accessible portion of the park to get a rig in; the entrance is just 13 miles south of Yerington on a good road.
Rafter 7 Ranch
The next property that makes up the new recreation area is the Rafter 7 Ranch. This tucked away property is a surprisingly lush getaway. It was formerly used as a church retreat and it’s easy to see why. The 5-bedroom, 5-bath ranch house includes two great rooms with huge windows that overlook green pastures along the river where cows, deer, and horses graze. There is a hot tub outside the house, a perfectly landscaped grass yard, flower beds, and pine trees. State Parks plans to rent out the ranch house for group events like corporate retreats or family reunions.
They also plan to build a campsite farther up the river with some rentable cabins, a day-use area with shade shelters, and BBQ grills. The ranch also includes a beautiful stone house (now used as the ranger residence), a huge sheep shearing barn, a horse stable, old corrals, and chutes. At this time, there are no plans to incorporate equestrian facilities into the Rafter 7 Ranch.
Flying M Ranch
The Flying M is the part of the park most shrouded in mystery and excitement. The ranch cannot yet be developed, as its former owner—Barron Hilton, of the Hilton Hotels dynasty—still has exclusive use as a condition of the sale. The 90-year-old still visits the ranch regularly and it is a 5-star retreat. The main compound features an airstrip and hangars, two fishing ponds, tennis court, swimming pool, trap range, skeet range, multiple cabins, RV hookups, barns and corrals, and much more. State Parks officials tell us this part of the park will eventually be open for camping and recreation, and that could include equestrian access as well.
Nine Mile Ranch
The southernmost section of the new park is already open for visitors. The Nine Mile Ranch was also formerly owned by Barron Hilton. It is about halfway between Hawthorne, Nevada and Bridgeport, California. The Forest Service road (028) that runs through the ranch is fairly good.
Unfortunately, the ranch’s large stone house was damaged during an earthquake and will need to be rebuilt. For now, visitors can walk around the house and the nearby barns and outbuildings. A primitive campground (called the Bighorn Campground) has already opened at “The Elbow,” a landmark bend in the river. It features restrooms, picnic tables, and fire
rings, but is not open for equestrian camping.
Many of the ranch’s pastures are still on a grazing lease so you’ll see cows and horses as you travel through. The Nine Mile has close access to the ghost towns of Aurora,
Bodie, and others. This is nice open country for riding and horses are welcome. However, there really isn’t a great spot for horse camping and it’s a bit far off the beaten path for a day ride. With that in mind, I’m not sure this part of the park will see a lot of equestrian use as-is, so I’m hoping State Parks will put in a few corrals here for equestrian overnight use.
We will follow up as the new park continues to be developed and keep you posted on its equestrian opportunities!
Nevada State Parks is very supportive of equestrian use and willing to incorporate riding trails or horse camping in parks where appropriate. Officials are open to equestrian suggestions for the new Walker River State Recreation Area. If you have ideas, please send
them to email@example.com.
Learn More: http://parks.nv.gov
Story and Photos by Samantha Szesciorka