Driving South on Highway One from Mendocino to Point Arena is an experience in itself. The winding road offers up majestic coastal views with crashing waves, soaring birds and plenty of wild life. If you happen to be traveling the Pacific Coast Highway in the winter, you might even see a whale spout or two. If you truly want to experience the Mendocino Coast up close and personal, go horseback riding on Manchester Beach with Ross Ranch.
One of several private beaches stretching along California’s north coast, the owners of Ross Ranch have special access to Manchester Beach for your horseback riding vacation. Sandwiched between Irish Beach and Point Arena, you’ll need to pay attention to the mile markers along Highway One or you might whiz past the horse trailer parked behind the metal gate. You won’t see any Ross Ranch signs on the side of the highway. Reservations are required in advance for this special beach ride, so plan accordingly.
Owners Tobi and John Ross have been offering guided trail rides on the beach and in the forest since 1996. The family-owned operation translates to small group rides with excellent safe and sound horses. In my experience of growing up horseback riding in California, it says a lot about a company that they are consistently able to offer scenic trail rides at affordable prices. Unfortunately, so many ride operators have gone out of business due to the huge cost of liability insurance and I’m finding that there are less and less places to ride horses on the beach.
After signing a liability waiver, riders are matched with horses, or in some cases you might find yourself riding a mule. I rode a mule in Molokai, Hawaii and felt very comfortable on these sure-footed animals. My husband and I were joined by a mother/daughter duo who had ridden multiple times with Ross Ranch. On this particular beach ride, Evie was riding the mule.
“The forest is a totally different trail ride,” said Joan Daniels. “This is our third time riding with Tobi. We learn a lot of information about the Mendocino coast from her and we love riding on the beach. Our daughter Evie likes horseback riding.”
Our horses rode past Wagu cattle and day old calves on the way to the beach. The Wagu cows are adorable with their shaggy winter coats. Our horses carefully picked their way down the beach trail, the scent of sea spray wafting up to our nostrils. The pounding surf crashed to shore while our horses walked in the foamy water. Translucent jelly fish, washed up by the force of the waves, were scattered along our path.
With the exception of a trio of young ladies taking selfies on the beach, our group of five equestrians were the only ones on Manchester Beach. With shore birds gliding above us, we walked the hour and a half trail up and down this section of beach. You’ll note that this is a walking only ride, but the scenery makes up for the slow pace. We paused by a rocky area for pictures of our ocean beach ride and then leisurely headed back to the cattle ranch.
“This is our third time riding with Tobi. We learn a lot of information about the Mendocino coast from her and we love riding on the beach. Our daughter Evie likes horseback riding.” Joan Daniels
If you are headed up to the Mendocino area, I recommend a stay at Brewery Gulch Inn (no dogs allowed) or the pet-friendly Stanford Inn. Tell ’em Nancy Brown sent you!
Need to know:
It is recommended to wear close-toed shoes and long pants. Helmets required for children 16 and under, helmets are optional for adults. Wear layers. Weight limit is 230 pounds. Cost of the 2 hour beach ride is $60 as of this writing (1.5 hour actual time in saddle.) Elk redwood forest ride is $50. As always, check the website to confirm pricing. Call the ranch directly for reservations.
If You Go:
Ross Ranch (707) 877-1834
Ross Ranch horseback riding review, video and all photography by travel writer Nancy D. Brown. As is typical in the industry, I received a complimentary trail ride for review purposes, however, all opinions are my own.