No other outdoor activity seems better suited to social distancing than horseback riding, as the size of a horse basically requires riders to stay at least 6 feet from one another.
To identify the area's best horseback riding trails, we talked to local expert Joanne Mitchell — who probably knows the trails as well as anyone, considering that she helped build most of them. She's a longtime member of the Commissioner's Council on Greenways and Trails for the state of Tennessee as well as the Southern Appalachian Back Country Horsemen, local affiliate of the Back Country Horsemen of America, which assists various agencies in the establishment and maintenance of trails and other backcountry resources.
Naturally, her favorite spots to ride are in Cherokee National Forest's Tellico and Ocoee-Hiwassee ranger districts, where the Cleveland-based chapter works to build and maintain trails. Here are her top trail picks:
Basin Branch Trail
This 4.2-mile out-and-back is located in the Ocoee-Hiwassee ranger district of Cherokee National Forest. Mitchell says she likes the gentleness and width of the trail, which is a wide roadbed aside from one small singletrack portion. "There's a little water on it, which is good in the heat," she adds.
Lost Corral Horse Camp loop
Located near Benton, this 13-mile loop that begins at the Lost Corral Horse Camp comprises the Coffee Branch and Chestnut Mountain trails. Positive attributes include easy access, as the camp is located less than 2 miles off of U.S. Highway 11, says Mitchell. The camp also has public restrooms, plenty of parking and water spigots, she says. If you choose to stay the night, each of the camp's 20 sites are $15 a night, accommodate five people and feature a picnic table, fire ring, lantern post and horse hitching posts, according to the camp's page on the U.S. Forest Service website.
Miller Ridge-Tavern Branch Trail System
Located in Tellico, west of the Indian Boundary Recreation Area, this 17-mile system features a diversity of trail types including singletrack and old roadbeds, says Mitchell. One plus is that the trail is gated, so there's no vehicle traffic outside of hunting season.
Starr Mountain Horse Trails
Mitchell's favorite Starr Mountain trails, which are located in the Ocoee/Hiwassee district, include Bullet Creek, which she says is good for viewing wildflowers in the spring. Bullet Creek connects to Trail 120, which connects to Cooper Gap, then to the Burkett-Ivans and Hogback trails.