Horseback Riding—A Hidden Gem in Catalina State Park

Jody Snodgrass, David Snodgrass, Patty Holley, Mark Poklar, and Lisalan Thai enjoying the beauty of their ride through Catalina State Park (photo by Paulette Kasperski)

Barbara Miller

If you’re looking for adventure in a secluded, tranquil place, you’ll find it at Rancho de Los Cerros. This 10-acre ranch is the only private property within the Catalina State Park and offers guided horseback riding for novice and experienced riders alike. Recently, our SaddleBrooke Gadabouts group in The Preserve enjoyed a two-hour guided horseback ride at the ranch.

Members of the Gadabouts group take turns arranging a wide variety of outings, which have included docent-led museum tours, art gallery visits, and stargazing. The Gadabouts try to offer novel experiences for our members that educate and stimulate a deeper appreciation of our community.

Paulette Kasperski, Unit 44A rep, organized our Ranchos de los Cerros horseback riding event, and 17 members attended. Although the ranch is only 20 miles south of SaddleBrooke off Oracle Road, we formed carpools to caravan together. Adding to the intrigue of the trip was the last leg in which we followed each other down a mile-long dirt road that meandered through sagebrush and cacti. During this isolated, slow drive, one wondered if there would be anything at the end of the road. Soon, however, our efforts were rewarded with sights of huge horse stables, a pink Spanish hacienda, an ancient hotel, huge outdoor entertaining areas, spacious cobblestone courtyards, and even an 1800s western street scene. Our hosts had invited us to arrive early and bring our lunch to have a picnic on the grounds before our ride. We chose to eat at home but did arrive early to allow time to check in and pay.

Our horses were saddled, instructions were given, and the guides expertly matched us to appropriate horses. We were divided into two groups with guides for each leading the way. We rode in a line through the peaceful wash, up the mountain, and over a long ridge before descending back to the ranch. Stunning views of the Catalina Mountains and beyond surrounded us. No houses, cars, or people could be seen. The only noises came from the neighing horses or our compadres’ comments on the beauty of nature. Approximately one-third of the ride was either going up or down the rocky face of the mountain with about two-thirds of the ride on a flat surface. At the end of our ride, our guides helped us get off our horses who were treated to food and water.

The current owner, Frank Chapman, then greeted us and gave us a tour of the property that dates to 1907 when Jesus Ellias homesteaded the land and built it into a full working ranch. Over the years, it has served as a dude ranch, a YWCA summer camp, and a corporate event venue. The ranch just reopened in February of 2023 and is under renovation for future wedding/party venues. The proximity, tranquility, adventure, and history of the ranch make it the perfect choice for visiting guests, family, and friends. Enjoy horseback riding yourself by going to