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Exploring Palm Springs on Horseback

smoke tree stables palm springs

Unleash Your Inner Equestrian at Smoke Tree Stables

While there are numerous ways to experience this natural beauty of Palm Springs, horseback riding stands out as a unique and magical adventure. And there is no better way than with Smoke Tree Stables. Get ready to saddle up and embark on a remarkable equestrian journey through this desert paradise.

Located just minutes from downtown, off Toledo Avenue in south Palm Springs, Smoke Tree Stables is an esteemed equestrian center offering unparalleled horseback riding experiences. They ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure for riders of all ages and abilities with a wide range of trail options and well-trained horses suitable for all riding levels.

smoke tree stables logo

History of Smoke Tree Stables

Smoke Tree Stables is said to have been formed in 1927. The adjacent Smoke Tree Ranch was one of the few subdivisions developed in Palm Springs during the Great Depression. Originally built as a dude ranch, the “guest ranch” was started in 1930 by L. Mac Blankenhorn and named after the characteristic smoke trees.

F. Markham

In the 1930s, Fred and Maziebelle Markham regularly stayed at the Desert Inn from Pasadena for the healthful benefits it provided to their young asthmatic son, Charlie. Maziebelle fell in love with the desert. After many subsequent visits “out of town” at Smoke Tree Ranch, the Markhams bought the entirety of the ranch in 1936 (under the name Mardo Corporation, later changed to Smoke Tree Ranch Properties) and proceeded to expand it and sell home lots to their friends.

In 1945, the Markhams sold the entire Ranch operation to the Colony to retain ownership in their homes and home sites.

G. Rasmussen

The Stables were annexed from the Ranch, and George Rasmussen became the owner in 1946. He had been active in Palm Springs horse events since the early 1930s, including several rodeos. George was one of the original members of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s posse. Later, he was involved in the Palm Spring Mounted Police posse, which held its first drill at Smoke Tree Stables in 1950.

Johnson Family

The Burro Train in Palm Springs, established in 1948, was located at the northwest corner of South Palm Canyon Drive and Mesquite Avenue. One of the rides was a 2-hour excursion to the falls in Tahquitz Canyon. Ken Johnson became interested in the Burro Train while recovering from a about with pneumonia, which antibiotics could not cure. He decided to recuperate in the desert and rode with his wife, Eva, up into Tahquitz Canyon on the Burro Train. He would later purchase it and increase the burros from 14 to 30.

The Palm Springs Burro Train was one of the first known in the US. The grandchildren of Walter Knott – founder of Knott’s Berry Farm – were frequent riders of the Burro Train during their visits to Palm Springs.

After Ken Johnson acquired the Burro Train, he also took over the operation of Smoke Tree Stables.  Smoke Tree Stables is still owned and operated by the Johnson family today.

smoke tree ranch Horseback-riding

Walt Disney would eventually own a home in Smoke Tree Ranch.


Meet Stacy Johnson, Keeper of Smoke Tree Stables

“Horses tend to mirror our behaviors,” explains Stacey Johnson, proprietor of Smoke Tree Stables. “So people get to experience their behaviors in real-time. And it also offers them an opportunity to sort of reflect and then maybe make some adjustments they notice while working with the horses.”

Horseback riding is synonymous with wellness. In addition to encouraging physical activity, equestrianism helps people commune with nature courtesy of their hoofed chauffeur. Palm Springs is also indelibly linked with a quest for health and happiness. It has been a wellness retreat for centuries, and Smoke Tree Stables has been a big part of our healing history.

smoke tree stables credit Olivier Mastey
Credit: Olivier Mastey

“My husband’s family has owned the business since the 1940s, and it’s been in our family ever since. So there’s a long history of that sort of Western way of life in Palm Springs. We see generation after generation of people who come to visit and then bring their children and then bring their grandchildren. It’s pretty fantastic.”

smoke tree stables sign

Murray Canyon Haul Ride

“We have a couple of different programs for the general public. Our most popular ride is our Murray Canyon haul ride, and that’s h-a-u-l. And that’s where we trailer the horses up into the Andreas Canyon.  It’s part of the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons. Most of Murray Canyon is only accessible by foot or horse. We ride from Andreas Canyon up over Murray Peak and drop back into the canyons. So, in terms of scenery, it’s spectacular. They ride through native palm groves. They ride through and along streambeds. The ride itself is about an hour and 40 minutes.”

Murray Canyon is also known for its cultural significance. It is home to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who have inhabited the region for centuries. The canyon contains remnants of ancient settlements and rock art, offering a glimpse into the rich history of the indigenous people. Visiting Murray Canyon is not only an opportunity to connect with nature but also a chance to appreciate the cultural heritage of the area.

As you traverse winding trails surrounded by towering palm trees and awe-inspiring desert landscapes, you’ll witness the natural beauty that makes Palm Springs so enchanting. Explore the rugged terrain of Murray Canyon on horseback. This trail takes you through dramatic rock formations and vibrant flora and offers glimpses of wildlife in their natural habitat. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of the desert while discovering its hidden treasures.

smoke tree stable indian canyons

All Skill Levels Welcome

“In terms of skill level, you don’t need any experience. And the entire time is spent in such a scenic environment that the customers absolutely love it,” notes Stacy. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, Smoke Tree Stables offers lessons tailored to your skill level. If you’re new to horseback riding, use their skilled instructors to guide you through the basics, ensuring you feel comfortable and confident before hitting the trails.

smoke tree stables andreas canyon

Approaching the finish line, Johnson concludes, “I’m always grateful to live here. I feel like we have an amazing sense of community.”

smoke tree stables horses

Group Rides & Cookouts

Corporate events, conventions, or private groups can be customized to your group’s needs. Smoke Tree Stables also offers corporate team-building cookouts and western-themed events.

They offer different options for your groups, including our most popular Indian Canyon Haul Ride, where they trailer the horses into the beautiful, scenic Indian Canyons for a ride along streams and native palms.

Smoke Tree Weddings

Whether you are looking for Rustic Charm, a bit of Boho Chic, or Country Glam, our experienced team is here to help bring to light an extraordinary event uniquely a reflection of you. From intimate elopements to sizeable gatherings, this property keeps it personal. This beautiful, natural ranch landscape is a unique backdrop for your wedding or rehearsal dinner.

Tips for Horseback Riding

Dress Appropriately: Wear long pants, closed-toe shoes, and a comfortable shirt. Bring a hat and apply sunscreen to protect yourself from the desert sun.

Listen to Your Guide: Pay attention to the instructions and guidance provided by your guide to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride.

Be Respectful of the Horses: Treat the horses with kindness and respect. Follow instructions on interacting with them, and remember that each horse has its own personality and preferences.

Capture the Memories: Bring a camera or smartphone to capture the breathtaking scenery and memorable moments during your horseback riding adventure.

Arrive 30 minutes before the ride time.  Must be seven years of age or older.

Note: They close on Wednesdays and most Thursdays. Check times by calling 760-327-1372. Closes for the summer months.


2500 S. Toledo Ave. |  760-327-1372

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