Kent Jackson knows the hills and valleys, streams and trails at Pere Marquette State Park better than most. You could say the park is in his blood.
He also knows horses.
Jackson, the owner of Pere Marquette Riding Stables, has combined those skills to give visitors a chance to see the park from a new perspective – on horseback.
“I really enjoy seeing people get on a horse, sometimes for the first time, and go for a ride,” Jackson said. “There have been times when kids will start crying when they get on a horse because they’ve never done this before. By the time they come in off the ride they are smiling and happy. They are a totally different kid.”
The riding stable sits on the park’s southeastern edge. A total of 20 quarter horses are at the stable and 10 are saddled daily and ready for 45 to 50-minute trail rides that wind over 2 ½ miles. Riders have rare views of deer, turkeys and red tail hawks in their natural habitats. At the same time, riders enjoy unparalleled views of the park as horses climb trails over hills and on the edges of ravines and meandering streams.
Pere Marquette State Park was Jackson’s boyhood back yard – literally. He grew up at the current riding stable location. His grandparents managed the park’s historic lodge and conference center for 15 years. And his parents started the riding stable in 1969 and left in 1979. Jackson took over the stable in 1995 and hasn’t looked back.
“Every day is different here,” he mused. “We’ve had people come out and propose to their girlfriends. And there was a film shoot for ‘Farmers Want A Wife’ here once. We have a lot of repeat riders. Families come out once and then keep coming back year after year. Some come to see the leaves in the fall and some just come out to ride the horses.”
In addition to trail rides, Jackson recently started offering horse drawn carriage rides with evening bonfires at Pere Marquette Lodge. Hot dogs, s’mores, hot chocolate and music are part of the experience as people gather around a glowing bonfire. The carriage rides are available on weekends during September and October. Carriage rides are also available by reservation at the park. Carriage rides are also available for private events. For more information about pricing for trail rides, pony rides, evening carriage rides or hay rides, call (618) 786-2156 or go to: Graftontrailrides.com
Travel Tip: Trail rides are available May through early November. Reservations are strongly encouraged.