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Quick getaways by horseback; from ritzy to rustic, prawns to beans, overnight trips starting out from Guerneville to San Jose.

Quick getaways by horseback

Would-be wranglers can saddle up and camp out this fall in several areas within a 2-hour drive of San Francisco. From Guerneville to San Jose, five stables offer guided overnight horseback riding trips.

A quick getaway for experienced or novice riders, the overnights feature trail rides by day, dinner and campfires by night. You ride from 1 to 6 hours each day through countryside ranging from beaches to mountains and grassy hills to deep forest (watch for poison oak). On most trips, the pace varies--you can canter if you like.

Gear is usually trucked to the campsite. For most overnights, you need to bring only a sleeping bag and warm clothing for nighttime; a ground pad, water bottle, and flashlight are also useful.

The style varies from rustic to ritzy. On one, hot dogs and beans are the evening's fare; on another, the cook sautes prawns in butter and garlic over the campfire.

Of course, prices vary, too--the total cost of a two-day trip ranges from $45 to $325 per person. Some have negotiable rates if you wish to bring your own food.

Five stables: Guerneville to San Jose

The five stables offering overnight trips are listed alphabetically here and on page 46. Weather permitting, all but one run trips year-round. Groups range from 2 to 15 people.

Armstrong Woods Pack Station, Jonathan and Laura Ayers, Box 970, Guerneville 95446; (707) 887-2939. Cost: $160 to $200 per person.

This ride takes compers through Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve and Austin Creek State Recreation Area. Terrain features narrow stream canyons and ridgetop views of the Santa Rosa Valley and the Mendocino Highlands. Along the way, you may spot pileated woodpeckers, wild pigs, and other wildlife.

After 4 hours on the trail, the guide throws a red-checked tablecloth over a picnic table and cooks up a candlelight dinner that might consist of skewered prawns, barbecued chicken wings, and pasta salad. He may also entertain guests with stories of the area's history, landscape, and wildlife.

Here, pack horses carry supplies to camp. The pack station also provides dunnage service.

Grant Ranch Stables, Don Criswell and Karin Balbo, 105 Mount Hamilton Rd., San Jose 95140; (408) 274-9258. Cost: $75 per person.

On this 2- to 3-hour ride through 10,000-acre J.D. Grant County Park, riders along trails once traveled by stagecoaches view spring-fed ponds and lakes, grazing cattle, and wild pigs. The guide tells tales about the history of the land along the way.

At the campsite, riders find an already setup camp, with pit toilet and makeshift shower, and a pond for bluegill and bass fishing (bring your rod if you like). Wine is waiting upon arrival; dinner of garlic-fried steak sandwiches, beans, and fresh fish, if caught, comes soon after. After dinner, you can toast s'mores around the campfire and listen to a wrangler read Western poetry. Nestled in sleeping bags, campers might hear a coyote's lonesome call.

Sky Ridge Ranch, Jodi and Paul Storaasli, 22400 Skyline Blvd., Box 9, La Honda 94020; (415) 948-8398. Cost: $325 per person.

On this elegant--and expensive--trip, riders travel along roads and trails north of Saratoga, through Santa Clara County park and Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District lands, and on private property. This trip offers broad vistas of the South Bay, the Santa Cruz Mountains, and on a clear day, the ocean.

At the ranch, pampered guests enjoy the swimming pool, hot tub, tennis court, and a half-hour massage. After a gourmet meal, such as sauteed prawns, and possibly a flamenco guitar serenade, guests retire to tents to find peppermint white-chocolate roses on their pillows.

Despite the posh atmosphere, riding for 6 hours on both days to cover 40 miles of up-and-down trails can be uncomfortable for all but the most seasoned riders. One or two weekend trips are offered each month from June through October.

Skywood Stables, Veronica Underwood and Dan Wroten, Rancho Canada Verde, 2700 Purisima Creek Road, Half Moon Bay 94019; (415) 726-5188. Cost: $45 per person.

The Chuck Wagon BBQ and Campout includes a steak and corn-on-the-cob dinner with all the fixings. The riding pace is slow, perfect for beginners.

After the 2-hour ride through the ranch's private land, the guide can direct campers toward a cool stream for drinking, surrounded by redwoods. Bunks are available at the campsite. On most rides, a bluegrass band plays by lantern light.

Sunset Corral, Pat and Gail Martin, 2901 Vineyard Rd., Novato 94947; (415) 897-8212. Cost: short ride $75, beach ride $110 per person (slightly more for groups smaller than three).

Two rides are offered: a 2-hour round trip through Marin County Open Space lands near the ranch, and a 4- to 5-hour ride to Point Reyes National Seashore. For the short trip, pack lightly--you may need to tie your gear to your saddle. On the Point Reyes trip, riders stay at an equestrian campground with running water, a barbecue pit, and pit toilets.

They're casual here. Expect hot dogs, hamburgers, and beans for dinner, s'mores for dessert, doughnuts and coffee for breakfast.

Photo: To start off the day, Sky Ridge Ranch riders enjoy croissants and eggs (above), while Grant Ranch group cooks sausage and blueberry pancakes over the campfire

Photo: Dome tents are pitched--complete with sleeping bags and pillows--when riders reach camp at Sky Ridge Ranch. Long day's ride makes sleeping easy

Photo: Guide leads the way and pack horses carry the load as campers cross East Austin Creek in the back country north of Guerneville

Photo: High in the saddle, novice horseman gets pre-ride instruction from wrangler while other riders look on

Photo: Romping free, horses on Armstrong Woods trip take to meadow for morning frolic before being saddled or packed.
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Date:Oct 1, 1986
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