Trail Riding the U.S.

horseback trail ride rocky mountain national park
3-hour trail ride in Rocky Mountain National Park

There’s got to be hundreds of great horseback rides in the U.S. We love our horses here. Even people who’ve never been on a horse in their lives will pay a lot of money to go trail riding in a stunning location.

I’m pretty sure that’s true in other countries too.

I’ve only been on a handful myself, but I bet you’ve been some too. Together we can come up with a great listing of recommended horseback rides in some awesome places.

But first…why?

What is it about being on the back of a horse?

Maybe it’s their beauty. Maybe it’s the romantic notion we’ve grown up with about being a cowboy.

Maybe it’s the slower pace — we see things we miss when on a bike, and for sure in a car. It’s more like hiking ourselves, only easier!

I’ve always loved horses, and have pursued riding many times over my life. So for me a trail ride is sort of a no-brainer. But our son Jason, 17, has never been interested in them. He’s been on a horse maybe once or twice in his life, many years ago.

He didn’t even decide until the night before to go along on the trail ride my husband, Nick, and I had been hoping to do for weeks. And he said it was amazing!

Why? I don’t know — it just is!

What makes for a great trail ride?

You may have different ones, but these are my criteria:


Trail rides aren’t cheap (because horses aren’t cheap!). So if I’m going to pay for a ride, I want to be awed by the beauty around me. That’s why I’ve gone on my last couple rides out west in the mountains.

The Stable

Are they friendly and welcoming? Professional? Act like they’re glad we’ve come?

Length of Ride

I was on a two-hour trail ride near the Tetons. While the destination had a beautiful view and it was fun getting there, it wasn’t long enough. The next time we chose a three-hour ride and that was better. Next time I’d like to try a half-day ride with lunch…or even a full day.

The Horses

I understand the horses are chosen for their reliability, easy-going temperaments and, shall we say, lack of spunk! They’re ridden by different people every day of all kinds of ability and experience levels. So I don’t expect the same kind of experience with a stable horse as I get with the one I take lessons on at home. Still, a friendly and fairly responsive animal is a plus.

The Wrangler(s)

Is he/she friendly? Easy to chat with? Ready to engage in conversation with their riders? Interested in the history, wildlife and plant life of the area? All the better. Many of these are college students or young people in-between college and career and are really interesting to talk with.

End of our 2-hour ride in Glacier National Park

What to prepare for ahead of time

If you’re headed to a beautiful destination that offers horseback rides, it pays to plan ahead. Here are a few tips:

Stop by Before Your Ride, if Possible

This works if the stable is close enough to where you’re staying. The biggest advantage is being sure you can get the ride you want at the time you want, and to get a feel for the place before you lay down your cash or card.

Another advantage we found: this is what made Jason decide to go along. He saw the horses, we talked to the stable manager about the rides, and he suddenly got interested! Same with my 8-year old nephew.

Wear and Bring the Right Gear

Long pants and close-toed shoes are a must. Jeans or some other kind of heavier-duty material is best, both for rubbing on the saddle and brushing against trees and brush on the trail.

While the horses will be reliable and probably gentle, there’s always the possibility of getting stepped on. A 1,000-pound animal stepping on your flip-flopped foot will not be good!

Know the weather and route ahead of time, if possible. Bring rain gear, bug spray, sun screen, layers. If it’s in the mountains, will you be getting into higher altitudes? Can you bring your own snacks? That kind of thing.

Know the Stable’s Rules

Some won’t let you take water bottles, cameras or other things that could possibly cause a horse to startle. Others are fine with it. The weight and age limits will be different, depending on the types of horses they have. Don’t assume this one will be like the last one you visited.

Don’t Expect to be Jim Craig

For those of you, like me, who love one of the best horse movies ever — The Man from Snowy River — you won’t be galloping through the mountains and leaping over cliffs on your trail ride! For some this will be a relief, for others a disappointment.

You’ll be walking single-file on a trail, following the wrangler on a specified route. Just enjoy the beauty and leave the speed and adventure for another time. Unless you see a grizzly — that might add a bit of adventure.

(I’ve often wondered what the wranglers do if the horses ever spook with greenhorns in the saddle…)

Some great trail rides

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado