Anyone who loves to ride horses also has a penchant for adventure. There’s something about the creak of a leather saddle and the companionship of a trusted equine that gets our blood pumping. Going exploring on horseback is still one of the most fun ways to see the country, so we’ve compiled ten suggestions for a horse riding holiday in the USA.
Nestled into a majestic mountain pass and filled with warm, friendly locals, Ouray is rightly nicknamed the Switzerland of Colorado. A tiny town with only windy mountain roads leading in or out makes it a cowboy’s dream, and horse-friendly trails and campsites abound. There are a few stables that offer guided rides, but if you bring your own steed you’ll want to make sure that he’s sure-footed and sound enough for difficult mountain trails. Because of the high elevation, the best time to ride here is midsummer, when the wildflowers are in full bloom and the bright sun makes nearby snowcaps shimmer.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Words aren’t really enough to describe Bryce Canyon. It’s a beautiful, otherworldly maze of hoodoos and steep rock walls. What makes Bryce more hospitable to equine adventurers than nearby Zion is its primitive style, fewer crowds and higher elevation. Guided horseback treks into the canyon are a popular tourist activity, and while individually owned horses are not allowed in the canyon, there are beautiful trails all over the park.
Big Bend, Texas
No Western-centric list is complete without a nod to the Lone Star State, and Big Bend National Park didn’t exactly eek its way into our list. It’s an imposing 800,000 acres of mountain, desert and prairie in southwest Texas, with miles of trail and plenty of horse-friendly primitive campsites. It also includes 118 miles of the Rio Grande river, the natural boundary between Mexico and Texas, and a boon for horseback adventurers, since the climate is hot and dry most of the year. Horses are not allowed to graze in Big Bend, but if you’re willing to pack in your feed and rough it for a few days, it offers an incredible, truly Texan horseback experience.
While known for its wines and quaint, touristy towns, Sonoma County has some of the best environments for riding. The weather is perfect – usually mild year-round and boasting an almost constant light breeze, a great relief when you’re trapped in jeans and boots. Several wine-country trails make for beautiful weekend strolls, or head to the local redwood groves for a longer overnight excursion amongst the giant trees. Plus, you should stop for some wine tasting on your way out of town. It is Sonoma, after all.
Amelia Island, Florida
About a 40-minute drive from Jacksonville, Amelia Island is a beautiful glimpse at unspoiled Florida. The state park protects over 200 acres of beach, salt marsh and coastal forest along the southern edge of Amelia Island, and is one of the few parks in the country that offers horseback riding on the beach and along the shoreline.
The park has partnered with an outfitter to guide these rides, and boasts that horseback sightseers see more wildlife than anybody else on Amelia Island. Riding on the beach has a romance that can’t be denied – doing so in Florida’s welcoming weather on a protected coast. It doesn’t get much better than that.
White Mountains, Arizona
While the Grand Canyon gets most of the tourist love in Arizona, many people miss an incredible mountain playground close by. Only a few hours by car from Phoenix or Tucson lands you in an utterly unique slice of Arizona. The White Mountains are dotted with guest ranches, B&Bs, and campsites, nearly all of them welcoming to you and your four-hoofed companion. Majestic mountains, high-elevation meadows, great fishing lakes, and frequent summer thunderstorms make the White Mountains the perfect “Home on the Range” destination.
Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi and Tennessee
Even though the Natchez Trace Parkway covers 444 miles of scenic roadway, horses are only allowed on a few 5 to 30 mile sections of designated trail – all of which must be ridden as day rides, since horses are not allowed in the campgrounds. Don’t be discouraged, however, as it’s definitely worth trailering in.
The lush vegetation, changing topography and frequent hitching posts make these trails a delightful weekend getaway. Plus, nearly all the trails start close to a Southern hub like Jackson or Nashville – so after you work up an appetite there’s always fried food available to curb your hunger.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
If you love the West, you’ll love Custer. Deep in the Black Hills, Custer is 71,000-acres of mountains, lush meadows and wild forest. The park is also home to one of the world’s largest publicly-owned bison herds, nearly 1,500 head, which are rounded up every September by local wranglers. It doesn’t get much more like the Old West than the hearing pounding feet of a buffalo herd rumbling by, but even if you don’t come to watch the round-up, the horse-friendly campsites and gorgeous scenery will make you feel like an old cowpoke anyway.
Central Park, New York
OK, so it may be expensive, and not exactly a trek nor anyone’s first choice for a US horse riding holiday, but what horse enthusiast hasn’t dreamed of riding in Central Park? Rides are offered all summer and are a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ride in one of America’s most iconic places.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
We had to finish out this list with the most American of serious treks. A multi-day pack trip in one of the nation’s oldest National Parks is an incredible way to see the back country and experience Yellowstone the way Teddy Roosevelt did – with plenty of creaking saddle leather. With more than 3,740 square miles, Yellowstone is so huge that many of its treasures remain unseen – unless you’re on horseback.