woman riding horse in the river

10 Best National Parks for Trail Riding on Horseback

Travel
on
September 10, 2021

The United States National Park Service protects some of the most diverse, naturally abundant places in the world. These natural wonders offer vast terrains to explore and put your mind in a state of awe. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you’ve probably already hiked many of these places. But have you ever tried trail riding?

Many national parks are equestrian-friendly and designate certain trails for horseback riding. This is a unique opportunity to venture into the wilderness and enjoy pristinely gorgeous parks.

Whether you’re a seasoned horseback rider with your own horses or looking for a new adventure on a trail riding tour, check out some of the best National Parks for horseback riding.

If you’re wondering what to wear for horseback riding, read How To Dress For Horseback Riding: The Basics.

1. Zion National Park, Utah 

Zion National Park is an amazing place to go trail riding. The area includes a wide desert landscape full of narrow canyons with steep red cliffs, an alpine forest with plenty of trails, and a flowing river that turns into the famous Emerald Pools where you can find a glittering waterfall.

Riding a horse through the park allows you to explore remote regions in a way that will take you back in time. Plenty of trails in Zion are designated for horseback riding and require no permit. There are also some great services just outside of the park where you can book a trail riding tour for the day.

man with cowboy hat saddling up horse
Wrangler preparing a group of horses to take visitors for a trail ride into the canyons of Zion National Park. Photo by Don Graham.

2.   Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 

Yellowstone is steeped in rich history. Even before it became the United States’ first National Park, this area was home to many different Tribes that used the land for hunting and transportation routes, all while on horseback.

This park features dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, hot springs, and famous geysers such as Old Faithful. You’ll also find an abundance of wildlife including bears, wolves, bison, elk, and antelope. Besides hiking and watching wildlife, visitors can go mountain biking on some of the best trails in the country.

Yellowstone is a great place to travel by horseback, as the park offers beautiful trails for you to explore on guided or private trail riding trips. Stock outfitters provide trail riding services during the summer and fall.

people riding horses on green field
Riding the Big Horn Pass Trail on the Gallatin Canyon side. Photo by Yellowstone National Park.

3.   Glacier National Park, Montana 

Glacier National Park, also known as the Crown of the Continent, is a must-visit destination for anyone who wants to go on a trail ride. This area is located in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, with glacier-carved peaks, vast valleys full of plants, and crystal-clear emerald lakes.

This park provides plenty of options for horseback riding. Many trails lead through gorgeous scenery – from high elevations to brilliant blue lakes and colorful meadows. Contact Swan Mountain Outfitters if you’re looking for a guided tour as they are the only licensed outfitter in Glacier. They offer anything from an hour trip to an overnight trip. 

man horseback riding on trail with mountain in background
Horse riding in Glacier National Park. Photo by Jeff Hitchcock.

4.   Shenandoah National Park, Virginia 

Take a trip to Shenandoah National Park to ride alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains. This expansive landscape, also known as the “Yellow-Blazed Trails,” provides over 180 miles of trails open to horses. Some trails are relatively smooth, while others are steep and rocky. Enjoy the outdoors while slowly riding among hundreds of giant chestnut and red oak trees.

This park allows equestrians to bring their own horse and offers some great guided trail rides during spring and fall. You’ll find plenty to enjoy in Shenandoah, from going on a pony ride to observing the large variety of birds and checking out the spectacular waterfalls. All in all, this is one magical park!

red and yellow trees with mountain in the back
Fall colors of Thorofare Mountain Overlook in Shenandoah National Park. Photo by MatthewBenson.

5.    Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

If you seek high mountains, aspen forests, and alpine lakes, Rocky Mountain National Park is the place for you. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot elk, bighorn sheep, and hundreds of unique birds while you ride along 260 miles of equestrian-friendly trails. This makes up 95% of the trails in the park!

There are also some designated backcountry campsites for you and your horse if you wish to stay the night in the amazing Rocky Mountains. Plenty of outfitters in the vicinity offer guided tours ranging from one hour long to overnight adventures. Whether you’re a novice rider or one of the more experienced riders, you’ll find adventure here.

brown moose on top of the mountain
Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by Dave Willhite.

6.    Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon is well known for its collection of giant natural amphitheaters. There are many unique geological structures here called hoodoos. Hoodoos were formed by frost and stream erosion of the river and lake bed. This is a tremendous place to go for a horseback ride as you take in the red, orange, and white colors of the rocks gleaming down on you.

In this park, you’ll find some amazing viewpoints like Sunset Point, where you’re able to get a dramatic view of Bryce Canyon. This national park offers guided trail riding tours from local outfitters. Riders can also bring their own horse or mule. Overnight camping is not permitted, however, there is camping on National Forest land nearby.

people horseback riding on path in front of red rock formations
Trail riding in Bryce Canyon. Photo by Amy Humphries.

7.    Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite is one of the most popular National Parks in the world. Millions of visitors come every year to admire its giant granite cliffs, sprawling meadows, ancient sequoias, and majestic waterfalls. Most of the 1,200 square miles that this park protects are open for equestrians, providing plenty of trail riding opportunities. There are overnight boarding facilities and campsites available year-round. 

loaded horses on mountain trail
Pack horses descending from High Sierra Camp at May Lake, Yosemite National Park. Photo by Cathy Baird.

8.   Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina 

The Smoky Mountains offer many amazing opportunities for outdoor lovers. This location is known for the breathtaking mountain peaks, the distinct blue smoke that appears over the mountains, the many waterfalls, and, of course, the plants. This National Park is not only the most visited park in the US, but it’s also the most biodiverse with over 1,800 species of plants.

You’ll find over 500 miles of park trails open for riders and their horses to explore. After the trail ride, you can stay the night with many overnight horse camps available.

horse on green field in the outdoors
Horses in Cades Cove by Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

9.   Acadia National Par, Maine

On the coast of Maine sits 47,000 acres of forested landscape with granite peaks, rocky beaches, and rich history. This area is well-known for its abundance of wildlife, fresh air, and clean water. You may spot animals such as wolves, bears, and even whales when visiting this park.

Trail riding here is an unforgettable experience. There are many hiking trails open to horses, and the park is fully equipped for overnight camps as well. If you are in the mood for a carriage ride, there are some great opportunities to rent out a tour for the day.

horses behind the white wooden fence
Horses for carriage rides in Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park. Photo by Paul VanDerWerf.

10.  Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona 

The Grand Canyon really speaks for itself. Pictures, videos, and maps don’t do justice to this natural wonder.

You can view the canyon by horseback, trail riding along the South and North Rims. If you wish to venture into the canyon, you can either book a guided tour by mule or apply for special permission in advance. Campgrounds on both rims are equipped for equine accommodations.

people riding mules on trail
Trail riding in the Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Grand Canyon National Park.

Gitty Up and Go

Trail riding with horses is a relaxing activity and also a great way for the whole family to have fun while out in nature, especially when exploring one of America’s stunning national parks. Depending on the destination and the outfitter, the minimum age for taking a tour in the horse saddle can be as low as 6 years old.

When you’re out riding the trails, remember to keep your horse safe and calm. Horses are noble creatures that deserve our respect. Also, remember to wear the proper attire. You’ll want tough yet comfortable pants, a shirt that fully covers your skin, and shoes that cover your feet and won’t snag on the stirrups. Wearing a helmet is one of the most important safety measures.

Now that you have all the information, you’re ready to make a decision. Grab the reins and trot off to your favorite destination from this list of the best national parks for horseback riding!

Featured image – Hellroaring water crossing on the Yellowstone River Trail. Photo by Yellowstone National Park.

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