Horses were used for transportation in the mountains by the earliest explorers. Even after the completion of the railway, horses remained as the most practical way to get deep into the backcountry because crossing unbridged rivers and carrying large amounts of supplies were impossible on foot. The names of early outfitters—Tom Wilson, Jim and Bill Brewster, Bill Peyto, Jimmy Simpson, and Curly Phillips were the best known—crop up again and again through the mountains. Another legacy of their trade is that many of the main hiking trails began as horse trails.
The tradition of travel by horseback continues today in the Canadian Rockies; some companies have been operating since before the parks were established. Trail riding is available in Banff, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, and Yoho National Parks, as well as in Canmore, Kananaskis Country, Radium Hot Springs, and Grande Cache. Expect to pay around $35 for a one-hour ride (usually covering around 3 km/1.9 miles), $60 for a two-hour ride, and $75–105 for a ride that includes a meal. If you’re an experienced rider, consider heading out of the mountains 40 minutes east of Canmore to Griffin Valley Ranch (north of Hwy. 1A, 403/932-7433, www.griffinvalleyranch.ca). This sprawling property is one of the few places in western Canada that allows unguided riding. Horse rentals are similarly priced to trail riding; the only additional cost is an annual membership (simply sign a waiver and pay a $50 fee). Trails lead through the valley and to high viewpoints where the panorama extends back to the Canadian Rockies.
Pack Trips and Guest Ranches
Overnight pack trips consist of up to six hours of riding per day, with nights spent at a remote mountain lodge or a tent camp, usually in a scenic location where you can hike, fish, or ride farther. Rates range $175–245 per person per day, which includes the riding, accommodations, and food. These trips are offered by Brewster Adventures (403/762-5454 or 800/691-5085, www.brewsteradventures.com), east of Canmore; Boundary Ranch (403/591-7171 or 877/591-7177, www.boundaryranch.com), in Kananaskis Valley; through the south end of Banff National Park by Warner Guiding and Outfitting (403/762-4551 or 800/661-8352, www.horseback.com); and in Jasper National Park by Skyline Trail Rides (780/852-4215 or 888/852-7787, www.skylinetrail.com) and Tonquin Valley Adventures (780/852-1188, www.tonquinadventures.com).
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition