Riding with the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies.
Each summer some of my friends and I try to enjoy an equestrian vacation. In early 2016, one friend, who lives in Ontario, discovered the web page for the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. After looking at this myself, we decided this would be our trip for 2016 and mailed our deposits. We were soon joined by 2 of my friends from Georgia and another friend from Ohio. We flew to Calgary, in the Province of Alberta, as the ride was in Waterton Lakes National Park the sister park to Glacier National Park in Montana.
The Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies is a non-profit organization of volunteers whose mission is to introduce people to the majesty of the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks via horses in a rustic camping environment, away from any noise and crowds. They rotate their rides between the various parks and have been in existence for 94 years with the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR) being their initial sponsor. The CPR saw this group as a way to entice people to ride trains to their hotels in the Parks for an extended stay and spend one week in the wilderness, riding horses. This continued this until the early 1960’s when most people traveled to the parks by air and/or car and the CPR dropped its sponsorship. They sold the camping equipment to the newly formed society $1 and the volunteer organization has continued to this time. The TRCR utilizes outfitters to provide the horses and catering while volunteers set up the camp, find the people to attend, and contract live professional western entertainment. Prior to the trip, Robert, the group’s secretary/treasurer, stayed in communication with us, sending information, an itinerary, and a thorough packing list. A couple of weeks before our trip, we heard from Rick Godderis who would be our volunteer camp host. With each communication, our excitement increased.
We decided to arrive in Calgary a day early and spent the extra day in the beautiful downtown area, spending most of the time walking in the park along the Bow River. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner at the hotel and turned in early to be ready for our 7 am pick up at the hotel.
After breakfast, we gathered our suitcases in the hotel lobby and met our fellow riders. There would be a total of 12 on this trip, 5 from the USA and 7 from Canada. Riding experience ranged from 4 novices to 1 intermediate rider to 7 people with extensive experience. Since every day involves several hours in the saddle, TRCR does encourage participants to do some horse riding before coming on the trip.
We headed off in the van, driven by Stuart Watkins, President of TRCR, who provided information on the group, the park, and the area through which we were traveling. About half way to the park (about 3.5 hours from Calgary), we stopped at the historic Bar U Ranch where we received a private tour. Hearing about ranch life on the prairie at this National Historic site was very interesting.
We arrived at camp in time for lunch and picked out our lodging for the week from the 4 teepees and 4 tents available. Each domicile is set up for 2 people and my friends and I all chose teepees as this was a new experience for all of us and we learned through the week that teepees are quite cozy, repelling both rain and wind.
After lunch we were back in the van, traveling a short distance to Waterton Lakes National Park to meet our horses at Alpine Stables, the park concessionaire. There we met Dee and Deb, who own the concession, and Dee’s grandson Josh, who would be our guide for the week. It was immediately clear that they had read our narratives about our riding experience and had taken this into account as we were introduced to our preassigned horses. Since Dee is about 80 years old and still riding strong, experience rather than rider age was the major criterion, which I in my late 60’s was appreciated. My horse for the week was “Copper,” a middle aged Appaloosa mare, who belonged to a private individual who wanted her to get some exercise with an experienced horseperson. Copper was fit and eager to go and extremely sure footed as we traversed the mountain trails. She reminded me of my own mare. One day, she and I got to lead for a few miles, and both of us enjoyed this immensely. My friends were equally pleased with their mounts. The first day we went out for a 3-hour introductory ride and within the first mile saw a black bear eating the abundant berries. The setting was spectacular; the mountains rise straight up from the prairie and there are beautiful lakes both at the edge of the mountains and up in the mountain valleys.
For 3 of the 5 full days of riding, we rode out into the mountains for the day (each day a different trail), stopping for lunch and an optional hike. There was also a choice during the rides, either a more strenuous option up to a ridge or a less strenuous ride to a lake in the mountains. Dee would lead one group and Josh the other. I am afraid of heights so mountain riding can make me nervous, but I was never nervous on these trails. They were as wide as possible and very well maintained. Only once for a short distance, were we near an edge.
One day was either a horse ride along Waterton Lake or a boat trip on Waterton Lake to Glacier National Park; the day was warm and sunny so most campers opted for the boat trip as did I. It was a lovely trip and very interesting to cross the international border, marked by a cut in the trees. We enjoyed a short hike with the US Park Ranger and his talk about the 2 parks, before returning to Waterton on the boat.
The last day, we rode all day on the prairie, which seems endless, with the mountains behind us. We saw more black bears, although we did not spot the bison herd which the Park has on the plains.
Each evening in camp, after dinner, there would be entertainment of some type, from a poet to a sing along, to a mead tasting, to historical stories, to our skit night. Everyone on the trip was pleasant and we enjoyed each other’s company. The food in camp was consistently abundant and tasty.
The highlight of the trip for me was sharing this amazing riding experience with like-minded people. The outfitters and the horses were outstanding. If you are looking for a wonderful riding trip for next summer, consider Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. If you are from the USA, the exchange rate is favorable. Don’t wait too long to book though. Remember, although the outfitter is a commercial operation, the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies, are a dedicated group of volunteers, so you will be helping them to maintain wilderness trail riding in these beautiful parks.