Trail Riders celebrate more than 90 years of riding in the Canadian Rockies

Author: Stuart Watkins, Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies

Stuart Watkins is the President of the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. He started riding with them in 1968 and has been on the Board of Directors, worked as staff and attended over 45 rides.


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Have you ever been on a cattle drive and forged a raging river, played mid-wife to a mother cow, and used cunning teamwork to outwit villains?

Me neither.

And I can promise that none of those things that happened above in the movie “City Slickers” will happen to you when you venture into the mountains on horseback!

However, if you’re a city slicker, (similar to the movie) a trip with The Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies will be an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime as you forge new friendships from sharing a remarkable horseback trip into the majestic Canadian Rockies. If they are not on your “bucket list” you’re missing out!

Thanks to this non-profit organization that is more than 90 years old (T.R.C.R.), you too can trade in your minivan for a mare and hit the mountains. It operates four, five and six day professionally-guided trail rides each summer (more rides can be added based upon vacancy). You don’t even have to be able to ride to do it, though you have to like horses and be willing to learn. Riders come from all over North America and overseas to attend these historic, western, cowboy cultural trips.

The T.R.C.R. are in the business because they want their fellow countrymen and international friends to be able to enjoy this great land, to ride into the remote areas of the mountains with a good degree of comfort and at a reasonable cost. They have been doing this for 94 years out of the Calgary, Alberta, which you can easily reach as part of any Western holiday. The cost includes everything from a membership in the organization and backcountry user fees, through to horses, accommodations and meals. Guests bring along their own sleeping gear, extra clothes and other personal necessities. Individuals and families are welcome on the trips but anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The idea for Trail Riders was first conceived way back in 1923 when a group of 14 riders who were camping and fishing along the Kootenay River in the National Park of the same name got together around a campfire. Today, people from all over Canada, the United States and overseas join the Trail Riders each summer. Many people come back year after year to renew acquaintances and make new friends. In fact, the Trail Riders have a high guest return rate with some riders having been on 30 or more rides! Over 50% of riders are +50, and 70% are adventuresome women! If there is a requirement for membership, it is that a person enjoy horseback riding, the great outdoors company of a few like souls, and a desire to submerse themselves in the cowboy culture and way of life – the Western Canadian way!

Riding experience of the members ranges from very little to years in the saddle. Dudes, absolute tenderfeet, who wouldn’t know which end the bridle goes on, are welcome to swing into the saddle and take to the high trails with the more experienced riders and guides. The riders travel by bus to the trailhead corral where they are met by cowboys and horses. Here the dudes are matched with a horse according to the information given on their application form. Each horse is a sure-footed, well broken animal, accustomed to the sometimes rocky terrain and tolerant of the greenest tenderfoot, and horses travel at a steady pace.

At the base camp the riders are assigned to and native style Indian teepees and tents which will be their home for the next five days. There is a washstand with plenty of hot water available for use by guests, and a propane hot shower!

For the next four days, the riders follow a basic daily plan. Breakfast, from 7:30 - 8:15 am includes porridge, prunes or juice, eggs, bacon, pancakes alternating with French toast, - a good start for the day. The cowboys saddle the horses, check the cinches, and by 9:30 a.m. the riders are off on the trail. Each day will find the riders exploring lakes, valleys, glaciers or mountain passes. The high, uninhabited valleys of the Rockies offer peace and contentment combined with the thrill of majestic visas. There is a sweep and majesty to this land, a towering grandeur and nobility of face, so powerful in its vast silence. This alpine land abounds in larch, spruce and fir trees, mountain animals and birds, meadows and parklands leading to the nearby snow capped peaks and ridges.

By noon, the riders have reached their destination and lunch, consisting of sandwiches, cookies, oranges, snacks and tea and coffee is served near a lake or a stream. After lunch, riders can fish, stroll, visit or stretch out for a nap in the hot mountain sun. A camera for these trips is a must! By late afternoon, the dudes are back in camp for “happy hour” before enjoying a four course dinner.

The main meal of the day at 6:00 p.m. is prepared for the guests by the camp cooks. Chicken, steak, ham, roast turkey and barbecued beef are alternated.  By 7:30 pm the cowboys light a roaring fire in the “Doughnut tent” and an evening sing-song, square dancing, cowboy poetry, story-telling and live entertainment complete the day. On the morning of the last day, the riders are up early packing their duffle and riding out one more time before boarding the bus back to Calgary.

Each year the Trail Riders travel into a different area of Canada’s famed Rocky Mountains. This summer, the Trail Riders will explore Waterton Lakes National Park, a world UNESCO site. From base camp, the daily rides may include trips to Goat Lake, Spinkop Ridge, Blue Lake, Lone Lake, “the Lions Head”  Alderson Lake, Loon Lake, Avion Ridge, Rowe lakes, Twin Lakes and more... 

Objectives of the Trail Riders are to “encourage travel on horseback through the Canadian Rockies, to foster the maintenance and improvement of old trails and the building of new ones; to encourage the love of outdoor life, the study and conservation of birds, wildlife and alpine growth, to assist in every possible way to ensure the complete preservation of the National Parks of Canada for the use and enjoyment of the public.” The T.R.C.R. continues to operate with a volunteer board of directors as a non-profit organization, and this year will celebrate its 94th year of riding.

A Note to our International Guests:

Unleash your inner cowboy/cowgirl in the “heartland” of spectacular Waterton Lakes National Park, a world UNSECO site in the majestic Canadian Rockies! The Province of Alberta (the size of Texas) in Canada is known as one of the most scenic places in the world. Indeed, several media outlets (The New York Times, National Geographic Explorer - see their January 2017 issue - USA Today and Lonely Planet) have all rated “Canada” as the number one travel choice destination for 2017. What is the best way to see our incredible Rockies especially with a limited schedule? There are several options. Trail rides in Alberta are varied; there are guest ranch vacations, horseback riding packages, cattle ranches and other horse riding products. What the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies (T.R.C.R.) offers is a very unique trail ride in Alberta, in fact the most unique of any other kind of trail riding holiday. Back country travel in our mountain National Parks is restricted to hiking or horseback riding; there is simply no other way to go to see this majestic country. Your options are either backpacking (with all the necessary gear, expertise and physical endurance) or come with us on a horseback riding vacation that is like no other. We spoil you from “dawn until dusk” and take you to places that not even the backpackers go! In short, horse riding is the only we to go! We have licensed professional interpretative guides; our meals are first class and our camp, although rustic (this is wilderness camping) has all the amenities for a great horse riding vacation. Our evenings are filled with our friendly famous Canadian hospitality (with live cowboy entertainment) as we endeavour to immerse you in our historic western cowboy culture; it is horseback riding in Alberta, in a league of its own. Come and join us for, “the best vacation of your life”™ for a true western holiday! You will never be the same again on this holiday on horseback!


A suggested itinerary? Enjoy the world famous Calgary Stampede, join us on a riding trip through Waterton Lakes National Park, then hop on the Rockymountaineer Train to Vancouver and fly home from there, or jump on a cruise to Alaska! Need help with travel plans? Just call or email us and we will be more than happy to help you plan your trail riding holidays into our famous mountain National Parks.

For further details about the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies, check out their website and be sure to watch the three minute Youtube video on the homepage. Contact them for help planning your trip to Banff, Alberta in the beautiful Canadian Rockies, and/or the world famous Calgary Stampede.


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  • Horseback Riding
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