Trail riding in Alberta’s gorgeous Rocky Mountains with a home-cooked hearty western lunch waiting for you at the half way point? Now that’s my idea of heaven. Saddle up in Banff National Park for this definitive western experience.
With 300 well-behaved horses, a gazillion trails, expert guides and some really good cooks waiting to find out how you like your steak cooked, Banff Trail Riders has a surefire recipe for success.
Learning the Ropes
Late spring sunlight is streaming through the trees, dappling the floor of the corral with light and shadow. Twenty of us have assembled in a large circle, waiting to meet our new best friends. One by one the horses are led out of the barn and each rider is matched to a mount. Soon we are all seated, hearing the creak of leather and feeling the warmth of the horse as we receive basic instruction – how to start, stop, go left, go right. How to keep our heels down in the stirrups. How to hold the reins.
I haven’t ridden for a number of years and was happy to have a refresher course. My comfort level is high, given the expertise of the guides and the fact I trust my horse most of all. They don’t call it horse sense for nothing. I look around and all I see are big goofy grins as we head out on the trail. We’ll ride for an hour, break for lunch and then ride back.
Heaven on Horseback
The stillness of the morning is broken only by birdsong and the sound of rushing water as we make our way through the marshland along the base of Sulphur Mountain. We move at a relaxed pace along the trail, while our guides tell us about what we are seeing – and what to watch for. We’ve already spotted ground squirrels, a young deer and a pair of red-tailed hawks, wheeling on the thermals high above. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see bighorn sheep or even a bear before the ride is over.
The scenery is stunning. Late spring in the Rockies is a breathtaking canvas of colour, as wildflowers bloom amidst lush alpine meadows. Snow-capped peaks stand sentinel in the distance, an ever-present reminder of how this land endures despite the comings and goings of humankind.
Cowboy Steak Out
Soon we arrived at our covered cookout location by the Sundance Canyon Trail. As we waited for our cooked-to-order steaks, we loaded our plates with homemade baked beans, Caesar salad and baked potatoes with all the fixings. The steak practically melts in my mouth. After lunch, I tried my hand at roping. The cowboys at the rodeo make it look so easy! We lingered over dessert and coffee and got in a game of horseshoes before mounting up for the ride back.
Choose your Season
In the Rockies, most trail rides run from mid-May to late September. Early season rides are bedecked with wildflowers, snowmelt and rushing waterfalls. In summer there are 50 shades of green. In the fall, aspen and larch trees are in their golden glory.
Whatever season you pick, remember to bring your camera – from wild flora and fauna to horses and heavenly mountains, you’ll want to capture this ride of a lifetime to share with friends.