When it comes to jumping on the back of a horse and going for a trail ride, it’s hard to beat the beautiful landscapes offered by Banff horseback rides. After all, Banff National Park is the most popular national park in Canada for a reason. Towering mountain peaks, turquoise lakes and rivers, and outstanding views are just some of the things to do in Banff National Park that attract so many people to the area. So, imagine seeing all of that while horseback riding in Banff.
Whether you admire Banff from the town itself, the Banff Gondola, or one of the many hikes, you won’t be disappointed. However, there’s something extra special about going out into the backcountry and getting away from the hustle and bustle of Alberta’s tourism mecca.
Our first experience with Banff horseback rides was back in 2016 when we joined up with the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies for an epic six-night trip. Yes, you read that right. Our first time riding a horse was on a six-night excursion into Banff’s backcountry. At the time, they were a bit concerned about us going on such a long trip for our very first time but in the end, they actually said that we looked like “pros”. However, I do recommend everyone take at least a one-hour horseback trip first just to make sure. Luckily, not long before the big trip, the president of the organization brought us out to a small ranch in Okotoks to try it out and it was there that I realized how allergic I was to horses. Without this short trial, I may have died on that long trip. But by finding this out in advance, I was able to be prescribed strong allergy pills and an inhaler. This helped make the trip much more enjoyable.
That trip was truly spectacular. Although some of the days were quite long on the back of a horse, the memories remain strong after so many years. It was adventurous. We got to see spectacular scenery. We got to eat delicious gourmet food. We got to see meadows full of wild mountain flowers. We got to spend our evenings around a campfire singing cowboy songs while one of them played the guitar. And more importantly, we got to learn how to ride a horse and feel like a cowboy for a week. It was the trip of a lifetime. However, not everyone can or wants to go into the backcountry for six nights.
Banff Horseback Rides with the Banff Trail Riders
While the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies are an organization that plans half a dozen or so Banff horseback rides per year, the Banff Trail Riders are a year-round business based right in the town of Banff. In fact, this is where the TRCR rented their horses for the trip we took. It wasn’t until last week, however, that we got to join them on one of their many adventures.
If you’re looking to do Banff horseback riding, this is the company to go with. Not only do they offer short 1-hour rides for those just wanting to try it out, but they also offer many different multi-day adventures, ranging from one night to five nights. We went on their two-night trip called the Sundance Lodge Explorer, a trip that departs every Monday.
Meeting at 9:30 am at their stables, we received our instructions, signed off on some paperwork, and were then introduced to our horses. My horse was named Tip and my wife Karla’s horse was named Oscar. After a short introduction and some loving face rubs, we jumped on and headed out on the trail.
Over the next three days, we saw lots of beautiful nature, riding along rivers and into the quiet forest. We even saw a grizzly bear while eating lunch next to Healy Creek, which looked more like a river to me. Karla and I were actually taking some photos when I heard someone say “bear!” I looked up quickly and maybe a hundred feet away was a big grizzly bear. He was on the other side of the river and likely not bold enough to attack an entire group of people and a dozen horses but still, it can be quite alarming. Once we realized he was practically ignoring us as he walked along the river banks, we started taking photos and video. Although they can be scary to see, it’s actually a real treat to see a bear in the wild.
Surprisingly though, people seemed more impressed by the hoary marmots we saw when we arrived at Sundance Lodge. This was actually the first time I had ever seen a marmot but at least four of them call the lodge home. These cute big fluffy rodents were scurrying along the grass looking for food. They’re obviously residents of the area because as long as we didn’t get too close, they really didn’t care that we were there. One of them even decided to climb onto the roof of 10 Mile Cabin, which is right next to Sundance Lodge, to bathe in the sun. 10 Mile Cabin is now a National Historic Site as it was used by CP rail workers way back when the train tracks were being set through Banff.
Sundance Lodge is where you’ll spend two nights if taking the same trip that we did. If you opt for the longer trip, you’ll also spend some nights at Halfway lodge, which is much further into the backcountry. We didn’t see Halfway Lodge but Sundance Lodge is beautiful. Situated right in front of a fast-moving glacial-fed river, it’s like something out of a movie set. Whether you’re sitting out on the big veranda with a coffee in the morning or a beer in the evening, it’s a wonderful place to get away from it all. There’s no cell coverage or WiFi either, so there’s no temptation to be on the internet, something all of us need from time to time. There’s also a cozy living room inside with a wood-fire stove, board games, and a guitar. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a musician in our group and no one wants to hear a beginner twang away at a guitar. There’s also an outdoor fire pit, which we all gathered around one evening for some smores, all under a bright full moon. In fact, we were there for summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
If I’m not mistaken, there are 8 rooms in the lodge, as well as 2 full bathrooms (yes, you can shower), and two outhouses, which everyone claimed to be the cleanest outhouses they’ve ever seen. This is also a fully catered trip with breakfast, lunch, and supper provided. For lunch, we had everything from grilled steaks to smokey’s and sandwiches. For supper, we had sweet chili salmon one evening and roast pork chops the next as well as delicious desserts. For breakfast, we had pancakes one morning and quiche the next. The recipes might change from time to time, but either way, you won’t be disappointed. Our bellies were always full.
Overall, it was a wonderful three days in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We saw stunning mountain ranges, gorgeous mountain peaks, sprawling meadows, and many rivers and creeks, all from the back of a majestic horse. Although our backs, legs, and knees paid the price after long days in unusual positions, it was worth it. After all, anything you do for the first time is bound to aggravate some muscles.
So if you’re looking to experience some Banff horseback rides, I highly recommend going on a multi-day trip into the backcountry. However, if a multi-day trip is just too much, taking one of their one or two-hour trips around Banff is also a beautiful experience, especially for beginners. Either way, you’ll see some truly beautiful scenery and get a taste of the cowboy life.
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