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Top Destinations for Pack Trips on Horseback in the USA

by Lystia Putranto

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Looking to truly explore the ins and outs of the backcountry of the USA? There’s simply no experience that rivals an overnight or multi-day horse pack trip into the wilderness.

There is definitely something appealing about the complete independence one has from the civilized world when traveling on a pack trip. It will allow you not only to see a destination in a new light, get up close and personal with nature but you’ll also get a taste of living out an authentic Wild West lifestyle. 

But what exactly is a pack trip?

horse pack trip

In a nutshell, it’s a multi-day trail riding excursion often offered by guest ranches/ dude ranches where along with the well-trained horse you’ll be riding, you’ll be traveling with pack animals like horses and donkeys to carry your baggage.

Pack trips are usually done in a small group (4-8 people) lead by seasoned cowboys and cowgirls who act as your guides and hosts as you discover remote areas that are seldom visited by tourists or even the locals themselves. 

They offer a particularly great experience for those who equally adore spending time with horses as they do spending time in the great outdoors. 

Generally, you can expect a minimum of 3 hours of riding each day with other activities such as hiking, fishing, white water rafting, and photography. In the evenings, you’ll be served with plenty of delicious meals cooked in an open fire or a Dutch oven before you end the day camping out under a gorgeous star-drenched sky. 

Prior to heading off on your excursion, you’ll also be shown how to properly pack animals for wilderness travel as it is considered an art and is crucial in ensuring the success of the trip. 

Note that the riding skills required for pack trips depend from one trip to another. That said, generally, pack trips are ideal for those who are intermediate riders and above as some trails can be challenging for beginners to navigate. They are usually 3-9 days in duration, however, the minimum recommended days for a fully immersive pack trip is 4 days.

Been dreaming of going on an exciting pack trip first hand? Well, it’s time to stop dreaming and saddle up! Here’s a list of the top 5 destinations for pack trips in the USA that you really ought to consider: 

Colorado

Colorado pack trip

In Colorado, horse pack trips have been used as a mean to travel from one part of the country to another since the time of the first Europeans settled in the area. It wasn’t until 1827 that wheeled vehicles in the form of wagons were created and used to carry loads as settlers cross the Continental Divide and before then, pack trips were the main mode of transport. 

Fast forward to today, depending on the weather, it is still possible to ride in the Continental Divide, making your way through trails that have been around for centuries as you take in the pristine beauty of Colorado’s nature and abundant wildlife.

Undoubtedly, Colorado offers an unparalleled experience if you are on the hunt for a pack trip filled with adventure. Here, you’ll be treated to days of riding and exploring the nooks and crannies of the Centennial State’s treasured landmarks such as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Pike National Forest, and Mount Zirkel Wilderness.

If acreage is something you’re looking for, look no other than to the famous Rocky Mountains to offer you breathtaking rides along rushing rivers, mountain lakes, and lush meadows. 

Enjoy taking photos as much as horse riding? Spending some time in the Maroon Bells comes highly recommended. Located near the majestic Aspen Mountains, its two peaks – the Maroon Peak & the North Maroon Peak are the most photographed in the state. Be sure not to miss out on your opportunity to experience this picture perfect pack trip in Colorado!

 

Montana

Montana pack trip

Been aching to take a break from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan city life? A pack trip in Montana may just be the cure to what ails you. 

In the Big Sky State, you have plenty of opportunities to go completely off the beaten track, on a wilderness trip away from civilization. Take in the fresh air and feel your worries melt away as you venture through the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Located in the Nothern Rockies of Montana, the ‘Bob’ encompasses over 1.5 million acres of land which includes the Chinese Wall, South Fork of the Flathead, and the Danaher Valley. An administrated unit of the Flathead National Forest, this beautiful unspoiled backcountry can only be explored by foot or on horseback. So don’t pass on your chance to experience America’s wilderness ‘crown jewel’ firsthand! 

Alternatively, you can explore the vast Glacier National Park where you’ll pass through beautiful forested mountain ranges with wildflower blanketed meadows. During your ride, it’s likely that you will encounter many of the parks’ inhabitants which includes elks, deers, antelopes, and countless bird species. 

Regarded as fly fishermen’s top destination, Montana is also renowned for its outstanding scenery and exceptional trout fishing. So if you are looking to spend a bit of time off the saddle, why not grab a fishing rod? Sparkling streams of the Beaverhead River is teeming with robust trouts and they are waiting for you!

Wyoming

Wyoming pack trip

Image credit: Bitterootranch.com

 

If you’re looking for a pack trip like no other, the Equality State can certainly deliver. Home to the Shoshone National Forest, the first protected National Forest in the US as well as the Wyoming Game & Fish habitat, world-famous Yellowstone National Park, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, it boasts the largest wild ecosystem in America’s lower 48 states.

This area is fiercely protected from development by the Wilderness act of 1983. This is why all motor vehicle is prohibited in the area and even the use of chain saws is not allowed. It is truly a nature lover’s dream!

Guided by the state’s experienced outfitters, disconnect from the modern world as you explore the vast and untouched forests. Here, you will likely to encounter golden eagles, hoary marmot, big horned sheep, and gold mantled squirrels. These are just some of the countless amazing wildlife that calls this area home. 

At night, you will camp in the charming Alpine meadows, usually located near crystal clear mountain streams where you can dip your toes in or do a bit of fishing in the mornings.

If you prefer to go on a pack trip during the winter season, The Grand Canyon Winter Pastures Ride is not to be missed. Riding down from the north rim, it will take you and your horse deep into the Grand Canyon, to stunning areas that are rarely visited by other travelers. As you go further down the rim, you would be able to cross over the vertiginous passes of the Andes Mountains between Argentina and Chile – it definitely makes an experience that you won’t soon forget.

 

Arizona

Arizona pack trip

Blessed with jaw-dropping landscapes, it’s no wonder that Arizona is one of the most sought after destinations for horse riding excursions – pack trips included.

While you’re in the Grand Canyon state, be sure to partake in its renowned Three Park Spectacular Ride. As the name suggests, the trail will cover three national parks: The Grand Canyon National ParkThe Zion National Park, and The Bryce Canyon National Park. You will ride through Arizona and Utah, a bordering state, where you will be able to see isolated and stunning parts of the countries around the national parks that are seldom visited.

On this excursion, you will begin your journey at the Pariah River Canyon as you move towards Bryce Canyon. This trail will lead you to Virgin River where you will find sandstone domes and dizzying gorges before ending at the dramatic Toroweap – an isolated part of the Grand Canyon that you’ll find well worth the trek.

Another must experience pack trip is one you can take through the Blue Wilderness. Located on the eastern edge of Arizona, it is one of the most remote corners of America, making it one of the nation’s most historic and scenic horseback rides. Bordering New Mexico, the ‘Blue’ offers a similarly varied set of landscapes to Utah. Here, you can find sceneries comprising of tall uprisings, grassland foothills to juniper woodland as well as forest peaks of ponderosa pine, spruce, and fir.

 

Idaho

Idaho pack trip

On the hunt for a great summer adventure? Idaho’s legendary pack trips may just be your best bet! 

Unplug from the ‘real world’ as you set off on a multi-day trail riding excursion and soak in all the beauty that the Gem State has to offer. Imagine being surrounded by green grass, soaring pine trees, and blue skies as you explore the remote Sawtooth range of the Boise National Park on horseback.

Transport yourself back in time by riding the trails that gold miners and early settlers used to cross the country centuries ago that includes Nez Perce National Forest, The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, and the Gospel Hump Wilderness. 

Much of these backcountry areas are pristine and protected so while horse riding in Idaho, expect frequent sightings of Idaho’s wildlife such as hawks and deers as you ride from the top of the majestic Salmon River mountains to its picturesque canyons.

After a few days, you will find yourself adjusting to the slower and contemplative pace of the simple yet exciting life in the great outdoors. A pack trip in Idaho is certainly an experience that will allow you to not only recharge but also help you to instill a more relaxed attitude long after the trip ended.


Looking to live out an authentic Wild West adventure? Why not book yourself a spot on an exciting horse riding and camping vacation in the USA

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