Try an overnight pack trip on horseback ... or even with a llama!
Photograph: Mark Maziarz
I hold many fine memories of time spent with horses. One of my favorites is from my first overnight pack trip in the mountains of Utah. My boyfriend packed the panniers, loaded three horses into his trailer, harnessed and saddled them, and set up the tent. I just showed up.
We rode the narrow Highline Trail to the upper reaches of the Uintas. In spots, the path was so sheer and rocky I dared not look over the edge. The horses didn’t seem to notice. We rode for hours until we came upon a lush meadow at the base of a granite cirque and set up camp. My cowboy threw together cans of beans and corn, some beef, and potatoes, and cooked a mouthwatering stew over a smoky fire. A million stars, a rising moon, and the smell of fresh pine blending with the sound of stirring horses tricked me into thinking I had reached heaven. In the morning, when we rode to a pristine alpine lake and cast our fly lines into the water, I knew I had.
An overnight pack trip with horses or llamas in the Wasatch Mountains is a wonderful way to bond with nature, your friends, and the animals. Riding horseback also allows you to get closer to wild animals in their natural settings. Overnight pack trips can be more than simply riding and camping; they are often designed as hunting and fishing expeditions as well.
Unless you are familiar with the terrain and 110 percent comfortable with a trail-savvy horse, it’s a lot safer and smarter to hire a professional guide service. Good outfitters understand weather conditions, geography, and exactly how much and what to pack for you and the animals; they are also trained in first aid. They manage the horses, the group, the gear, and the menu. In my opinion, expert guides are priceless.
Rocky Mountain Recreation of Utah (rockymtnrec.com) offers overnight trail rides on the 9,000-acre Stillman Ranch east of Park City, as well as guided horseback pack and fishing trips in the backcountry. Rocky Mountain Outfitters (rockymountainoutfitters.com) has stables located in Charleston, 20 minutes from Park City, and offers customized overnight adventures inthe Wasatch Mountains.
If you like the companionship of a calm, dependable animal and enjoy hiking, consider llama trekking. Llamas are gentle pack animals that will comfortably carry up to 90 pounds of gear while you enjoy the scenery on your own two feet.
Rosebud Llamas (rosebudllamasutah.com) arranges pack trips in northeastern Utah and is a member of the Pack Llama Trail Association (PLTA), Rocky Mountain Llama Association (RMLA), and the Utah Llama Association (ULA). Rosebud also offers training clinics with these fascinating animals originally from the Andes Mountains.
Guided rides and lessons abound in the Park City area.
Park City and nearby horse operators offer horseback riding lessons, trail rides, wagon rides, horseback dinner rides with cowboys strumming guitars, and other customized packages. Try:
Blue Sky Adventures for one- to three-hour rides with lunch in nearby Wanship (435.336.2646, bluesky-adventures.com)
Boulder Mountain Ranch for trail rides at Deer Valley and Sundance Resorts (866.783.5819, bouldermountainranch.com)
The Equine Pavilion in Heber City for training, boarding, and riding lessons (435.655.1304, theequinepavilion.com)
KB Horses for lessons, trail rides, and wagon rides with their Clydesdales (650.450.1139, kbhorses.com)
Red Pine Adventures for 1½-hour, two-hour, and half-day tours with lunch (435.649.9445, redpinetours.com)
Rocky Mountain Outfitters for group rides that can be combined with fishing, rafting, or railroad rides (435.654.1655, rockymtnoutfitters.com)
Stillman Ranch for breakfast, lunch, and BBQ dinner rides (435.645.7256, rockymtnrec.com)
Tally Ho Farm for boarding, lessons, and training for dressage and eventing (801.209.6518, tallyhofarm.org)
Placing Your Bets
Remember, don’t pick the hottest day of the summer to go riding: it’s hard on both you and the horse. Ask your trail guide’s permission to reward your horse with an apple or a carrot after your ride. Your equine friend will appreciate the kindness.