Horses are a traditional means of transportation in the Canadian West; many of the roads began as horse trails. Through the foothills, ranches still dominate the landscape, and at places like Griffin Valley Ranch, near Cochrane (403/932-7433, www.griffinvalleyranch.ca), unguided riding is permitted. Within the national parks, horse travel is restricted to certain areas, but trail riding is a popular way to enjoy the scenery.
If you really want to get a feeling for Western life, consider taking an overnight horseback pack trip. In the mountains, many of these guides have been operating since before the parks were established. Outside the parks, riding is available at many ranches and outfitting operations in the foothills and at Grande Cache. On an overnight trip, expect to ride for up to six hours per day, with nights spent at a remote mountain lodge or a tent camp, usually in a scenic location where you can hike, fish, or ride farther. Rates range $150–200 per person per day, which includes the riding, accommodations, and food.
These trips are offered near Canmore by Brewster Mountain Pack Trains (403/762-5454 or 800/691-5085, www.brewsteradventures.com); in Banff National Park by Warner Guiding and Outfitting (403/762-4551 or 800/661-8352, www.horseback.com); and in Jasper National Park by Skyline Trail Rides (780/852-4215 or 888/852-7787) or Tonquin Valley Adventures (780/852-1188, www.tonquinadventures.com).
Guest ranches, where accommodations and meals are included in nightly packages, include Brewster Adventures, east of Canmore (403/762-5454 or 800/691-5085, www.brewsteradventures.com); Boundary Ranch, in Kananaskis Country (403/591-7171 or 877/591-7177, www.boundaryranch.com); and Black Cat Guest Ranch, on the eastern outskirts of Jasper National Park (780/865-3084 or 800/859-6840, www.blackcatguestranch.ca). Expect to pay $140–180 per person per day for accommodations, meals, and trail riding.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition