Pistol is a horse with a mind of her own. When I was first introduced to her at the start of our adventure with Banff Trail Riders, I laughingly joked, “So is Pistol a pistol?” referring to when the term is used to describe someone feisty. Reassured that Pistol was actually quite docile, I expected an easy time while horseback riding in Banff.
But like I said, Pistol has a mind of her own. And, apparently, she felt disdain toward walking in mud. Not that I blame her. After 17 days of rain in July, the mud was inches deep and I was happy to be on top of the horse and not the one trudging through it.
Throughout our hour-long guided horseback ride en route to the Cowboy Cookout, Pistol kept trying to leave the trail to find higher ground, despite my diligent attempts to keep the horse on task and follow the instructions of our wranglers.
Plus, she had a sixth sense about whenever I pulled out my camera for a quick shot of the gorgeous Bow River and used that opportunity to steer off course once again. Eventually one of the wranglers conceded that I was doing my best and allowed me to just to let her be.
Despite my frequent altercations with Pistol, with me trying to use the reins to keep her on path and her attempts to brush me off by scraping against trees along the trail, I was happy to explore this section of Banff on horseback. Looking ahead at my daughter’s back, bobbing up and down as she rode her much more docile steed, Cisco, my heart was full.
Our mother-daughter trips are all about sharing the things she loves together. And ever since our time at the Nine Quarter Circle dude ranch in Montana, she has wanted to add horseback riding to our trip itineraries.
When planning our Canadian Rockies vacation, I looked for opportunities to include horseback riding and when I ran across the options from Banff Trail Riders, it seemed like the perfect fit. (Note: our trail ride was complimentary in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.)
Banff Trail Riders offers everything from one to three-hour trail rides to a covered wagon or horseback ride that ends with a cowboy steak cookout. There are also small group day rides along the Spray River, offering spectacular scenery and maybe some wildlife viewing.
We opted for the three-hour evening trail ride along the Bow River plus the BBQ steak cookout. This gave us lots of time during the day to enjoy other activities in Banff, and made it so that we didn’t need to figure out where to eat dinner that night.
The trail ride departed at 5 pm but we needed to be at the Warner Stables barn by 4:30 to check in, sign our waivers, get our helmets, and meet our horses. We then set out on an easy one-hour trail ride along the glacial-blue Bow River. We passed by the natural sulphur hot springs that flow from the historic Cave and Basin – the birthplace of Canada’s national parks system.
We then headed into the woods to our meeting point with those taking the carriage ride for the cookout. Since we gave our steak orders when we checked in, we only had to wait a few minutes after arrival to sit down to our hearty meal.
The steak was grilled perfectly and we filled our bellies with a traditional cowboy meal of steak, baked potatoes, beans, and other sides. With all that we barely had room for dessert.
There was a little time to enjoy the campfire and play some games, but Mother Nature wasn’t quite cooperating and it started to rain as we saddled up for the ride back. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last for the whole hour, just long enough to soak through our jeans (note to self – bring rain pants!)
The bright side truly was the rainbow that we glimpsed over the Rocky Mountains at the end of our hour ride back and the elk that were grazing beside the trail.
Tips for Horseback Riding in Banff
If you are planning on going horseback riding in Banff National Park, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Trail rides go out rain or shine so either be prepared with appropriate gear or wait to book until you see the forecast and hope that there is still space;
- Closed-toe shoes like hiking boots or good sneakers, along with comfortable long pants (ideally weather-proof) are recommended;
- Spray yourselves with bug spray as soon as you arrive – those horses attract the flies;
- Wear/bring sunglasses, even for the evening ride;
- You may want to wear a shirt or vest with a pocket large enough to securely fit your cell phone if you want to take some photos along the way;
- Use the bathroom at the stables before you leave and suck it up and use the outhouse at the cookout site, otherwise the bumpy ride may have you regretting it;
- On that note, bring along some hand sanitizer;
- You can save money if you book online in advance.
If you are visiting Banff, you may also be interested in the following articles:
- Canadian Rockies vacation itineraries
- Climbing the Via Ferrata in Banff
- Driving the Icefields Parkway
- Things to do in Jasper
- Where to eat in Jasper
- Hotels near Banff