Experience the Rockies on horseback with Banff Trail Riders. Whether you’re a greenhorn or experienced rider, they have a horse and adventure perfect for you!
As you pull into the meadow at the end of Sundance Road, at a bend in the Bow River, it’s as if you’ve been taken back in time. Horses graze in the field, farm buildings stand tall against a stunning mountain backdrop, cowboys and cowgirls tend the horses, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the tap tap tap of a farrier re-setting horseshoes.
Banff Trail Riders Stable Tour
Jonathan Welsh, Operating Partner & Cowboy in Training; and Michael (Mike) Beerwald, Backcountry Guide, greet us and take us on a Stable Tour before the trail ride. Although Welsh has extensive knowledge of Banff, having lived here for over 23 years (and been co-owner of Discover Banff Tours since 1999), he humbly passes the reins (so to speak) to Beerwald. Hailing from Androssan, near Elk Island National Park, Beerwald “has been on a horse since 6 months old” and totally embraced cowboy life. He’s worked here for nine years and emphatically tells us, “I love my job! I can’t imagine doing anything else!”
While we visit the draft horses – beautiful Percherons that tower over us and weigh in at 1800 pounds – then pet Vega the mule and visit the Brewster Red Barn, tool shop (previously owned by Tom Boone), and stables, Beerwald shares some of Banff Trail Riders’ history. It’s no easy task, given the length of time horse outfitters have been operating in Banff! You should go on a trail ride, wagon ride, or backcountry trip to learn more. 😉
One of North America’s largest horse outfitters, Banff Trail Riders has almost 300 horses including 180 saddle horses, 70 mules, draft horses, and pack horses. The staff know their four-legged colleagues’ names and personalities, and talk to them like friends. With a vet on-call, regular checkups, and chiropractor appointments, the horses are very well loved and cared for.
Sundance Loop Ride
Soon enough, it’s time to hit the trail. We put helmets on and mosey over to the paddock to meet the horses we’ll be riding. “Do they always stand like that?” my brother-in-law, Meng asks. Most of the horses are standing with one foot up. Beerwald says, “This is how horses relax. It’s like us going like this,” and he casually props an elbow on the fence. It’s these little nuggets we pick up here and there that make a guided experience so memorable.
Once everyone is in the saddle, we get acquainted with our horses and receive some basic riding instructions: how to go, stop, turn left or right, and get your horse to stop eating. My horse, Levi, is a fan of snacking on the go, but isn’t allowed (they get plenty to eat after – plus we don’t want them eating poisonous plants).
Our destination on the 2-hour Sundance Loop Ride is Windy Knoll, a viewpoint on the side of Sulphur Mountain, also known as Philosopher’s Knoll due to the inspiration it provided several artists and writers. En route, we will be passing Cave & Basin National Historic Site (the birthplace of the National Parks), spring-fed marshes full of birds, and the beautiful Bow River.
“This is the best way to experience the mountains, and this is the best place to do it!”Mike Beerwald, Banff Trail Riders
Before we get too far, Beerwald enthusiastically tells us, “This is the best way to experience the mountains, and this is the best place to do it!” Unlike hiking or biking, where you have to watch where you’re going and are often looking down, from horseback, you can take in the scenery without interruptions. It’s a relaxing way to experience the mountains and safe way to spot wildlife.
We set out at a leisurely pace, which is perfect for our group of greenhorns. My kids and brother-in-law have only been trail riding once before, and I haven’t ridden much since I was a kid. The gentle terrain at the beginning allows us to get comfortable on the horses and relax. From time to time, we get glimpses of the Bow River, vibrant blue-green with glacial silt and high with spring runoff. Heading west, Mount Norquay, Mount Cory, and Mount Edith come into view. While we ride, Beerwald shares stories of how Banff National Park came to be; how he got his horse, Ranger; how he’s “married to [his] job”; and why the river is so blue.
As we turn off the main trail and climb the side of Sulphur Mountain, we leave the hikers and cyclists behind. When my horse Levi slows down on the hill, I jokingly ask Beerwald if I’m too heavy. He reassures me that my horse is ok since horses can carry 1/3 of their weight (but Banff Trail Rider Horses are never made to carry over 230 pounds), and that they can hardly feel the kids on their backs!
Speaking of the kids, they are practically bouncing out of their saddles with excitement. “This is so fun!!” they exclaim, with huge smiles on their faces. They pat their horses every chance they get and giggle when a horse answers nature’s call. At Windy Knoll, we switch up the order, then start heading back. Beerwald reminds us to lean back as we descend, to make it easier on the horses. I appreciate not needing trekking poles or having to watch my step so I don’t trip on a rock or root. As promised, it’s much more relaxing to ride than hike or bike!
Back at the stables, we take a group photo, hug our horses and thank them – and Mike (Beerwald) – for a job well done. We will definitely take a trail ride with Banff Trail Riders again! Our guide, the horses, and the scenery were wonderful and we still had energy to walk around Banff afterwards.
Know Before You Go
Trail rides from 1-4 hours are available from late April until mid-October, weather permitting. Choose the perfect ride for you from Banff Trail Riders.
The minimum age for trail rides is 8 years old. Younger children (3-7 years old) can go on a 15- minute pony ride.
Maximum weight is 230 pounds (104 kilograms).
What to Bring/Wear
Closed toe shoes are required & long pants are recommended.
I recommend putting on sunscreen and bug spray before you go as well as bringing a light jacket in case the weather turns.
Helmets are required and provided. Some have GoPro mounts which makes it easier to take photos and video. Selfie sticks are not permitted (they scare the horses).
For More Information
For more information on trail rides, wagon rides, private sightseeing carriage rides, winter sleigh rides, multi-day backcountry trips, or Sundance Lodge, please contact Banff Trail Riders.
More fun things to do in Banff
- Where to stand up paddleboard (SUP) in Banff
- Spring road biking in Banff and Kananaskis
- Exploring Johnson Lake, Banff
- Discover Banff’s history and scenery in style with Open Top Touring
- Hiking Tunnel Mountain (Sleeping Buffalo Mountain)
- How to have a fun girls’ weekend in Banff
- C Level Cirque Trail, Banff