Riding in the Canadian Rockies

Guest blogger Stuart Watkins is a semi-retired businessman, a former cowboy, a life member and Director of the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies (T.R.C.R.). He has attended over 40 rides and is a former resident of world famous Banff National Park.

One of the great outdoor thrills that Canada still offers is a trip by horseback into the majestic Canadian Rockies. Indeed, few things say ''Western Canada'' more than heading out on horseback into these breathtaking and stunning mountains. You can get away from cities, factories, cars, highways, cell phones, the internet, television and people. You trade all that for mountain peaks and green valleys, crystal clear streams and forest trails, outdoor home cooking and the companionship of a few like souls. Mostly, you don't even have to be able to ride to do it, though you have to like horses and be willing to learn.

Better still, the organization that operates the rides is a non-profit group the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. They have been doing this for 89 years and operate eight six-day rides during July and August out of the easily accessible Banff, Alberta, Canada area. (Banff National Park is a 90 minute drive from the Calgary International Airport.)

The cost includes everything: a membership in the organization and back country user fees, horses, accommodations and meals. Guests bring along their own sleeping gear, extra clothes and other personal necessities. Individuals and families are welcome on the trips but anyone under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The idea for Trail Riders was first conceived way back in 1923 when a group of 14 riders who were camping and fishing along the Kootenay River in the National Park of the same name got together around a campfire. Today, people from all over Canada, the United States and overseas join the Trail Riders each summer. Many people come back year after year to renew acquaintances and make new friends. In fact, the Trial Riders have a 60 percent guest return rate with some guests having been on 30 or more rides! If there is a requirement for membership, it is that a person enjoy horseback riding, the great outdoors and the company of fellow riders.

Riding experience of the members ranges from very little to years in the saddle. Everyone is welcome to swing into the saddle and take to the high trails with the more experienced riders and guides. The riders travel by bus to the trail-head corral where they are met by cowboys and horses. Here the riders are matched with a horse according to the information given on their application form. Each horse is a sure-footed, well trained animal, accustomed to the sometimes rocky terrain and tolerant of the greenest riders.

Base camp in a leisurely 10 to 12 mile ride from the corral, with the horses traveling no faster than a steady walk. At the camp the riders are assigned to teepees or tents which will be their home for the next five days. These canvas dwellings sleep from two to five people, and riders are arranged with roommates of their own choice, particularly in the case of families and friends. There is a washstand with plenty of hot water available for use by guests, and new for this year, a propane hot shower!

For the next four days, the riders follow a basic daily plan. Breakfast, from 8:00–9:00 am includes porridge, prunes or juice, eggs, bacon, pancakes or French toast, and omelets—a good start for the day. The cowboys saddle the horses, check the cinches, and by 9:30 a.m. the riders are off on the trail. Each day will find the riders exploring lakes, valleys, glaciers or mountain passes. The high, uninhabited valleys of the Rockies offer peace and contentment combined with the thrill of majestic vistas. There is a sweep and majesty to this land, a towering grandeur and nobility of face, so powerful in its vast silence. This alpine land abounds in larch, spruce and fir trees, mountain animals and birds, meadows and parkland leading to the nearby snow capped peaks and ridges.

By noon, the riders have reached their destination and lunch, consisting of sandwiches, cookies, oranges, snacks and tea and coffee is served near a lake or a stream. After lunch, riders can fish, stroll, visit or stretch out for a nap in the hot mountain sun. A camera for these trips is a must! By late afternoon, the dudes are back in camp for ''happy hour'' before enjoying a three course dinner.

The main meal of the day at 6:00 p.m. is prepared for the guests by the camp cooks. Chicken, steak, ham, roast turkey and barbecued beef are alternated. By 8:30 pm the cowboys light a roaring fire in the ''donut tent'' and an evening sing-song, (sometimes with a musician) square dancing, story-telling and other entertainment complete the day. On the morning of the sixth day, the riders are up early packing their duffel and riding out to the trail-head corral where they board a bus for Banff.

Each year the Trial Riders travel into a different area of Canada's famed Rocky Mountains. This summer, the Trail Riders with eight rides, will explore the Bryant Creek area of world famous Banff National Park. From base camp, the four daily rides will include trips to Mt. Assiniboine Pass with views of the ''the Matterhorn of the Rockies'', trips to Allenby Pass, Wonder Pass, and Owl Lake where the fisherman on the rides can cast a line. (National Park fishing licensees are required.)

Objectives of the Trail Riders are to ''encourage travel on horseback through the Canadian Rockies, to foster the maintenance and improvement of old trails and the building of new ones; to encourage the love of outdoor life, the study and conservation of birds, wildlife and alpine growth, to assist in every possible way to ensure the complete preservation of the National Parks of Canada for the use and enjoyment of the public.'' The T.R.C.R. continues to operate with a volunteer board of directors as a non-profit organization, and this year will celebrate its 90th anniversary.

For further details and contact information for the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies check out their website. Contact them for help planning your trip to Banff in the beautiful Canadian Rockies, and/or the world famous Calgary Stampede.

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(Photo: Horseback Riding in the Canadian Rockies via Shutterstock)
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