A day in the park with Lone Mountain Ranch
By Martha Crocker Explore Big Sky Contributor
One of the most memorable experiences for Big Sky locals and visitors alike is riding horseback in Yellowstone National Park’s northwest corner. Many horse enthusiasts only ride a few times a year, so the chance to be in the saddle again is one they don’t pass up. Anticipation is high when they arrive at the Bighorn Pass trailhead with their old boots, comfy jeans, and cowboy hats.
With a deep breath, heave ho, and a little help from the wranglers, the guests are fitted comfortably into their saddles. Starting down a gentle trail, they feel the horses’ solid motion beneath them and are somewhat mesmerized by the steady pace and sway of the animals’ stride.
The air is clear and crisp. Willow, sagebrush, and quaking aspen flutter in the breeze. In the distance, a larger canvas of pine, spruce and fir provide the mountain backdrop to complete the view.
The ride is freeing – the warmth of the sun amazing. A gentle tug on the reins is all that’s needed to get their horse back to walking, rather than browsing on the trailside grasses. Eventually the ride winds through two small stream crossings where the willows are shoulder height and the horses begin to gradually climb.
Further upstream, on the edge of the forest, the party may run into a cow moose with spindly-legged twins, which are small and anxious to stay with their mother. The ride continues uphill through the sage meadows with purple larkspur and lupine, and yellow splashes of arrowleaf balsamroot.
The horses are content, familiar with the trail and ready for a break at the top of a rise. They graze as guests take in the views and enjoy a gourmet lunch, while the ravens entertain with their aerial play, swooping and diving with the currents. After a pleasant rest, it’s time to mount up again and ride down the hillside; the horses pay attention to the bony trail, careful not to stumble.
As the trail levels out at the river, the group breaks into an easy lope. The Gallatin River’s crystal-clear water meanders and bends, evidence that the raucous spring runoff is slowing down. After another couple of miles, guests return to the trailhead.
With an apple saved from lunch, a guest can feed it to their horse and give their mount a pat. It’s a small thank you for a steady ride and beautiful sights.
Martha Crocker is a guide with Lone Mountain Ranch, which begins its guided horseback trips in Yellowstone on July 1 every summer. For more information visit lonemountainranch.com.