Note: Some tour providers on this list may have limited or ceased operations due to COVID-19. Check with your tour operator about availability before you book.
The mountain village of Estes Park, Colorado, located about 70 miles northwest of Denver, is best known as a home base for a Rocky Mountain National Park trip. The park spans more than 265,000 acres, meaning there’s ample opportunities for active outdoor adventures. In the winter months, bundle up and head out for backcountry skiing, sledding or snowshoeing. While in the spring, summer and fall, you can go hiking, camping, flyfishing or horseback riding.
The area’s stables offer trips for first-timers and experienced riders alike, including pony rides for children, quick half-hour or two-hour tours, and full-day outings that consist of challenging mountainous terrain. The longer rides feature changing landscapes and the opportunity to see local wildlife, such as elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose, bears and several bird species. Depending on the tour, you may also have panoramic views overlooking the Continental Divide or Big Thompson Canyon.
After consulting both expert opinion and traveler sentiment, U.S. News identified the following rides as the best available. So, grab your boots and hat and giddy up for a western adventure to remember.
Note: Stables recommend that riders wear long pants, close-toed shoes and bring layers of clothing for cooler temperatures. Riding season typically lasts from the spring through early fall, but exact months will vary by stable. Outings run daily in the busiest months. Additionally, there may be age and weight restrictions for riding. It’s best to check with the individual stables before booking a tour.
National Park Gateway Stables – 2 Hour Ride
National Park Gateway Stables sits next to Rocky Mountain National Park’s Fall River entrance. The company’s two-hour ride takes tourgoers into the park along the Fall River. During this scenic excursion, you’ll ride to the base of Deer Mountain and Aspen Glen and into Little Horseshoe Park and Hidden Valley. Along the way, you’ll take in views of snow-dusted mountains and Colorado’s famous wildflowers. These outings depart hourly between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and cost approximately $80 per person. Rides operate from May through mid-August. Riders must be at least 4 years of age to participate and weigh no more than 280 pounds. Tour-takers praise the experienced and friendly wranglers. They also say the scenery is beautiful and that the horses are healthy and easy to ride. The stable offers several other adventures, including a full-day (eight- to nine-hour) outing, a half-day (four-hour) tour and pony rides for kids.
Cowpoke Corner Corral Stables – 4 Hour Ride
Cowpoke Corner Corral Stables is owned by the same company as National Park Gateway Stables, but it offers different excursions. Located 3 miles southwest of Estes Park, you’ll find the stables situated behind Glacier Lodge at the base of Gianttrack Mountain. The popular four-hour ride takes tourgoers to the top of Rams Horn Mountain in Roosevelt National Forest. This exciting adventure boasts stunning views of the Estes Park Valley, the Continental Divide and Rocky Mountain National Park. The outings depart Tuesday and Thursday from May through September or early October at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. The price is approximately $160 per person.
The company warns that this is a challenging excursion and best suited for riders with some experience. Participants also need to be in good physical shape and be able to mount and dismount the horse without assistance. The minimum age to ride is 12 and weight restrictions apply. Tour-takers appreciate the professional, skilled and entertaining wranglers. They comment that horseback riding is an excellent way to see the park and say the scenery is “amazing.” Other tour options at the stables include pony rides for children, horseback rides between one to three hours in length and full-day outings.
Sombrero Stables – Two Hour Ride
This family-owned ranch has operated trail rides since opening in 1959. Its two-hour horseback ride winds through the Rocky Mountain landscape and features incredible views of the Estes Valley, the Continental Divide and Longs Peak. You’ll also head into the forest to see Big Thompson Canyon and Eagle Valley. Prices start at $90 per person. Riders must be at least 6 years of age to participate and the stable does not permit double riding. Most tour-takers have positive reviews about the overall experience. They say that the horses are well-managed and the scenery is beautiful. Short on time? Sombrero Stables also offers a one-hour excursion and a quick 30-minute ride.
Jackson Stables – 2 Hour Moraine Park
Jackson Stables keeps between 120 and 130 horses on its property and offers many horseback riding options, including the family-friendly two-hour Moraine Park ride. This trip features bridge crossings over Glacier Creek and the Big Thompson River to arrive at Moraine Park. A moraine is the soil and rock left behind from a moving glacier. This moraine in the national park is alive with wildflowers and boasts incredible views of the Continental Divide. You may also see wildlife along the trails.
The cost is approximately $80 per person. Children older than 6 years old must ride their own horse and the weight limit is 230 pounds. Patrons rave about the outing with Jackson Stables, and say the guides are excellent, the horses are healthy and the scenery is spectacular. Some also report seeing wildlife like moose and mule deer. Other offerings at the stable include a two-hour ride around Emerald Mountain and hayrides that feature a campfire and marshmallow roast.