One of the most peaceful ways to see the state’s diverse landscapes is by saddling up and hopping on a horse for a memorable ride. Lucky for us, horse rides throughout the state venture to cool places — alongside southern Colorado’s wavy sandy dunes, through the forests in Rocky Mountain National Park, and along trails that lead to hidden waterfalls.
We’re sharing six of our favorite horse riding adventures in Colorado, from afternoon trail rides to multi-day pack trips that culminate with stories around a campfire.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Unless you have a horse of your own, being a guest of Zapata Ranch may be your only ticket to ride in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve — and it’s an experience like no other. As you make your way into the park, you’re greeted by the towering sand dunes that have intrigued everyone from astronauts orbiting Earth to sandboarders looking for something to shred after the snow melts.
“As you ride, you’ll feel the sand shifting beneath your horse’s hooves, and you’ll be completely immersed in the beauty and serenity of the natural landscape around you,” ranch manager Kate Matheson says.
During the ride you’ll be accompanied by an experienced guide who can dish out facts about the landscape, ecology and wildlife in the national park. Double occupancy rates at Zapata Ranch start at $325 per night. ranchlands.com/pages/explore-zapata-ranch
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is not just Colorado’s most popular park; it was also the fourth-most-visited national park in the country in 2022, drawing more than 4.3 million people. Break away from the crowds by exploring the Grand County side of the park and booking a one-hour ($75) or two-hour ($115) trail ride with Winding River Resort.
The beginner-friendly rides deliver postcard-perfect park views – colorful wildflowers, gentle streams, thick evergreens, snow-capped peaks. The resort also offers pony rides for pint-sized equestrians.
After the trail ride, downtown Grand Lake offers all kinds of “mountain town in the summer” classics — fudge shops, miniature golf and a boardwalk along the shores of Colorado’s deepest natural lake. windingriverresort.com
Garden of the Gods Park
From rock formations that resemble a pair of kissing camels to Balanced Rock, which looks like Mother Nature’s precarious rendition of Jenga, and earthy-orange serrated sandstone fins that slice into the sky, there’s much to marvel at while exploring this city park in Colorado Springs.
Take it all in on horseback while also learning about the park’s history and wildlife during a wrangler-led ride with Academy Stables. A fun fact: The rock formations were shaped 230 million years ago, long before horses made it to North America. Rides cost $95 for an hour and $155 for two hours. academyridingstables.com
Brown’s Creek Falls
Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Stables offers several excursions on horseback, including a sunset ride and an adventure ride that meanders through piñon pines and a canyon before ascending to a mesa. But the most popular option is the six-hour Waterfall Trail Ride that delivers you to a cascading waterfall in the San Isabel National Forest. You’ll probably spot wildflowers, too, and riders have a chance to get off their horses for a short hike. The Waterfall Trail Ride costs $185. coloradotrailrides.com
C Lazy U in Granby
Horses are at the heart of this all-inclusive luxury ranch in Grand County, something guests are reminded of should they wake at dawn to witness the thunderous herd of 200 horses triumphantly returning from their overnight at pasture. The beloved tradition is known as the “jingle.”
C Lazy U guests can embark on daily trail rides and brush up on their horsemanship with instruction sessions led by accomplished equestrians. Back at the ranch, slink into a therapeutic copper tub at the spa for a Cowboy Soak to relieve sore muscles. Many guests return to the ranch each summer to reunite with horses they’ve ridden and bonded with in previous years. Summer cabin rates start at $693 per night, per person. clazyu.com
Multi-day trip from Mancos
Looking for a longer adventure imbued with cowboy culture? Rimrock Outfitters, which is located in Mancos between Durango and Mesa Verde National Park, offers multi-day trips.
The Mountain Trip can be as short as an overnight ($350 per person) or as long as three nights ($1,200), and take you through wildflower fields, past Golconda, an abandoned mining town, and traversing the switchbacks of Box Canyon Trail. The outfitter provides tents and cots as well as campfire meals, like steaks grilled over a bed of coals and fruit cobblers best enjoyed with cowboy songs. rimrockoutfitters.com
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