I was fortunate to be guided by “The Kid,” a black Quarter Horse who’s ridden the Rim Trail a thousand times. That’s the kind of guide I want when I am seeing a new place. A veteran – an expert – someone in great shape and knows exactly what potholes to avoid on the trail to get me safely through the journey. It seems that I had found the perfect horse for the job. At a juncture by the Queen’s Garden, where the canyon opened up to a sea of hoodoos, spire rock formations weathered by time, I noticed other travelers in the distance, slogging through the softer sand on the trails on foot. I gave a smile and a pat to The Kid, who casually meandered along, letting me focus on the views and nothing else.
Some of the best places to ride in the United States are our nation’s parks. As I travel the United States riding horses for pleasure and for our PBS travel series “Travels with Darley” and “Equitrekking,” I am constantly in awe of the national parks that I visit and so happy that I can do it on horseback. If you’re looking to ride in a national park, definitely add Bryce Canyon National Park to your list.
Bryce Canyon National Park on Horseback
I had heard that Bryce Canyon National Park was one of the best parks in America. Having gone to some pretty spectacular ones, including Yellowstone and Haleakala, I was excited to take on Bryce and wasn’t let down by the ride.
The Kid was a great partner for my ride. Tawn, of Canyon Trail Rides, guided me on his horse Wiggy. Tawn said that a lot of people get nervous as they begin their descent into the canyon, because of the drop off on the other side of the trail. I felt safe on The Kid, as he had ridden this trail a thousand times and was probably more sure-footed than I would have been on foot.
What makes Bryce unique are these stunning rock spire formations, called Hoodoos, which were sprinkled with a frosting of snow as we make our way further along the trail.
Tawn has been riding in the park for over 30 years. Though he rides there all of the time, he says he doesn’t get tired of it, because it is constantly changing. We continued down the semi-steep trail into Bryce, stopping to look at what Tawn called “boat mesa” in the distance. This huge canyon looked more like a battleship to me. Everything in Utah is on a grand scale. Snow-covered mountains, hoodoos, vast pastures, red canyons… it’s all big and dramatic.
We passed through an area of Bristlecone Pine trees, one of the oldest living organisms on the planet. Here in Bryce, some of the Bristlecone Pine are over 1000 years old, while in California, one of the oldest dated trees on earth, a bristlecone pine, is more than 46 centuries old and counting.
The Queen’s Garden for Spectacular Views
My favorite part of the ride was the viewpoint for the Queen’s Garden. This impressive area of hoodoos is said to be watched over by Queen Victoria, whose face appears in the rocks. The snow-covered hoodoos were all around us here, and I felt like I could sit with Kid for quite a while, letting my imagination pick out various images and shapes within the rocks. The Paiute Native Americans believed that these hoodoos were people who had been turned to stone. Other park visitors in years past, including Ebenezer Bryce, for whom the canyon is named, marveled at the maze-like qualities of the hoodoos. Throughout our ride in Bryce, Tawn pointed out shapes that he saw in the hoodoos and I simply marveled at being there, surrounded by these amazing rock formations on a great horse named The Kid.
The stunning sea of hoodoos in this Utah park won’t last forever but will be here for another few million years, so you still have plenty of time to take in this colorful park on horseback. You can bring your own horse or head out with Canyon Trail Rides, who lead visitors on guided horse tours of the park.
When to Ride Bryce Canyon: Travel Tips
This is a spring, summer or fall ride, as the canyon gets a good bit of snow, making some trails impassable. I rode here in the spring and really enjoyed that time of year because the hoodoos were still spattered with snow, making the varied rusty red and pink colors stand out even more. The Paiute Native Americans believed that these hoodoos were people who had been turned to stone. One can visualize this readily, and with a little imagination, see other creative images in the hoodoos while descending approximately 1000 feet from the rim to the crater floor.
If you are bringing your horse here to ride, make sure to coordinate with Canyon Trail Rides. As many riders know, strange horses don’t always get along with each other. Canyon Trail Rides also leads rides in nearby Zion, making it feasible to hit both parks in one visit. You’ll want to be prepared for the changing altitudes in Bryce by keeping yourself and your horse hydrated. Pack layers, because the weather can change here on a dime.
Before you travel, make sure to check each park’s regulations, many of which are listed online. When I ride in parks and anywhere else, I make sure to try to practice leave-no-trace travel. Our national parks and natural areas are treasures that we want everyone to be able to enjoy and leave unscathed.