A guest post by Stuart R. Watkins
Have you ever been on a cattle drive and forged a raging river, played mid-wife to a mother cow, and used cunning teamwork to outwit villains?
And I can promise that none of those things that happened above in the movie City Slickers will happen to you when you venture into the mountains on horseback!
However, a trip with Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies will be an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime as you forge new friendships from sharing a remarkable horseback trip into the majestic Canadian Rockies. If this is not on your “bucket list” you’re missing out.
Thanks to this 93-year-old non-profit organization, you too can trade in your minivan for a mare and hit the mountains. It operates three six-day professionally-guided trail rides each summer (more rides can be added based upon vacancy). The rides always take place in the backcountry with a different location chosen each year. You don’t even have to be able to ride to do it, though you have to like horses and be willing to learn. Riders come from all over North America and overseas to attend these historic, western, cowboy cultural trips.
The T.R.C.R. are in the business because they want their fellow countrymen and international friends to be able to enjoy this great land, to ride into the remote areas of the mountains with a good degree of comfort and at a reasonable cost. They have been doing this for 92 years out of Calgary, Alberta, which you can easily reach as part of any Western Canada holiday.
The cost includes everything from a membership in the organization and backcountry user fees, through to 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 Trail Riders have a high guest return rate with some riders having been on 30 or more rides. Over 50 percent of riders are +50, and 70 percent are adventuresome women. If there is a requirement for membership, it is that a person enjoy horseback riding, the great outdoors, the company of a few like-minded souls, and a desire to submerse themselves in the cowboy culture and way of life – the Western Canadian way!
Riding experience of the members ranges from very little to years in the saddle. Absolute tenderfeet (who wouldn’t know which end the bridle goes on) are 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 trailhead corral where they are met by cowboys and horses. Here the dudes are matched with a horse according to the information given on their application form. Each horse is a sure-footed, well broken animal, accustomed to the sometimes rocky terrain and tolerant of the greenest tenderfoot. Rest assured, horses travel at a steady pace.
At the base camp, the riders are assigned to and native style Indian teepees and tents which will be their home for the next five days. There is a washstand with plenty of hot water available for use by guests, and a propane hot shower for a touch of civilized comfort.
For the next four days, the riders follow a basic daily plan. Breakfast from 8:00 to 9:00 am includes porridge, prunes or juice, eggs, bacon, pancakes alternating with French toast, and omelets – a hardy start for the day. The cowboys saddle the horses, check the cinches, and by 10:00 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 spectacular visas. There is a sweep and majesty to this land, a towering grandeur and nobility that is so powerful in its vast silence. This alpine land abounds in larch, spruce and fir trees, mountain animals and birds, meadows and parklands leading to the nearby snow capped peaks and ridges.
By noon, the riders have reached their destination and are ready for lunch. 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 four 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 7:30 pm the cowboys light a roaring fire in the “Doughnut tent” and an evening of sing-song, square dancing, cowboy poetry, story-telling and live entertainment complete the day. On the morning of the sixth day, the riders are up early packing their duffle and riding out one more time before boarding the bus back to Calgary.
Each year the Trail Riders travel into a different area of Canada’s famed Rocky Mountains. This summer, the Trail Riders will explore Waterton Lakes National Park, a world UNESCO site. From base camp, the daily rides will include trips to Goat Lake, Spinkop Ridge to Blue Lake, Lone Lake, “the Lions Head” and finally Alderson 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 93rd year of riding.
For further details about the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies, check out their website and be sure to watch the three minute Youtube video. Contact them for help in planning your trip to Banff, Alberta in the beautiful Canadian Rockies, and/or the world famous Calgary Stampede.