Horsin' around is serious business in Arizona. Our four-hooved friends have been important in assisting those developing our Southwest state, from Spanish conquistadors and indigenous cultures to cowboys, ranchers and soldiers.
Today, you can leisurely savor the outdoors, learn about Arizona wildlife and history, and get a different point of view from the saddle of a horse—but don't stop there. Just for fun, try riding a few other gentle critters for a new experience.
Horseback trail rides
Some 38 percent of Arizona is federal land, and horseback riding is one of the best ways to experience these vast areas of nature.
Rides with Arizona Horseback Experience last from three hours to overnight through the grasslands and evergreen mountains of the Coronado National Forest near Sonoita. The Southern Arizona area is a birder's paradise due to its location as a major migratory corridor. The stables also offer a wine-tasting ride through rolling hills and gentle canyons to Sonoita Vineyards, the oldest commercial winery in Arizona.
Creeks, streams, meadows and the placid Scott Reservoir in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest await as you ply the White Mountains trails with Porter Mountain Stables. Saddle up for one- to six-hour rides, including one at sunset, starting just outside Pinetop-Lakeside in eastern Arizona.
Prefer the water to the mountains? Wander around central Arizona's Mormon Lake, the state's largest natural lake, about 28 miles south of Flagstaff. High Mountain Trail Rides offers one- to two-hour treks from mid-April through early-December. Ride through stands of aspens and Ponderosa Pines in the Coconino National Forest.
Out in Arizona's western region is Grand Canyon Western Ranch, which abuts Lake Mead National Recreation Area on the west rim of the Grand Canyon. You can spend the day at the ranch by taking a guided horseback ride and buffalo safari. Mosey along trails lined with Joshua trees to a herd of wild bison. There's also a sunset ride to enjoy with a serenading cowboy to entertain you.
You don't have to go far from Arizona's urban centers to see the sights aboard a horse. You can find trail riding even in the sprawling Phoenix metropolis. One popular option is 16,000-acre South Mountain Park with miles of trails and a 2,330-foot vista of the valley floor. Ponderosa Stables offers nine types of trail rides—some which include meals—through the Sonoran Desert washes and stands of saguaros, the iconic cactus of Arizona.
Want to go horseback riding but have a young cowpoke who's hesitant or unable to ride a full-sized steed? Don't fret. Colossal Cave Riding Stables in the Southern Arizona burg of Vail has both horses and ponies. A youngin' can saddle up on a small horse, which is led by someone holding a leadline, and travel around the historic La Posta Quemada Ranch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park.
Other critter rides
Before there were roads, the only way around the majestic Grand Canyon was atop a sure-footed, sturdy mule. Experience the journey for yourself with Xanterra and Grand Canyon National Park Lodges' three-hour mule rides along the East Rim or overnight trips to Phantom Ranch.
You may think it's novel to ride camels in Arizona, but they're actually part of the state's history. The U.S. Army used camels in the 1850s to move goods before there was a transcontinental railroad. When the Civil War started, the Camel Military Corps was disbanded. Some camels were privately used, then released into the Arizona wild. The Phoenix Zoo gives a nod to that history with camel rides.
Portions of this article were updated November 2018.