Horsin’ around is serious business in Arizona. Equines have been important in 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.
The Arizona Horseback Experience guides rides lasting 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 because it’s a major migratory corridor. The stables also offer a wine tasting ride through rolling hills and gentle canyons to Sonoita Vineyards, the oldest commercial vineyard and 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. Porter Mountain Stables offers one- to six-hour rides, including one at sunset, starting just outside Pinetop-Lakeside in eastern Arizona.
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 October. 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 relocated to the ranch. There’s also a sunset ride to enjoy.
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 Sonoran Desert washes and stands of saguaros, the iconic cactus of Arizona.
Other Critter Rides
Sure-footed, sturdy mules used to be the only way around the majestic Grand Canyon before roads were constructed. Now you can take one- or three-hour rides around the less-crowded North Rim with Canyon Trail Rides between May 15 and October 15. One long ride takes you 2,300 feet into the canyon through the Supai Tunnel.
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. They’ll travel around the historical La Posta Quemada Ranch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park.
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 and Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo give a nod to that history with camel rides.