The sweet spot of every great vacation is finding the perfect balance between relaxation and activity — doing enough to feel like you’re experiencing the local culture, while making sure you return from your holiday more relaxed than where you started. One excursion that confidently checks off this box is one that involves horseback riding. Whether you’ve always been slightly uneasy around horses or consider yourself a bonafide ‘horse girl’, there is an abundance of destinations around the world that cater to every sort of skill and comfort level with equine sports.
Despite the fact that it’s not as common as, say, hiking or mountain biking, you might be surprised by just how many regions in far-flung corners of the globe offer this type of programming. There are the obvious places to saddle up and hit the trails (Kentucky comes to mind), but other locales offer slightly unexpected experiences, like riding through crystal clear waters in Turks & Caicos. Beyond all of that, many of these also incorporate unique touches, like farm-to-table picnics or fly fishing, leaving you with little to no choice but to book your horseback riding adventure in the picturesque setting of your choosing. Ahead, several ideas to get you started.
The Canadian Rockies in Alberta, Canada
The landscape of the Canadian Rockies in Banff National Park is vast and breathtaking, and though many come here for the hiking, it’s also a horseback riding destination of epic proportions. Banff Trail Riders takes you along the Bow River and deep into the mountains. Midday, riders get a barbecue lunch at an authentic cowboy cookout, then hit the scenic trails for an overnight adventure that culminates at a backcountry lodge. At Riverwood Ranch, located within the slopes of the Pembina Valley, riders can live out the old wild west by riding alongside wranglers on a cattle drive. Help them herd across a river and through the valley for an authentic experience that ends with a home-cooked dinner and ‘lively cowboy entertainment’ around the campfire.
Newly opened hotel SB Winemaker’s House & Spa Suites from Argentinian female winemaker Susana Balbo sits at the foot of the Andes Mountains in Mendoza and guests can work with the property’s experience curator for a once-in-a-lifetime horseback riding excursion. You’ll saddle up and set off on Criollo horses, taking in the surrounding river valleys, meadows, and jagged cliffs that make this part of the world so distinctly picturesque.
Sonoran Desert, Arizona
The Sonoran Desert is unlike any other desert on the planet due to its vast bio diversity (it’s the only place in the world where the Saguaro Cactus grows) and high levels of rainfall. Unsurprisingly, taking a horse out in this distinct environment is about as magical as it gets and in Scottsdale, trails abound. Take MacDonald’s Ranch, for example, located on 1280 acres of desert where guests can go on guided horseback rides with professional wranglers. At Andaz Scottsdale, riders can go on an off-property horseback adventure to explore the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, a permanently protected habitat replete with multi-use trails and multiple trailhead locations. There’s also Castle Hot Springs, a restored historic resort that’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is nestled in the Hieroglyphic Mountains. Sitting on 1100 acres of desert, guests can horseback ride through the Sonoran Desert and learn about local wildlife on a guided exploration through the private network of trails.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
New Mexico’s moniker as The Land of Enchantment is not an understatement — this terrain is utter magic. Experience the Sangre de Criso Mountains authentically at the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado by saddling up and hitting the trails. The property has an impressive adventure excursions center and one of their signature outings takes horseback riders through the countryside on full or partial-day trips (good for both beginners and seasoned riders).
Big Sky, Montana
Experience a glimmer of what the west was like when it was wild and undiscovered at Montage Big Sky. The property is a favorite among luxury adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts and their horseback experience echoes this authenticity. Riders will trek up mountains trails and across wildflower-blanketed fields, soaking in the rugged alpine environment. The property offers trail rides for all ages and experience levels, so come one come all.
Turks & Caicos Islands
Horseback riding tends to evoke images of rugged desert landscapes or lush forest trails, but what about glistening water? Head for Turks & Caicos Islands to experience a ride unlike the rest as you glide through crystal clear, Caribbean waters on horseback. Provo Ponies is a family-owned business on Providenciales and takes guests on rides along the white sand beach of Long Bay, as well as in the water for a refreshing cool down. The company is partnered with The Palms and The Shore Club, where guests can book directly.
With the mystic Smoky Mountains as your backdrop, guests of Blackberry Farm can have an equestrian experience in an intimate setting. The 4,200-acre property has its own set of stables with both horses and guides. Their trail rides (for guests eight and older) take you into the mountains, winding around scenic corners and along tranquil trails.
Talamanca Mountains, Costa Rica
With its tropical beaches, active volcanoes, and rugged mountains, Costa Rica is one of those rare destinations that offer a true sense of wild. At Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection, a property that sits in the heart of the forest and is home to over 40 horses, guests can tour the Talamanca foothills on horseback that takes them to one of the highest viewpoints in the valley. You’ll also discover a local coffee plantation while gliding through rows of Arabica trees and even take a quick pause for a tasty bite at a shaded mirador.
Santa Margarita, California
California winery Ancient Peaks has vineyards that are situated within Santa Margarita Ranch, one of the oldest continuously operated cattle ranches in the state. The winery partners with Central Coast Trail Riders to offer guests the opportunity to ride along the 14,000-acre ranch, located at the foot of the striking Santa Lucia Mountains. The ride goes for around an hour-and-a-half and at the end, you’ll get 15% off any wine purchases in the tasting room.
Monterey County, California
Surround yourself with pine forests and ocean vistas in Monterey County’s Pebble Beach — it’s an equestrian experience with fairytale beauty. The Pebble Beach Stables and Equestrian Center opened in the 1920s and has since been guiding riders along 27 miles of picturesque trails. You can explore the diverse Pacific coastline and even go deep within the Del Monte Forest. Afterward, rest up at Casa Palmero at Pebble Beach (it’s a Mediterranean-style hideaway with just 24 rooms and suites, plus an award-winning spa and complimentary wine tastings).
New Paltz, New York
Iconic Hudson Valley hotel Mohonk Mountain House is an ultra-relaxing destination for horseback riders. As an overnight guest, you can explore miles of wooded forest and mountain vistas by both horseback and carriage. The property’s stables were built in 1888 and are one of the largest barns in the northeast. Up until the middle of the 20th century, these stables housed over 120 horses. Now, there are six saddle horses and a team of draft mules.
For a leaf-peeping excursion like no other, head for Aspen this fall to Hotel Jerome, Auberge Resorts Collection. You can saddle up and hit the trails to take in the changing colors through the alpine landscape. Ride up through Aspen groves, Snowmass wilderness, or Maroon Bells — no experience necessary and their equine programming ranges from two-hour guided tours to overnight trips.
The State of Kentucky
Perhaps no other state in the US is so closely associated with horses than Kentucky. Understandably, this is the destination for horseback riding enthusiasts. In western Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes guests can trail ride with Rockin U Riding Stables near Wranglers Campground and in central Kentucky, there’s Shelby Trails Park, a public park that offers trail riding, plus Red Fern Riding Center, where you can book a private guided trail ride. Of course, Lexington (known as The Horse Capital of the World) is home to over 400 championship thoroughbred horse farms and with a quick drive from the city, visitors can saddle up at a 110-acre estate and castle to ride through grounds, ending with a garden-to-table picnic.
Escape to the Montana wilderness to The Ranch at Rock Creek — an all-inclusive dude ranch that’s situated on 6,600 acres of rugged Montana wilderness. Here, guests can enjoy arena riding lessons with rides varying in length between one and four hours. The vast landscape means that there are always new trails to explore from flat creekside routes for beginners to rolling pine trails that advanced riders will relish in.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Virginia Beach is a coastal playground for outdoor activities, like horseback riding on the scenic beaches of the Oceanfront District. While here, book a guided ride with Virginia Beach Horseback and trot along the surf during the fall, winter, or spring months. The sensory delights of the soft sand and lapping waves will feel like meditation.
Bringing together outdoor activity with history, at Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel guests can go on an immersive horseback ride to explore the archaeological site of Ostia Antica (it’s the largest in Europe). After learning the fundamentals of riding, like saddling your horse, you’ll enjoy a guided visit through a natural reserve followed by a walking tour of a Renaissance village leading up to an aperitivo with the Giulio Il Castle serving as the backdrop.
Live out your Jane Austen fantasy with a trip to Coworth Park in Ascot, England. This hotel and spa has a beautiful equestrian center where hotel and non-hotel guests can ride across the 240-acre private estate and soak in the resplendent Berkshire countryside. And if you want to take it a step further, you can also learn dressage and jumping.
Renowned wellness brand Miraval has equine outposts in its Arizona, Texas, and Massachusetts properties and has spent the last 25 years focusing on the benefits of equine programs. At Miraval Austin at the Cypress Creek Ranch, award-winning experiences aim to help unleash creativity, improve communication, and heal fear and trauma. Rethink the wellness getaway by incorporating their horse-focused therapies.
Ride across the agave fields of Tequila, Mexico while staying at the Solar de las Animas hotel. This equine adventure takes you through fields of Jose Cuervo and along the foothills of the extinct Tequila Volcano (the volcanic soil is the reason the agaves can’t grow anywhere else in the world). Riders will also partake in a live demonstration of how a seven-year-old-agave plant is harvested.
Southern Utah is an alien landscape that you have to experience in person to fully appreciate — do this by horseback with Yonder Escalante, a 20-acre modern resort concept that’s located amid the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and a 45-minute drive from picturesque Bryce Canyon National Park. In Bryce, book an excursion with Canyon Rides to explore the red rocks and iconic hoodoos.
Sonoma County, California
Most people travel to Sonoma County for the wine (as they should), but a hidden activity that’s worth incorporating into your next trip here is horseback riding. The landscape is perfect for it — rolling vineyards, majestic mountains, pastoral fields, and a rugged coastline. Book a guided tour with The Ranch by Sonoma Lake (the afternoon is the best time as this is when the hills melt into a glowing golden hue).
Queenstown, New Zealand
Experience the indescribable beauty of New Zealand by horseback with Matakuri Lodge. Here on the South Island, you can ride through a glacier-fed river with mountain backdrops and take in this otherworldly landscape from a unique vantage point. The lodge is a hideaway retreat with panoramic views of the alpine lake and encompassing mountains and horseback riding operates all year round.
With its mountain peaks and ice fields, there’s nothing quite like the Icelandic landscape. Experience this magic with a stay at Skálakot Manor Hotel where you can book a horseback riding tour. It’s located in southern Iceland and is in close proximity to waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers, and black sand beaches. There’s also Deplar Farm, a 28,000-square-foot lodge that was transformed from a working sheep farm into a remote, intimate Nordic retreat that sleeps up to 34 guests. Here, guests experience the region’s scenery on Icelandic horses, which are known for their ability to cross challenging terrain.
If the words ‘all-inclusive’ and ‘adults-only’ make your ears perk up, book a long weekend at Magee Homestead in Saratoga, Wyoming. This luxury ranch is ideal for the outdoor adventurer thanks to the surrounding landscape of pristine meadowlands. Their horseback riding experience is tailored to the riding level of each guest, with the option for group or private rides (plus, full-day rides come with a picturesque picnic).
Lanai is the smallest inhabited island that travelers can go to in Hawaii, and it also happens to be the home of Four Seasons Resort Lanai — a property oozing with that feeling of untouched, secluded beauty. Here, hotel guests can travel by horseback through the surrounding hills of Koele into the trails of upland terrain. They’ll be accompanied by a personal wrangler and together will explore the wooded valleys and tropical trails.
Attention Angelenos: Just two hours north of Los Angeles in the Santa Ynez Mountains there’s a luxury dude ranch and resort — Alisal Ranch — that’s located in Solvang in the heart of wine country. The ranch is on 10,500 acres of rolling hills and there’s a daily two-hour scenic group horseback ride winding through foothills and around a lake (it’s included with every stay at Alisal Ranch and available year-round). The ranch also offers private horseback rides and weekly morning horseback rides to breakfast at the historic adobe onsite.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Taking ‘vast landscape’ to new heights, Omni Mount Washington Resort is surrounded by nearly 800,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest. The hotel opened in 1902 and the property’s distinct Spanish Renaissance architecture is worth traveling for alone. Unsurprisingly, visitors here are spoiled when it comes to outdoor activity, like a leisurely horseback ride. This fall, book a stay here and ride along the changing hues of red, orange, and yellow.
In partnership with Adventure IO, The Hythe, a Luxury Collection Resort in Vail offers a unique equine experience for those with a penchant for the outdoors. Their Wilderness Fly Fishing by Horseback program takes guests through Vail’s beautiful landscape of lakes and alpine streams by horseback, with a coffee and pastry breakfast and campfire-cooked lunch included., plus all the fly fishing gear you will need to chase trout and cutthroats.
Waynesville, North Carolina
The Swag is a secluded retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains set on 250 acres and located 40 minutes west of Asheville, North Carolina. The vibrant colors of the Maggie Valley are best experienced by horseback, starting at Cataloochee Ranch and ending at The Swag for a chef’s picnic at 5,000 feet atop Gooseberry Knob (every Wednesday and Saturday). Guests can also book a group or private ride by the half or full day throughout the week.