Big Sky in Montana is something of a horseback riding paradise. If you happen to be driving around the town and its surrounding regions you’ll likely see more than a few horses, whether in stables, on trailheads, or happily grazing in picturesque meadows.
These horses are an integral part of the Big Sky community, and there’s something very Western, not to mention unforgettable, about riding deep into either the Gallatin Range or the Madison Range on the back of a sturdy horse.
Taking in the seemingly endless terrain horseback riding in Big Sky can undoubtedly be a high point for many visitors to the state.
If you are heading to Montana with the intention of spending some time in the saddle, there are various avenues to explore such as working dude ranches and resort ranches.
However, if you don’t want to go the full dude ranch route, there are endless outfitters to choose from in the scenic surrounds of Big Sky. Various options are offered such as pack trips and trail rides, both excellent ways to experience some of the most remote areas of the Gallatin National Forest.
Ranches and outfitters cater to all levels of rider, offering half-day and full-day trips, as well as overnight horseback outings in Big Sky.
Experiencing a few hours in the saddle with a solid and reliable steed may be the ultimate Montana vacation for many visitors to the popular resort town also renowned for skiing.
The Best Horseback Riding in Big Sky
1. Lone Mountain Ranch
Lone Mountain Ranch was established more than a century back by original homesteaders, and today serves as a proud symbol of the Western heritage that Montana is renowned for. The ranch has a fleet of horses that can take visitors into virtually unseen and untouched parts of the backcountry.
From learning basic horsemanship skills on the ranch to venturing into deep forest and wilderness regions, the experienced wranglers and the horses on the ranch will encourage and guide all levels and ages of rider, which often includes specialized attention.
Adventures are restricted to just a few riders per wrangler, and these wranglers will first spend some time assessing current riding skills in order to match riders with the most suitable horses.
The well-trained and experienced wranglers can coach and instruct anyone from total novices to advanced riders, helping to enhance any existing level of riding skill.
Once summer has shown up, Big Sky Lone Mountain Ranch is known to operate with over 100 horses, each of which is suited to a particular client such as a youngster on their first riding attempt. Others like the draft horses will be more geared towards pulling sleigh loads of visitors through the snow.
2. Jake’s Horses
Jake’s is an outfitter in Big Sky specializing in trail rides. They offer a broad selection of trails and rides to suit all levels and ages in the region of Big Sky. Trips of various durations can be arranged which could be anything from an hour to a week long.
With Jake’s, you’ll get to experience beautiful scenery and cross trail creeks from the saddle of your trusty steed. Each friendly and experienced member of staff gives their fullest attention to riders, right from the orientation and saddling up to the actual riding out on the ranges and trails.
Guests can experience the snow-capped Lone Peak and the Gallatin Mountain & Valley in Big Sky, and there is also the possibility of catching a few glimpses of the various types of wildlife in the region.
Jake’s runs trail rides year-round, including winter if you fancy tackling a few snow-laced trails around the scenic Big Sky region.
3. Canyon Adventures
Canyon Adventures has been in operation for over 30 years and was established by Ed and Kathy Hake. Ed is a Gallatin Canyon native who is more familiar with the area than anyone you are likely to meet.
The outfit offers three different guided horseback riding tours of one, two, and 3-hour durations across some highly-scenic terrain.
The highly-experienced guides can show you all the beauty that the Custer Gallatin National Forest has to offer while helping you to improve your horsemanship skills regardless of your current ability.
Canyon Adventures is situated along Highway 191 at mile marker 47, just a mile south of the center of Big Sky.
4. 320 Guest Ranch
The 320 Ranch is located between Big Sky and Yellowstone National Park. The ranch is in the heart of the Gallatin Valley just over 10 miles outside of Big Sky and less than 40 miles from the West Entrance of the national park.
The historic ranch is the perfect place to experience a few touches of the Old West, featuring log cabins amidst the setting of the Gallatin National Forest. This means you can count on trees, mountains, and frequent sightings of the various types of wildlife in the region.
Marce Hoffman is the long-standing Horse Operations Manager, and along with his team of professional wranglers, he is more than happy to demonstrate how riding is such an integral part of life in Big Sky. The wranglers are used to looking after around 60-80 horses every day and cover hundreds of miles during the summer.
The 320 Guest Ranch experience includes riding through high mountain meadows, along the Gallatin River, looking out for wildlife such as elk, deer, moose, coyotes, and bears.
The season for trail rides at the ranch runs from June to the end of September, and of course reservations are necessary to ensure availability.
5. Cache Creek Outfitters
The Cache Creek guides are locals who know the area like the back of their hand. These are largely outdoor enthusiasts with a love for horseback riding and the great outdoors in general.
It’s worth knowing that Charlie, the owner of Cache Creek Outfitters, was rather fortunate in that he was able to acquire a Gallatin National Forest special use permit.
As it turns out these gems are somewhat hard to come by in this region, and the permit allows Cache Creek Outfitters to venture into the region and witness the magic of the Gallatin National Forest and its trails from the saddle of a steed.
Cache Creek Outfitters is big on wildlife and the preservation of natural habitats. They are aware of what treasures the Gallatin National Forest and Yellowstone National Park truly are, and love to point out wildlife such as moose, elk, deer, coyote, and even bears to participating riders.
The horses are gentle and experienced and the wranglers are highly knowledgeable about not only the horse but also the flora and fauna in the surrounding mountain regions, which all add to the experience.
Trail Rides are offered by Cache Creek, as are either full-day or overnight Pack Trips. Relax on a horseback trail riding outing through some of the most scenic regions of Northwest Montana and Yellowstone National Park. Rides from 2 hours to a half or full day are available, as is a combination of riding and fly fishing if that’s your thing.
Like the majority of professional riding outfits, Cache Creek specializes in the matching of riders to the most suitable horses. This ensures a safe and highly-enjoyable riding experience for riders of any age and skill level.
Guest safety and of course enjoyment is one of the main concerns, and two different types of pack trips are offered.
The first is the fly fishing option, which is a full-day excursion, and the second is a multi-day, overnight pack trip in Yellowstone National Park. The complete authentic Montana experience on horseback awaits!