Glacier National Park has some of Montana’s most easily-recognizable and iconic scenery, which many would argue is best viewed from the saddle of a horse.
Horses are still used today in the park to transport various supplies deep into the backcountry regions where there is no vehicle access.
If you are planning a visit to the national park or its surrounding regions, factoring in one of the most authentic Montana experiences going—a scenic trail or pack ride on horseback—could turn into a lifelong memory.
This tradition from the past is still very much alive today and is an unbeatable way to check out some of the common, as well as the lesser-known regions of the park.
It is possible to find guided horseback rides that set out from corrals inside the park. These tend to be in the tourist regions of Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, Apgar, and West Glacier depending on which outfitter’s services you opt for.
Half-day and full-day trips are typically offered, and aside from the main outfitters that work within the boundaries of the park, you’ll also find trips heading in from operations from surrounding towns like Whitefish and Bozeman.
Horseback rides are not available in Glacier National Park in winter, and visitors should be aware that once the rides are booked the routes may still change due to weather and other factors overseen by park rangers. Aside from advance reservations, you’ll need a backcountry permit which your guide will be aware of.
In this article, we will take a look at the best horseback riding in Glacier National Park and the amazing views you can expect to see.
Horseback Riding in Glacier National Park
Swan Mountain is the main operator of horseback riding stables in or near Glacier National Park. They have well-groomed and well-trained horses, knowledgeable local guides, and some of the most impressive scenery you are ever likely to lay eyes on.
The outfitters offer one and two-hour rides, half-day, and full-day rides. All rides require a 45-minute period beforehand both to organize the horses and equipment and to give the required safety talks.
All three corrals are inside Glacier National Park. The outfitters have stables at Many Glaciers on the park’s eastern side, at Lake McDonald and Apgar on the west side, and they also have another slightly different option just outside the gates in West Glacier.
The Many Glacier Trails (from June to September)
The Many Glacier Corral is behind the main Many Glacier parking lots, upwind of the Many Glacier Hotel. This entire valley is personified by sweeping views although it does tend to be much windier than the stables across on the West side of the divide. Various tips are offered from this corral, with rides conducted at a walking pace only.
One example of the routes included in this region is the two-hour Cracker Flats ride. This is an easy enough ride through wooded terrain and open fields with some lake and mountain views.
On top of that is the half-day ride to Josephine Lake, which is a little more challenging but does feature some amazingly scenic views of glaciers, lakes, and peaks.
The Apgar Trails (from May to August)
The Apgar Corral is to be found in the vicinity of the park’s West Entrance, surrounded by lodgepole forest and featuring Lower McDonald Creek. Several trail rides from this location are also conducted, again at a walking pace only.
Visitors can choose ride options that last between one and four hours, covering destinations such as the Apgar Meadows, the C.M. Russell Trail, the Camas Loop, and the Apgar Lookout Trail.
Lake McDonald Trails (from May to September)
The Lake McDonald Corral is just across the road from the Lake McDonald Lodge and right next to the biggest of the national park’s 250 alpine lakes.
Several rides operate from this location covering one and 2.5-hour trips to Cedar Forest and Upper MacDonald Creek, as well as full-day rides to Sperry Chalet and Trout Lake. All rides are conducted at a walking pace only.
There is also a fourth location operated by this Outfitter just outside the park in West Glacier. The corral is not much more than a mile from the park’s West Entrance and these rides will suit anyone trying to escape the rush of entering the park.
Rides from the West Glacier Stable cover 1-3 hours in the saddle in destinations such as the Lodgepole Loop, West Glacier Gateway, and the West Glacier Lookout.
The routes typically traverse low hills of pine and aspen before heading up to a viewpoint in the Great Bear Wilderness Area just to the national park’s south.
Planning a Ride
If you are planning a trip with Swan Mountain Outfitters you might spend some time perusing the various available options and their respective regions within the park.
Drop camp services are also offered by the operation which involves packing the riders’ gear into designated backcountry campgrounds using stock. For many adventurous types, this can be a great alternative to backpacking. You can get more details on the operations trips and rates HERE
The famed Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier and the southeast corner of Glacier National Park is where guests can partake in a guided horseback trip with Glacier Gateway Outfitters.
The routes span the western shoulder of the park and venture into Native American Land. The experienced and helpful guides will encourage new and experienced riders alike along the mountainous trails.
Participants can expect plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, not to mention some ridiculously impressive views of the park’s Two Medicine Valley.
There are other outfitters offering services such as fishing or floating who also include combination horseback riding trips. If the idea of a spot of rafting on top of some horseback riding sounds like your thing, then read on.
As it turns out, Wild River Adventures is the only outfitter in the region of the national park providing horseback riding combined with white-water rafting. These trips allow visitors to experience a combination of two of the best outdoor activities in the park which equals a complete day of fun.
This is done in tandem with the main Glacier Park riding outfitters who we’ve already taken a look at—Swan Mountain Outfitters. The Swan Mountain wranglers will first guide you on a 2 or 3-hour journey through open meadows and wooded forests featuring the Great Bear Wilderness Area.
You will then continue with a half-day of river rafting which will surely leave you ready for hearty dinner—another option provided by the outfitters if you fancy it.