Though they are now wild, the horses that freely roam the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range are the descendants of domesticated horses that arrived with colonizing Spaniards.
Called the Barb Mustangs, they were brought to the Americas by Juan de Oñate in the early 1600s during an expedition of the lands north of the Rio Grande.
Though the herd may contain other secondary components, equine geneticists have determined that the primary bloodlines of the herd do indeed stem from this one unique herd.
The Pryor Mountain Mustangs are thought to be one of, if not the, most important herd of wild horses in the nation. To both acknowledge their genetic uniqueness and protect their lineage, the range was created in 1968.
As the borders of the range overlap with other protected lands it is overseen by three different governing bodies, though the Bureau of Land Management takes the lead, and supersedes the Parks Department et. al. in matters concerning the preservation of the herd.
There are three entrances to the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range: In Montana, the Forest Service entrance in the north, and the Burnt Timber Entrance in the southwest. Just across the border in Wyoming is the Sykes Ridge Entrance in the southeast.
All three are open to guests and are accessible by motor vehicle. There are no reservations or fees required to visit.
A Guide to The Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range
The horses of the Pryor Mountains represent the only wild horses in the state of Montana, with the Spanish Barb Mustangs herd numbering around 160.
Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range Stats
- Day Use Fees: Free
- Size: 39,650 acres
- Season: Year-Round
- Major Feature: Wild herds of Spanish Barb Mustangs
Main Attractions in Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range
While you’re in the area, there are a plethora of other popular tourists sites. Just next door to the range with portions even overlapping, is the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
Most visitors to the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range make at least one stop in the recreation area as well.
The Pryor Mountains National Horse Range is just east of the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. If you’re visiting the horse range, this nationally managed park is split into two sections – the Northern and Southern Districts – that are roughly divided by the state border with Wyoming.
In the Northern District, visitors will find several places to visit like the Yellowtail Dam Visitor Center, the Ok-A-Beh Marina, and the Afterbay Reservoir which has a boat ramp and campground.
At the very end of the 19th century, Erastus T. Ewing arrived in Montana from Tennessee in search of gold.
Though he and his fellow prospectors were somewhat successful, Ewing eventually decided that ranching was a much better way to seek his fortune.
Within just a few years he has built a home, applied for an irrigation lien, and became postmaster of the burgeoning town. He died shortly after the turn of the century, and his son, also named Erastus Ewing, took over the ranch and the small post office.
One of the most stunning viewpoints in all of Montana, the Devil’s Canyon Overlook, just off of Bighorn Canyon Road in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, is simple to visit as it can be reached by car.
The canyon walls tower almost 1000 feet here, accentuated by the dramatic horseshoe bend that channels the water below. Keep an eye out for wildlife: Big Horn Sheep, wild mustangs, falcons, and bald eagles are frequently seen here.
Within the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area lies the historic Lockhart Ranch. Though it eventually became a sprawling 6000 acres, Caroline Lockhart began way back in 1926 with just a two-room cabin on 160 acres of land.
Over the years that she lived there, she slowly increased the size of her property and built many more buildings.
Though Lockhart moved back to her hometown of Cody, Wyoming in 1952 when she was in her 80s, her legacy lives on in her ranch, which is open for visitors to tour.
The property, cabins, and barns have been very well maintained, so you’ll get a good look into what her life in the wild west was truly like.
Activities in Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range
The main reason for visiting the range is the same as the reason for its existence: to see wild Mustangs.
Though the range can be explored on foot, it is a huge refuge and takes nearly three hours to drive from the northern entrance to the south end.
Besides the motorways that run through the park, there are no expressly designated trails, but hiking and walking off-road are permitted on the grounds as long as the behavior doesn’t break any additional restrictions.
Along the roads that divide the park, there are several turnouts for cars. Most folks visiting who want to do some hiking drive the majority of the way, then stop to enjoy a particular area, particularly where there are likely to be communities of horses.
Roughly speaking, two roads run through the grounds of the range that meet in the north and create the east and west entrances in the south. Visitors coming by car don’t need any special permits or licenses, but the roads can be rough.
If at all possible, bring a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle with adequate tires. Even with the most equipped vehicles, expect a bit of a bumpy ride, and maybe some difficulty navigating the road.
Wet or snowy weather can make roads extremely difficult to drive on or even impassible.
How to Safely View Wild Horses in the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range
It is imperative to maintain proper etiquette around the wild horses of the Pryor Mountains Wild Horse Range to ensure not only their safety but for yours as well.
The Bureau of Land Management asks that visitors always remain no closer than 100 feet from them at all times, and use your discretion to determine whether a greater distance is necessary.
When horses are in sight, be sure to refrain from any activities that may jar them: sudden movements, loud noises, or luring them with food are not only dangerous practices but are illegal in some cases.
Proper treatment of this rare and unique herd is important to their long-term survival, and limiting interactions with humans is a part of that practice.
There are many places on the range where you won’t have to venture far from the road to see wild horses, and many visitors have encountered them simply from their cars.