Trail Riding on Horses
Nothing takes you back faster to those legendary days of America’s West than hitting the trail on a horse. So saddle up with us as we show you the best places to have your own ultimate riding adventures in Western Nebraska.
The joyride begins near the heart of rodeo land in the Sandhills and Scenic Rivers Country, 12 miles northeast of Valentine at Niobrara River Ranch Trail Rides, with over a dozen horses in a 2-hour journey of 4.3 miles in this paradise. Gentle mixes of Percherons, paints and quarter horses lead you through forest and grassland inside the private ranch’s 12,000 acres. The ride rolls over canyons, and explores the awesome Niobrara River. Riders must be at least 6 years old, and corrals are provided for guests’ horses. (308) 520-0240.
The horsepower kicks in 20 miles southeast for the first leg of nearly 350,000 acres of riding wonderland in the Nebraska National Forest. Just south of Nenzel, we enter the Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest. There are no marked trails but plenty of natural paths as well as two fenced-in pastures and areas for trailers. (308) 533-2257.
Next, 10 miles south of Merritt Reservoir on Highway 97 is the Double R Guest Ranch. This family-run ranch for more than a century rests among picturesque prairies and spring-fed lakes 20 miles north of Mullen. For $100 a day, Double R provides horses to experienced riders, and those guests can take leisurely rides through nature trails or ride over for ranching chores. The ranch also boards horses for a nominal fee. (866) 217-2042.
About 40 miles to the east off Highway 2, there’s another 90,000 acres of national forest with a collage of prairie and ponderosa at the Bessey Ranger District, near Halsey and Thedford. Just like its McKelvie cousin, there are water stations and trailer areas, and two corrals with more than 30 stalls in the Steer Creek area. (308) 533-2257.
Equestrian paradise also is found farther west in Pine Ridge Country across 1,000 acres of wilderness at the granddaddy of Nebraska parks, the 90-year-old Chadron State Park. (308) 432-6167.
South of Chadron and surrounding nearby Crawford are more than 60 miles of marked riding trails in the largest section of Nebraska’s National Forest. The 140,000 acres of the Pine Ridge Ranger District include breathtaking rides through wide-open spaces in the fabled Oglala National Grasslands. The district has 17 miles of trails through the historic Soldier Creek Wilderness Area, with 12 paddocks, and a water pump available from mid-May to mid-November. (308) 432-0326.
Sixteen miles northwest of Crawford and a quick jump from Toadstool Geologic Park is Our Heritage Guest Ranch. Riding lessons are available and there are 26 indoor stalls, and several paddocks and corrals to board horses. The rides take you over 3,600 acres where the deer and the antelope play, along with the jackrabbits, bobcat, coyotes, eagles and even occasional cougars. (308) 430-1239.
Southwest of Crawford are more happy trails, including at Fort Robinson State Park, with 67 miles of riding trails and some of the most impressive equestrian facilities of any state park in the nation. “It’s an equestrian paradise,” said Suzanne Ridder, an administrative assistant for Nebraska State Parks. There are a dozen horses available from Memorial Day to Labor Day for trail rides in the park’s 22,000 acres. The rides begin at 9 a.m. for visitors 6 and over, and include a 55-minute trip over Smiley Canyon and the 145-minute trek through the Red Cloud Buttes. Riding is available year-round for folks with horses, and there are 151 individual stalls inside Fort Robinson’s three barns as well as a cabin area for trailers. (402) 471-5511.
A bonanza of trail rides in Crawford also can be found inside the Ponderosa Ranch, which offers guests as young as 4 years old with riding options from May through October. Eight gentle quarter horses take you through 3,600 acres of pines, meadows, ravines and creek with greetings from mule deer and Merriam’s wild turkey. Corrals are available for your own horses. (308) 665-3983.
One of the fantastical turns is at the Scotts Bluff National Monument near Gering, where riders can trot along the base of this western trails landmark. (308) 436-9700.
After that monumental ride, trot 20 miles southeast to Bayard, where there are corrals and trailer space at the 3,300-acre Flying Bee Ranch. A ride along the scenic Wildcat Hills might bring a chance encounter with the mighty bighorn sheep. (308) 783-2885.
The wonders of Lake McConaughy near Ogallala offer magnificent views, with white sandy beaches hugging cottonwood trees. Hooves are banned from the beaches, but at the southwest side of the lake, there’s smooth sailing for horseback travels at the Eagle Canyon Hideaway. Guests can keep trailers or portable corrals, and ride on a gentle dirt road for an 8-mile tour by the lake. Easy-going appaloosas and paints can be rented through Eagle Canyon Horseback Adventures. (308) 289-4931.
Traveling about Western Nebraska is one of Mother Nature’s sacred gifts. And if you see it on a horse, you are truly blessed.