6 Best National Parks for Horseback Riding

How Horseback Riding Improves Fitness

National Parks Service

Horseback riding is surprisingly beneficial for balance, coordination, core strength and lower body strength, particularly of the glutes, quads, hamstrings and adductor groups. Sitting atop a horse as its gait changes - as it traverses varied terrain - requires you to make constant adaptations to your musculature to maintain balance. In short, even quiet trail rides can leave uninitiated riders tired and a bit sore.

Don't let the potential for soreness prevent you from giving it a go, though. Horseback riding is one of my personal favorite cross-training activities. It gives you the chance to get outside and connect with big, beautiful animals. You'll end up enjoying a light to moderate-intensity workout, but it's unlikely to feel like a workout at all.

Assateague Island National Seashore

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Assateague Island is known for its herds of wild horses, so it makes sense to tour the national seashore on the back of one of the animals' domesticated counterparts. You can access the island through Maryland or Virginia, but if you plan to access from Maryland, you must know the rules - horseback riding isn't allowed between May 15th and October 8th due to the risk of spreading Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) or West Nile Virus (WNV). Riding is allowed year round on the Virginia side of the island.

It's also important to note that you must bring your own horses - there are no stables offering horseback riding trips on the island, which makes Assateague Island especially fun for seasoned riders. Load up your horses and settle in for a few days - horse camping at night is allowed.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

National Park Service

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the perfect place for the novice horseback rider and the expert equine owner. The park has four on-site stables that provide guided trail rides ranging in length from 45 minutes to several hours, as well as hay rides and horse-drawn wagon rides. Stables are accessible from Tennessee and North Carolina locations.

If you're a horse owner, you have the freedom to explore more than 550 miles of horse-friendly trails within the parks. Stay for a few days by reserving a spot at one of the five, drive-in horse camps. Most are open from April through October, and have ample space and amenities for two- and four-legged campers.

Badlands National Park

National Park Service

For horse owners who want to explore open acreage much like early settlers, it's time to plan a trip to the Badlands of South Dakota. There are no commercial stables available for guided tours, but there are more than 64,000 acres available for exploration to those who have their own horse. In fact, the only places horses aren't allowed is on marked trails and roads, which means riders must be willing to roam the uncharted land. If you're comfortable with roughing it, and you want a real adventure with your best four-legged friend, this is the park to visit.

Acadia National Park

National Park Service

Acadia National Park, located on Mount Desert Island off the coast of Maine, features 45 miles of carriage roads open to horse owners who want to explore the area on horseback. While the park doesn't offer guided trail rides, they do have the Wildwood Stables where horses are kept and used for horse-drawn carriage tours lasting from one to four hours. If you're planning a several-day trip to the park with your own horses, you can reserve a spot at the park's horse camp, or you can contact Wildwood about stall rentals.

Rocky Mountain National Park

National Parks Service

Rocky Mountain National Park has some of the broadest rules regarding stock animal use (horses, burros, llamas and mules) in the country. Not only are there more than 250 miles of trails open to commercial and private horse use (about 80% of all park trails), there are two stables located within the park as well as many commercial stables outside the park that also offer guided trail tours.

Santa Monica Mountains

National Park Service

Los Angeles may not be the first place you think of when you think "horseback riding," but the Santa Monica National Recreation Area consists of more than 153,000 acres of parkland, making it the largest urban park in the world. There are actually 500 miles of trails open to horseback riding in the Santa Monica Mountains. If that seems like an overwhelming number, start with one of the National Park Service's recommended trails. You can use your own horses, or you can rent a horse and sign up for a guided tour.

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