Cowboy Cookout with Banff Trail Riders

    Afton Aikens July 30, 2016

    Last month, I went horseback riding with Banff Trail Riders for the first time in about 15 years.

    Not only was our group treated to mountain views from almost everywhere on the trail, we also got to fuel up on a steak, beans and baked potato lunch in the middle of the ride.

  • Afton and Tumbleweed

    Afton and Tumbleweed

  • Naomi and Quarry

    Naomi and Quarry

  • This is the way to experience cowboy life, if you ask me. Banff Trail Riders’ Cowboy Cookout tour is a half-day tour (with lunch and dinner options), but the company also offers shorter and longer tours (including some multi-day backcountry lodge trips) to suit everyone’s preference. I’ve always considered a multi-day pack trip a romantic idea of western life, and it’s on my bucket list, but given my hiatus from the saddle I decided to start small.

    When I pulled up to the stables that morning, I was immediately impressed by the facilities and the space. I’ve lived in Canmore for several years and spent a lot of time in Banff, and would’ve had no idea the stables were there since they’re set away from downtown with tons of land all around.

    People were arriving and the staff were readying the horses for the day’s trips. Our group was called over to the corral to meet our horses. I’d be riding Tumbleweed that day, and my colleague Naomi would be on Quarry. We were both a little uncertain about how the ride would go, joking about the horses galloping off down Banff Avenue in a frenzy with us still in the saddle.

    In reality, these horses are very well trained and know their route. They require little direction, but a tap of the heels to the side can help get them moving when they’ve got their eyes on some long grass at the edge of the trail. We rode in line behind our guide April, and before long were at the cookout site at 3 Mile Cabin.

    It was a cool spring day, so we were happy to see the steaks just getting put on the steaming grill when we arrived. I quickly helped myself to a cup of hot apple cider and chatted with our fellow riders. Coffee and tea were also available.

    Within minutes, I had a plate full of delicious-looking steak, homemade baked beans, a baked potato with bacon, sour cream, green onion and cheese, and a buttered bun. We sat at picnic tables under a covered awning, while some others in our group played lasso and horseshoe-throwing games.

    Vegetarians – don’t fear! Banff Trail Riders offers grilled veggie skewers for those who want to pass on the steak.

    As I devoured my steak, which was cooked medium-rare and seasoned perfectly, Naomi and I chatted with a Trail Riders crew member, Marita, who had been with the company for years and shared her knowledge and enthusiasm with us.

    Banff Trail Riders has been operating since 1962, and follows the same historic routes that the original Canadian Rockies explorers carved through the wilderness in the 1920s. The company has 300 horses, which makes it easy to pair a mild mannered horse with a newcomer (or those out of practice like myself and Naomi).

    Hearty meals now down the hatch, our group was ready to head out for the rest of the ride up the Windy Knoll and back to the stables. The lunch was a perfect way to break up the ride, I thought, as it gave everyone a chance to fuel up and stretch any muscles that might be tight from the ride to the cookout area.

    Once back at the Trail Riders stables, tour guests can pick up a photo of themselves on their horse, snapped at the beginning of the ride. We said goodbye to Tumbleweed and Quarry, and I entertained thoughts of a multi-day pack trip. The cowboy life is enchanting, that’s for sure.

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