Photography: Courtesy Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies

Saddle up for a tour of Alberta’s backcountry.

“O Canada! ... glorious and free.” That’s what you’ll be singing in the saddle if you head out into the wilds of Alberta with the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies. The nonprofit club is in its 94th year of leading horseback adventures from a base camp at 3,500 feet out — and up — into the wonders of Waterton Lakes National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site.

“Every day of the trip, we’ll go 12 to 16 miles,” says Trail Riders president Stuart Watkins, who’s been doing these rides for years as his father, who also served as the group’s president, did before him. “We might ride to a lake, mountain pass, climb a ridge, ride along rivers, through the valley. Every day is different. There are two rides where we literally climb a mountain, right to the very top. The view is outstanding. You can stand on top of the mountain and look south to Montana and see Glacier National Park.”

In Canada, Watkins explains, the national parks don’t allow roads to lots of areas. “If you want to see backcountry, you either backpack or ride a horse, or you don’t see it. On horseback, we go where nobody else goes.”

In Waterton Lakes National Park, where the prairies of Alberta meet the Rocky Mountains, Parks Canada says you’ll encounter “clear lakes, thundering waterfalls, rainbow-colored streams, colorful rocks, and mountain vistas” as well as an exceptional diversity of wildlife and wildflowers. Watkins can corroborate: “We see grizzly, black bears, moose, elk, deer, Rocky Mountain sheep, Rocky Mountain goats.”

Wildlife, sure-footed horses, spectacular scenery, tent and tepee accommodations, hot outdoor showers, great food, campfires, live entertainment, and the camaraderie of fellow riders, many of whom have been returning for years — it’s a riding holiday fit for celebrating the 150th anniversary of the confederation of our Canadian neighbor to the north. (Four-, five-, and six-day rides are available.)

From the July 2017 issue.

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