On these wonderful horse riding holidays in Canada you'll join with a small band of fellow adventurers and athletic, sure-footed horses to explore some of the most wild and beautiful places in Alberta. Trips are offered in both the Canadian Rocky Mountains and for those looking for a faster riding holiday, the Great Plains.
All your gear is carried on pack horses although the pack string may take a different route to enable you to ride some more difficult terrain or at a faster pace at times. You will camp in unspoilt locations surrounded by vast nature as the first explorers of this country did, enjoying food made on camp fires and working together in an awe-inspiring but demanding land.
Multi-day pack trips are the answer for those who want to get into the real back-country, relax and recharge their batteries in the splendour of nature, learn more about riding, and enjoy the companionship of horses.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from CF of Swindon on 25/09/2017
7 Day Pack Trips
These pack trips will typically cover 100-120 km of both foothill and mountain topography in Kananaskis Country. Depending on the interests and abilities of riders the starting point may be the Ranch or Little Elbow Trailhead, and normally camp is moved twice during the week.
Five days gives you lots of time to develop an affection and appreciation for both your horse and the Canadian wilderness, though almost everyone agrees that the time flies quickly and they are left with the urge to return and explore other untracked valleys and ridgelines.
10 Day Pack Trips
These are designed for keen riders who are up to the challenge of covering between 170 and 200 km of rugged mountain trails. Over the duration of the trek the basics of horse packing, wilderness horsemanship, low impact horse camping and a myriad of other skills are acquired.
Starting from the foothills, these pack trip holidays move in one direction - progressively westward and deeper into the mountains. Trails vary from difficult game tracks that require a knowledgeable guide to find, through to some that are suitable for cantering. Camp is normally moved 3 times, allowing time to remain for 2 days in two of the prettiest valleys in the Rockies, and do some horseback exploring unencumbered with pack horses and unconcerned about breaking and resetting camp. This also allows for the opportunity to do more or less difficult rides depending on the interests and ability of the group.
Great Plains Trail
This Trip will awake the Canadian in you! Using the ultimate transportation modes of the explorers and the Native Indians, we will spend 3 days canoeing on the beautiful Milk River followed by 4.5 days (140 km) riding across the open plains of Southern Alberta, from the Sweetgrass Hills on the Montana border to the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. Explore the magical coulees, badlands and sweeping vistas of the High Plains and ride along routes that were once used by the Natives, whiskey traders, fugitive outlaws, and the North-West Mounted Police.
At historic Writing-On-Stone, you’ll find a badlands landscape that has been sacred to Native Americans for thousands of years. Much of this country has not changed since the time of the buffalo. The Prairies are excellent riding country, with unlimited opportunity for experienced riders to move at a faster pace. Riding through the Prairies is an unforgettable experience.
The Milk River meanders through the Southern Prairies, often carving deep trenches into the sandstone hills. The water runs with a steady current, punctuated by the occasional short rapid. It is relatively warm, narrow and suitable for novice paddlers (with a guide). It is the only river in Canada that flows into the Gulf of Mexico via the Missouri/Mississippi.
This is excellent riding country, with unlimited opportunity for experienced riders to move at a faster pace, this trail is aimed at riders who can confidently control a horse at a canter in open landscapes.
Our camp locations change daily. During the canoeing part, we carry our gear with us in the canoes, stowed away into waterproof containers. We sleep in 2-3 person tents near the river. After we meet up with the horse party, our gear is transported by truck from camp to camp. We will have one or two larger canvas wall tents with cots and also smaller tents to allow for best sleeping separation given the demographics of each group.
Day 1: Guests arrive in Calgary, transfer to Bragg Creek, reception, accommodation in guesthouse at ranch
Day 2: Meet “your” horse and get acquainted during a day ride through beautiful Kananaskis Country
Day 3: Depart for Milk River in Southern Alberta, launch canoes after lunch, canoe for 3-4 hours, overnight in tents
Day 4: Canoe the twisty Milk River (all day), overnight in tents
Day 5: Canoe the Milk River to Writing-on-Stone rodeo grounds, meet up with the horses in early afternoon, do a short scenic ride through the Provincial Park, overnight in tents
Day 6: Ride to Ross Bridge (~25 miles), overnight in tents
Day 7: Ride to Pinhorn Ranch (~25 miles), trailer to Manyberries, overnight in small hotel
Day 8: Ride to Bare Creek Reservoir (~15 miles), opportunity to swim with the horses
Day 9: Ride into Highway 41 (~15 miles), return to M&M Ranch in late afternoon, accommodation in guesthouse at the ranch
Day 10: Depart for Calgary Airport approx 9:30am.
Single supplements - please note that if you choose to pay for a single room at the ranch (where you will stay for a night before and after the ride) you may be taken to a nearby B&B if there is no space available at the ranch.
Mount Prairie Spring Edition
During this special Tour we will ride through some of the best country Southern Alberta has to offer. We will spend 3 days in the Rocky Mountains showing you some of the best riding trails in this area. The mountains are typically still snow capped at that time of the year, but Spring has arrived in the lower elevations with the bright green aspen trees coming into leaf. Then we change scenery and ride 140 kms in 5 days across the open plains of Southern Alberta, 400 km south of our home base. The route will take us from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park near the Sweetgrass Hills on the Montana border to the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan. Explore the magical coulees and badlands of the Milk River, and ride along routes that were once used by Indians, whiskey traders, fugitive outlaws, and the North-West Mounted Police
At historic Writing-On-Stone, you’ll find a badlands landscape that has been sacred to Native Americans for thousands of years. Much of this country has not changed since the time of the buffalo. The Prairies are excellent riding country, with unlimited opportunity for experienced riders to move at a faster pace.
Day 1: Guests arrive in Calgary, transfer to Bragg Creek, reception, accommodation in guesthouse at ranch
Day 2: Meet “your” horse, explore the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Kananaskis Country on a 5-6 hour day ride, accommodation in guesthouse at ranch
Day 3: We are getting deeper into the mountains, cross rivers and climb up to view points
Day 4: Your last day in the mountains will be another spectacular ride through Kananaskis Country
Day 5: Deploy to Writing-on-Stone in Southern Alberta, afternoon ride through the Provincial Park, overnight in tents
Day 6: Ride to Ross Bridge (25 miles), overnight in tents
Day 7: Ride to Manyberries (25 miles), overnight in small hotel
Day 8: Ride to Bare Creek Reservoir (ca 15 miles), opportunity to swim with the horses
Day 9: Ride into Highway 40, return to M&M Ranch in late afternoon, accommodation in guesthouse at the ranch
Day 10: Depart for Calgary Airport approx 9:30am.
Sample 10 Day Itinerary
Arrival at Calgary. You will be met around 4pm and transferred to the ranch, where there will be a reception with finger food and introductions will be made. Retire to the lodge for your overnight stay.
Today, pack gear will be required in a duffel bag for the packhorses to carry. You will meet your horses and receive instruction on western saddling and riding. Departure will be shortly before noon, taking about 5 hours to reach the first camp. You will settle into camp and participate in the necessary chores, including grooming, feeding and watering of your horses.
You will leave camp after breakfast and head out on the trail to your second camp, which is an approximate 7 hour ride further west. You will travel through the foothills of increasing height (up to 7600ft) and reach the valley of the Big Elbow river at the base of the magnificent Rockies (9700ft).
There will be a day ride from your base camp of around 4 hours. The remainder of the day will be spent at leisure with time to relax, bathe in the river etc.
Another day ride from your base camp today. This ride will be more rigorous with approximately 7 hours of mountain riding.
You will depart camp after loading the packhorses. If you are on a 7 day trek then you will do a 6 hour ride to a trailhead and trailer the horses home. If you are on a 10 day trip you will move further west over Tombstone Pass to the valley of the Little Elbow River and set up camp after approximately 7.5 hours of riding.
Day ride to Talus Lake. This involves about 2 hours riding each way, and a hike/scramble of about 1 mile.
Day ride over Paradise Pass (elev, 8400ft). This requires that the horses be led for the final 400ft to the summit.
You will load packhorses and depart camp heading out to a trailhead approximately 3.5 hours ride away. The horses will be trailered home and you will head back to the lodge for a shower, dinner, party and overnight.
Departure after breakfast.
The Mount Prairie Combo is a 9 night ride combining both incredible mountain scenery with galloping over the open prairies. The ride will run as a standard 7 day packtrip with an additional 3 days. For those who are interested in doing the whole trip it will continue as follows:
Transfer to Writing-on Stone Provincial Park ( ca 4 hours by car), set up camp and vet check for Competitive Trail Ride, overnight in tents
Participation in Rattlesnake Roundup Competitive Trail Ride (Novice or Intermediate Category), overnight in tents
Leisurely ride through the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park ( ca 2 hours), transfer back to ranch in the afternoon (ca. 4 hours by car), overnight at the ranch
Departure and transfer to Calgary after breakfast
Please follow this link for a map of the start point of these itineraries: Wilderness Pack Trips
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses are chosen and maintained for working in the mountains and local climate, they are all sensible, hard-working and uncomplicated. They range from 14hh - 16.1hh. The horses are all used to Western style riding, but some respond to English aids as well. The pace of the ride is mostly at the walk but there is some trotting or cantering when trail conditions are suitable.
The terrain covered is often rugged and steep on undeveloped wilderness tracks. It is sometimes necessary to dismount and walk with your horse. Riding is guided at all times by an English-speaking guide and usually starts at 10 each morning and finishes around 5pm, with several short breaks and a longer lunch break. The guides are extremely knowledge of the country and its hazards and will err on the side of caution if there is a question of threatening weather, wildlife, or other natural hazard, so the trip itinerary may be altered if it deemed wise to do so by the senior guide.
All of these trips are customised, using a network of over 300 km of trail that your hosts have access to. Because they must consider a variety of factors in route planning, like bear activity, river conditions and snow depth in the high passes, they resist the temptation to publish a detailed schedule and trail description. After all, this is a back country-adventure you're embarking on, not a bus trip!
The amount of terrain and spectacular scenery you will experience depends largely on the length of trek you take. You will encounter forest trails, open alpine meadows, rugged and rocky trails, exposed passes and river crossings. The 7 and 10 day pack trips afford more opportunity to get into the really high country, and experience has proved that after 2 or 3 days most people's riding and outdoor skills really begin to improve, and the team – guests and staff - mesh together.
Riders must be comfortable at a walk, trot and canter. The Great Plains ride involves extensive canters in open country so independent control of your horse is required. There are occasions when riders may be required to dismount and lead horses through difficult sections. On the 10 day expeditions some hiking on rugged ground at elevations between 7000 and 8400ft (< 1 mile) is required. For mountain rides, riding skills are less essential than a sense of adventure and general fitness. Typical days are between 4 and 8 hours (including an hour for breaks and lunch), and will cover 15-32 kms. Great Plains distances are up to 50 km per day. On all trips guests are expected to participate by grooming and saddling their horses as well as assisting on other camp chores such as watering and feeding horses.
Minimum and Maximum Group Size
The ride considers 7 to be optimal group size for the back-country trips, but can handle groups as large as 10 if booked together. When people book individually or in couples they will limit bookings to 6-7 participants so that they can provide the desired personal and individualised service.
Minimum group size is 4 people for custom trips.
Age and Weight Restrictions
The minimum age for pack trips is 8 years old. Anyone under 15 should be a regular and enthusiastic rider, have a keen sense of adventure, and must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. They have had people in their 70's on pack trips, but again, they were fit, in good health and rode regularly prior to their holiday. We ask that you judge yourself (and your children) honestly in this regard, as the ride will take your word for it and plan the trip accordingly.
For all age groups: It is important that you feel fit and healthy before going on the trail. You are travelling in the wilderness, and medical services (beyond first aid) will not be readily available.
The weight limit for this ride is 16 st/220 lb/100 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
The first and last nights are spent in bunkhouse style lodging, 2 or 3 people to a room with a shared bathroom. Other nights are spent camping in large wall tents capable of sleeping up to 6 or smaller tents sleeping 2-3. Ablution facilities are minimal on trail. It is easy to wash your hands and face, anything more requires a visit to a nearby stream. Any hotels that are used on the trails are not luxurious but are dry and have warm running water. The ride provides thermarest mattresses as well as duffel bags and sleeping bags so you don't have to bring your own. Oilskin slickers can be borrowed too.
Meals are hearty and cooked over an open fire. The menu is varied every day, but includes such things as steak, salad, baked potatoes, spaghetti bolognaise, stir-fry chicken and vegetables. Breakfasts include such things as pancakes and syrup, bacon and eggs, sausages and hash browns. Please note that due to the cost of sourcing gluten-free items, there is a daily supplement for gluten-free diets.
Alcohol is not included on the trails but you may pre-order beer and wine with your hosts to take on the trips.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Typical summer temperatures (June-August) range from 18-25 C during the day, to near or even a degree or two below freezing at night. Snow has fallen in every month in the mountains so one must be prepared for all possibilities. Sleeping bags rated to -5 degrees are provided should guests prefer not to bring their own. Most precipitation normally comes in short but intense thunderstorms. Periods of several weeks without any rain are also common, particularly in the later summer. An unusually hot day would be 32 degrees. Humidity is quite low. Best time for autumn colours is mid-September to early October.
This is a wilderness trip in a remote area from which evacuation may take up to 6 or 8 hours. It is not recommended for anyone whose health is compromised in any life-threatening way. There is no electricity anywhere en route, so medication that must be kept chilled or unfrozen poses a problem.
Mobile phones do not work in the riding area. Internet access is not available either. Electricity is only available on the first and last nights so bring plenty of batteries or a solar charger.
Clothing should be comfortable and well-tested. A broad-rimmed hat is useful, although again the centre has some hard hats that can be borrowed. Nights can be cold so a sleeping bag is useful, although the centre has some that guests are welcome to use. The high altitude and low humidity mean sun cream will be necessary in the summer months for fair skins, but biting insects are rarely a problem.
Riding pants - jodphurs, jeans or similar
Riding boots, paddock boots or riding sneakers - must have heel and be comfortable to walk in
Half Chaps (with sneakers or paddock boots)
Long sleeved shirts - lightweight
Camera and film or digital
Lightweight rainwear - poncho/slicker (recommended)
Informal wear for evenings
Sweater or Sweatshirt
Personal toiletries and medications
Jacket - casual
These items are available to borrow if you don't have your own:
Rainwear (oil-skin slicker)
warm sleeping bag
Weight of Gear
Because everything must be loaded on pack-horses, guests must pack their gear in 1 standard sized duffel bag, weighing no more than 25 lbs. (11 kg). Check out below what you can carry in your saddle bags.
Your trailhorse will have 2 saddlebags tied to the saddle. One is for your personal items to carry on the trail, such as camera, sun protection, water bottle, extra layer of clothes, etc. The other bag is reserved for "group items" such as lunch or first aid kit. Your rainwear will also travel with you tied behind the saddle.
7 day / 6 night and 10 day/ 9 night Mountain pack trips are available from June to the end of September. The Great Plains ride is only offered once per year in late May/early June. Cattle trail south runs in early October. Ideal group size is 7 riders for optimum experience of the wilderness.
2017: 7 day pack trips: 18 June; 16 (FULL) July; 20 (FULL) Aug; 9 (FULL) Sept
2017: 10 day pack trips: 25 (FULL) June; 23 (FULL) July; 6 (FULL), 27 (FULL) Aug
2017: Great Plains Trail & Mount Prairie Spring Edition: 27 May
2017: Mount Prairie Combo: 9 (FULL) Sept
2018 7 day pack trips: 17 Jun; 15 Jul; 5 Aug; 8, 23, 30 Sept.
2018 10 day pack trips: 24 Jun; 12, 26 Aug.
2018 Great Plains Trail & Mount Prairie Spring Edition: 26 May
2018 Mount Prairie Combo: 8 Sept.
Clients should be willing to share on this ride. Single rooms available only on first and last night, please enquire.
|Riding days||Product item description||£|
|2017 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||2,259|
|2017 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||1,395|
|2017 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,095|
|2017 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,259|
|2018 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||2,485|
|2018 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||1,529|
|2018 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,299|
|2018 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,525|
|Riding days||Product item description||€|
|2017 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||2,535|
|2017 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||1,565|
|2017 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,349|
|2017 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,535|
|2018 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||2,789|
|2018 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||1,715|
|2018 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,579|
|2018 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,835|
|Riding days||Product item description||$|
|2017 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||2,975|
|2017 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||1,835|
|2017 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,755|
|2017 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||2,975|
|2018 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||3,275|
|2018 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||2,009|
|2018 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||3,029|
|2018 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||3,325|
|Riding days||Product item description||SEK|
|2017 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||24,135|
|2017 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||14,895|
|2017 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||22,359|
|2017 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||24,135|
|2018 - Great Plains||10d/9n||7||double pp||26,555|
|2018 - 7 Day Pack Trip||7d/6n||5||double pp||16,315|
|2018 - 10 Day Pack Trip||10d/9n||8||double pp||24,565|
|2018 - Mount Prairie Combo||10d/9n||8||double pp||26,979|
All major charismatic species native to the Rockies can be found in this area, including Grizzly and Black bear, Cougars, Wolves, Coyotes, Moose, Elk, Bighorn sheep, Mule and Whitetail deer, and wild horses. The rides begin in the foothills ecosystem and move progressively into subalpine and alpine regions. This allows guests to immerse themselves in and learn about the different ecologies present at different elevations. It should be noted that while many species of large mammals are present in the region through which we ride, some are very elusive and are unlikely to be seen, even when close. For example, there have been occasions of no grizzly sightings in previous pack trips, and normally cougars are seen only once every few years although this area has one of the highest densities in north America. Given their general preference to avoid humans and the huge area with good cover in which they can roam, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Oddly enough, there are more wildlife sightings on the Great Plains ride than in the mountains. This is because: 1. There is no cover, and one can see everything within 5 or 10 kilometers. The animals living there are also unperturbed by humans at these distances; and 2. The prairies are actually a more animal-friendly habitat, with milder climate and ample grasses for grazing animals to eat.
In general, none of these animals mean trouble to us as we travel in groups on horseback. We are careful not to attract bears in camp by hoisting the food on a high tree. Please DO NOT store any food within your personal gear but hand it to the guide at the end of the day.
The Great Plains Drifter can be accompanied by non-riders, who would travel in the trucks from camp to camp. The mountain packtrips cannot be accompanied in this way, but alternate activities can be enjoyed by a non-riding companion if they have independent transport. We would be happy to make suggestions of things to see and do, but that all depends on their interests (some spouses like golf, other mountaineering or canoeing)
Guides and Wranglers
Interesting and entertaining guides share their knowledge of the different areas you will visit. You can learn about horsemanship, back-country navigation, survival skills and living in nature. Depending on the group size you will have one or two backcountry guides with you at all times. Wranglers lead the packhorses with your gear into camp, usually on a different, easier and less scenic route than the one the group takes. They all share the same love and pride for this country and will be delighted to pass it on to guests.
Gear and Equipment provided
You will be provided with:
* Canvas wall tents, sleeping mattress and sleeping bag (warm enough for local climate) and a duffle bag
* 3 hearty, delicious meals cooked over the open campfire
* A surefooted and well trained horses that will suit your riding abilities, size and weight
* Comfortable western and endurance saddles with saddle bags
* An enthusiastic team that will do its best to provide you with an unforgettable adventure together with a handful of likeminded horse people.
Located within an hour’s drive of both Banff and Calgary, the Bragg Creek region offers the rare combination of nearby urban conveniences with ready access to an enormous wilderness region. Brokeback Mountain was filmed here, as were a number of westerns like The Unforgiven.
People migrating from Asia crossing the Bering Strait first settled the North American continent. They formed a number of tribes that can be distinguished by language: the Algonquian in the eastern sub-arctic and maritime areas spreading into the prairies and plains of the mid-west; the Iriquioian speaking tribes mostly in the St Lawrence Valley and around Lakes Ontario and Erie; the Salishan, Athabascan and other linguistic groups lived along the rivers and coastline of British Columbia. Small, isolated Inuit bands developed a unique culture in the harsh environment of the Arctic.
John Cabot, a Venetian working in the service of the English sailed to Newfoundland in 1497. This and later explorations formed the basis of the English claim to Canada. The Frenchman Jacques Cartier undertook a series of explorations, mainly along the route of the St Lawrence River during the 1530s and 1540s and he claimed the land for France.
It's the edginess between Canada's indigenous, French and British traditions that gives the nation its complex three-dimensional character. Add to this a constant infusion of US culture and a plethora of traditions brought by migrants, and you have a thriving multicultural society.
Canada is between 3.5 and 8 hours behind GMT depending on where you are in the country. They use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
The international dialling code is +1.