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 TA of Bishop Auckland, Co Durham on 24/09/2022

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
A list of what I could bring back and how would of been handy as items were confiscated as in wrong bag
What could we do to improve this ride?
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
6
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
Western saddle stirrups affected ankles and knees
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Sarah King was very helpful
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
NO
Any other comments:
Your catalogue was very useful
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great time! :)

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.

Alberta Drifter:

We start in the forested foothills and Rocky Mountains, then load the horses up and drive 350 km to the vast grasslands in Southeastern Alberta, and we finish up riding the high plateau of the Cypress Hills near the Saskatchewan border.

Eight days of riding in a wide range of topographies will leave you amazed by the versatility of the horses and with an enduring respect for the hardiness of our forbearers on this beautiful land.

The itinerary is an outline of what to expect, rather than a fixed agenda. We may have to alter the plan if conditions like weather and river levels make a trail unsafe.

Itinerary:
Day 1: Pickup from Calgary in afternoon, arrive at ranch for supper.
Day 2: Day ride from the ranch into Kananaskis Country ~ 5 hours on trail.
Day 3: Day ride deeper into the mountains, returning to ranch ~ 7 hours on trail.
Day 4: Pack up, load the horses, and drive to Writing On Stone.
Day 5: Ride through the magical backcountry of Writing On Stone Provincial Park.
Day 6: Pack up and ride 40 kms across sweeping grassland down the Milk River.
Day 7: Pack up and ride another 40 kms to the Pinhorn Ranch, stay in Manyberries.
Day 8: Pack up and ride in the historic Cypress Hills.
Day 9: Enjoy a morning ride in the Cypress Hills before trailering back to the M&M.
Day 10: Transport to Calgary after breakfast, depart.


Sample 10 Day Itinerary

Day 1

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.

Day 2
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.

Day 3
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).

Day 4
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.

Day 5
Another day ride from your base camp today. This ride will be more rigorous with approximately 7 hours of mountain riding.

Day 6
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 7
Day ride to Talus Lake. This involves about 2 hours riding each way, and a hike/scramble of about 1 mile.

Day 8
Day ride over Paradise Pass (elev, 8400ft). This requires that the horses be led for the final 400ft to the summit.

Day 9
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.

Day 10
Departure after breakfast.

The Mountain 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:

Day 7 
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
 
Day 8 
Participation in Rattlesnake Roundup Competitive Trail Ride (Novice or Intermediate Category), overnight in tents 

Day 9 
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

Day 10 
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.

Horses & Riding

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.


Rider requirements

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 8 to be optimal group size for the back-country trips.

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.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 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 (additional $10/day). 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.



 


Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.

NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures and requirements while travelling.

Dependent on your country, Passport and Visa requirements can change from regularly depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.

Visa-exempt foreign nationals who fly to or transit through Canada are expected to have an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Exceptions include U.S. citizens and travellers with a valid Canadian visa.

To visit Canada, you will need to meet some basic requirements, such as:
• have a valid travel document, such as a passport,
• be in good health,
• have no criminal or immigration-related convictions,
• convince an immigration officer that you have ties—such as a job, home, financial assets or family—that will take you back to your home country,
• convince an immigration officer that you will leave Canada at the end of your visit, and
• have enough money for your stay. (The amount of money you will need can vary. It depends on things such as how long you will stay, and whether you will stay in a hotel, or with friends or relatives.)

Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.

In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/canada

In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Canada.html

Climate Summary

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.

Climate Chart

Health

COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.

Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.

The cost of medical treatment can be very expensive in Canada. For emergency health care you can go to a hospital’s emergency room or to a large number of walk-in clinics where an appointment is not required beforehand.

Giardiasis is present so do not drink water from streams. Tap water is safe to drink.

Rabies is endemic in Canada, do not approach stray dogs.

Lyme disease can be a risk in wooded regions; it is a rare tick borne disease.

Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in Canada and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.

Health (ride specific)

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.

Electricity

In Canada the supply voltage is 120V. If the appliance or its power supply are not dual voltage rated, the single voltage appliance will have to be used alongside a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly (unless the appliance operates at 120V).

Film and Camera Equipment

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.

Packing List

You will be provided with a waterproof duffel bag to pack all your gear and personal items for the week. The weight limit for the packed duffel bag (including sleeping bag and mat) is 11kg (25 lbs). Please respect this limit as the wranglers and horses have to be able to handle the bags for you.
What you need to pack into your duffel bag:
• Sleeping bag rated for -5 degrees Celsius or warmer (you can borrow one at no extra cost)
• therm-a-rest (you can borrow one at no extra cost)
• Change of clothes for the week: it varies per person and length of trip how much you need to pack.
We recommend at least 1 extra pair of trousers (in addition to the ones you will be wearing during
the day), 2 or 3 long sleeve shirts, 2 t-shirts, warm underwear (mostly for the night), 1 pair
of socks and set of underwear per day, warmer outer layer (fleece), windproof layer (jacket or vest)
• warm hat (toque), mostly for sleeping and in the mornings
• toiletry bag and personal items (please refrain from packing too many perfumed creams or soaps
as they do attract wildlife). Ideal is biodegradable soap, a small microfiber towel, toothpaste
and brush and deodorant.
• flashlight
What do wear during the day:
• brimmed hat, riding helmet or ball cap. If you are used to wearing a helmet at home please don’t
stop now! You can bring your own helmet or borrow one from the ranch. The cowboy hat is a very
useful piece of gear to protect your face and neck from the sun, rain and low branches. It does not,
however, protect your head if you fall.
• trousers suitable for riding (jeans or breeches, whichever you prefer)
• chaps: half chaps are recommended if you choose to wear breeches. Otherwise chaps are handy
but not necessary to bring
• boots: choose boots or shoes you are comfortable in. You will be wearing these shoes all day,
walking and riding. Light hiking boots are often a better choice than fancy western boots.
Boots should be water-repellent, at least ankle high and have a small heel. Some people like to bring
light weight camp shoes or sandals to wear around the camp site.
• long sleeve shirt: We recommend that over a short sleeve as you can roll up the sleeves when it is
warm and down when in the shade or dense forest to avoid scratching your forearms.
• pocket knife (to cut lunch items and maybe some string)
• bandana - this is an optional item. We find a bandana handy as it serves many purposes: protection
of your neck from sun burning, cooling you off when dipped in a mountain stream or simply
tie something together when needed.
You will also be provided with a set of saddle bags to tie behind the saddle of your horse. Part of the
saddlebags will be needed to pack “group” provisions such as lunch items or part of the horse first aid kit.
The remaining volume can be packed with items you may need during the day:
• sun cream: you are starting at an elevation of 1350m (4400 ft) and are getting up to well above
2200 m (7000 ft). The sun is very strong at this altitude. Please be sure to protect your skin
from burning.
• camera: whether it’s a DSLR, pocket camera or smart phone - bring a camera! The scenery is
stunning!
• gloves: can come in handy for riding, picking up a hot pot from the fire and other activities.
• rain gear: the “slicker” will be tied behind you saddle so it is with you during the day. The weather
in the mountains can change rapidly so you must be prepared all the time. If you do not have
suitable rain gear you can rent oilskin slickers for C$5 per day.
You can leave any luggage you don’t need at the ranch while you are in the back-country.

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.

Programmes

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. Ideal group size is 8 riders for optimum experience of the wilderness.

Departure Dates

2022: 7 day pack trip: 10 (FULL) September.
2022: Mountain Prairie Combo: 10 (FULL) September.
2023: 7 day pack trip: 18 June; 16 July; 20 August; 9 September.
2023 10 day pack trip: 2 July; 6 August.
2023 Alberta Drifter: 27 May.
2023 Mountain Combo: 9 September.

Pricing

Clients should be willing to share on this ride. Single rooms available only on first and last night, please enquire.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
2022 - Mountain and Prairie Combo 10d/9n8double pp3,135
2022 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp2,985
2022 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp2,035
2023 - Alberta Drifter10d/9n8double pp3,385
2023 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp3,225
2023 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp2,205
2023 - Mountain Prairie Combo10d/9n8double pp3,385
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2022 - Mountain and Prairie Combo 10d/9n8double pp3,645
2022 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp3,469
2022 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp2,365
2023 - Alberta Drifter10d/9n8double pp3,935
2023 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp3,745
2023 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp2,565
2023 - Mountain Prairie Combo10d/9n8double pp3,935
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
2022 - Mountain and Prairie Combo 10d/9n8double pp3,945
2022 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp3,755
2022 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp2,559
2023 - Alberta Drifter10d/9n8double pp4,259
2023 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp4,055
2023 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp2,775
2023 - Mountain Prairie Combo10d/9n8double pp4,259
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2022 - Mountain and Prairie Combo 10d/9n8double pp39,479
2022 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp37,589
2022 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp25,625
2023 - Alberta Drifter10d/9n8double pp42,639
2023 - 10 Day Pack Trip10d/9n8double pp40,589
2023 - 7 Day Pack Trip7d/6n5double pp27,769
2023 - Mountain Prairie Combo10d/9n8double pp42,639
Wildlife

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.

Other Information

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.

Other Country Information

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.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Calgary Airport (YYC)
Transfer:
Included from Calgary airport or town at around 4pm. Approximate transfer time is 1 hour. Return transfer arrives to the airport approx. 11am.
Flight Guide:
London - Calgary return from £465 with BA. Please see "getting there" for flight information
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