With more than 3 million visitors every year, Yellowstone National Park can clog up with traffic jams in the summer—not the most relaxing way to see the famous sights. But take a horseback ride into the backcountry, and you'll experience Yellowstone's quiet (yet wild) side even in the high season. Kipp Saile, owner of Rockin' HK Outfitters, is one of several licensed guides that take guests on horseback rides into the Yellowstone wilderness. Saile tailors his trips to the expectations of his clients, rather than fill predetermined trips.
"I assumed there'd be a set itinerary, but Saile just said: ‘What do you guys want to do?'" says recent guest Rebecca Rodie. And there are no lack of choices in this national park that's larger than some states (nearly 3,500 square miles) and home to buffalo, wolves, grizzly bears, elk, and much more. It's a thrill to see animals in a part of the West that has always been wild.
Most outfitters also lead a string of mules and rarely travel at more than a walk. It's a perfect pace to relax in the saddle, look for animals, and savor the scenery. In other words, riding experience is helpful but not always necessary. Trips can vary in length and focus, and guests are encouraged to pursue riding, fishing, photography, or wildlife viewing. Or ask Saile to take you to a natural hot spring.
A visit to Yellowstone virtually guarantees life-long memories—like the evening I spotted a dozen elk scaling an incredibly steep mountain slope in the glow of sunset. Or those very fresh grizzly-bear tracks. And that great fishing in a pristine river.
Food always seems to taste better in camp, and Saile, a former chef, offers gourmet campfire cuisine like Thai shrimp, filet mignon, smoked salmon, and even fine wines and cocktails. Sitting around a fire, we felt like we had the park to ourselves, much like the early fur trappers and the Shoshone Indians who once called this area home.