An epic ride to the bottom of Bryce Canyon

Author: Wendy Lee

I must admit, I wasn’t looking forward to our horseback ride in Bryce Canyon. I prefer to explore a trail on my own two feet and not be at the mercy of a very large and sometimes stubborn animal. Jason on the other hand was really excited about it, so I kept quiet and put a smile on my face. Afterall, the ride would only last for ninety minutes. I can do anything for an hour and a half.

Our ride was scheduled at 2 p.m. at Canyon Trail Rides, located just behind the Bryce Canyon Lodge. We parked, checked in, and waited our turn to be paired with a horse (or mule). Jason was escorted to Sally and I was introduced to Shine. We quickly mounted, listened to a recorded safety message, and then were directed to our guide. 

If someone asked central casting to send a cowboy, they could not have done any better than our guide, Hank. With a well worn hat, handlebar mustache, and leather chaps, he could have been an extra in any Western movie.

Hank guided our group of five out of the paddock and to the start of the trail. While waiting our turn to descend into the canyon he explained that the horses like to walk on the outer edge of the trail which might make some people nervous. He assured us that the horses know the trail well and we would be perfectly safe. I’ll admit that my doubts about this ride returned. 

Finally we found ourselves on the trail and began the 1,000-foot descent. Hank was right, the horses did seem to prefer the edge of the trail, but I quickly became comfortable with it. As we followed the switchbacks back and forth I soon realized the benefits of this ride–the epic views of Bryce Canyon. 

This wasn’t my first trip to Bryce. After two trips to the park we had hiked several of its most iconic trails and had seen the spiky and colorful hoodoos up close. We had stopped at many of the popular viewpoints and enjoyed the sweeping vistas of the canyon. But what we saw along the horse trail rivaled everything else. While the horse did the work of the slow descent we were free to enjoy the ever changing views. 

Hank only added to the experience by sharing the history and geology of Bryce. I had not expected this cowboy to be such a wealth of information. He knew the names of every plant and tree, was familiar with all the animal life, and shared many entertaining stories. 

For a brief period of time our ride was along the flat trail at the bottom of the canyon. This portion wasn’t the most scenic, but it was a nice break from the steeper stretches. I imagine the horses and mules enjoy this stretch of trail as well.

It was finally time to head back up to the top. I was both disappointed that this experience was coming to an end and a bit relieved to get out of the saddle. Along the way Hank stopped to take pictures of us. It turned out to be my favorite photo of the trip.

I’ve had my fair share of horseback rides, some in very scenic settings, but the ride in Bryce was by far the most beautiful. Add in the perfect guide and this was the most memorable experience I’ve had on a horse. When I return to Bryce–because I’m really in love with this national park–I’ll definitely be in touch with Canyon Trail Rides once again. Hopefully Hank will be there too.

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