National Parks - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 04:16 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Texas
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National Parks

I have been goofing around trying to find different places to ride for when we finally get back, and go on vacation with the horses. I was curious, does anyone know if you can ride your own personal horse in National Parks? I mean like Yellowstone, Yosimite, and there is one in Colorado but I can't think of it. Also, if you can, are there any rules or regulations? I have tried google, and I can't come up with the answer. I see all kinds of guided trails, but that is not what I am interested in.


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post #2 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 09:36 AM
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I frequently ride in Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Grand StairCase Esclantee, Zions and Yellowstone. So yes you can ride in the National Parls, But the rules differ a little with each park.

Bryce Canyon is small park, You can easily ride the entire trail system in one day. They have a concessionair that has paid for the rights to take tourist on trail rides in the park. So their rules protect him. Since most of the trails in Bryce are often on steep switchbacks and you are not allowed to leae the trail system. And it's assume that horse owners are better riders than tourist hiring a guide. You as the private owner always have to yeild to the the guide service. They don't want to find a little Japanese grandma on horse following your horses back to the trail head while the rest of the tour group goes in the opposite direction. Since you can't pass and can't leave the trail. Sometimes this means you have to turn around and ride back to the last cross trail where you can get off the trail and allow them to pass. We always check with the guide and find out what time they run their trail rides and time our rides appropriately so we don't ever meet them head on on the trails.

In general National Parks require you horse to have a Coggins test ( most require that you carry that on the horse so a back country ranger could check it in the field) Trailers usually have to be swept clean. No manure on the floors when you enter the park. You are suppoed to feed Certified Weed Free hay for 3 days prior to entering the park. And Yellowstone in particular doesn't want any hay in or on the trailer. They are very concerned about non-native species getting transplanted into the park. But processed feeds are OK. ie hay pellets where the grinding process to make the pellets destroys seeds

Both Bryce and Zions have a very limited trail system. They are beautiful ride. Both areas have extensive trails outside the parks that easy to access. So when I go to Bryce, I ride one day in the park and several days just outside the park.

Yellowstone on the other hand is a VERY large area. You could ride for weeks and not repeat any of the trails.

Most of the parks do NOT have any camp grounds for horse camping. Yellowstone does allow back country camping with a permit. So most of the time we are primative camping somewhere outside the park and either day tripping into the park or doing a pack trip in.

Feel free to ask more questions.

Red Mountain just outside of Bryce

Grand Staircase Escalante



Grand Teton

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post #3 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 09:56 AM
Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: Texas
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These pictures are BREATHTAKING!! Thanks for sharing! I was going to say alot
the same; I have yet to do it, but when I started looking, there is really no
good answers online. I finally called and they sent me some stuff (Yellowstone).
At the time, they said the same thing about day trips, and they did say they had
some areas you could camp, but that was sketchy to say the least. (No one
seemed to be able to give me an answer about packing in) Years ago, my Uncle
and his group went in on horseback and stayed 2 weeks~but that was a long
time ago. (after rereading Bryces post I see he answered all that...)

"If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys." - Chief Dan George

Last edited by jdw; 04-06-2011 at 09:59 AM.
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post #4 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 10:21 AM
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The biggest challenge for some body new to these areas is finding a place to camp. There are lots of options. but they just are not very obvious.

At Bryce Canyon, the easiest is to stay at Ruby's Inn and put your horses in their Horse Motel. Ruby's Inn is a Best Western Motel. So room are not too expensive, They have a good buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also have an RV park, So you could leae your horses in the motel and take you LQ over to the RV Park. But for the more adventurous. With in 20 miles of the park is lots of Forest Service Land and you can primative camp by pulling down a dirt road and off into the trees.

Zions is near St George and there are numerous Horse motels in St George as well as the county equestrian center in Hurricane. And there is abundant BLM land that you can just pull off the road on. But water is almost non-existant in this area. So you are limited to how long you stay by how much water you can carry or if you are willing to run into town to fill up water containers. Zions is awful hot in the summer months. I ride there in the late fall thru early spring. I avoid this park May thru Sept. In fact it has been one of my favorite Thanksgiving day rides.

At Yellowstone All the land near West Yellowstone or Jackson Hole is private and so finding a place to camp is a challenge. But there are national forest areas to camp in, They just are not on the beaten path. You need to get away from the tourist centers to find them.

Grand Staircase Escalante is a new National Park and as such is the most undeveloped. There are no rangers, no entrance booths where you pay a fee to enter, no improvments. So there are fewer rules and even fewer rangers to enforce them. But there are very few formal trails. You plot a route and just go ride it. And probably won't see another person all day.

Here is my rig just pulled off into the trees on the South West corner of Yellowstone

I just put a high line up for the horses and there is a little creek behind them for horse water.
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post #5 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 02:53 PM
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Idaho
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This is a quote from an article in the most recent Back Country Horsemen quarterly paper:

"During three trips into Yellowstone N.P. I found it is impossible to use the park and meet all their requirements. . . . First, it is utterly impossible to find out what the rules are. It appears that rules are made by anyone wearing a Yellowstone N.P. uniform. One uniformed employee may inform you that the previous uniformed employee was incorrect. Perhaps the biggest problem is the attitude of the park personnel: they DO NOT WANT YOU THERE! It seems their job is to discourage and harass you until you leave and make you feel like not coming back. To be fair, there are a few uniformed personnel that are not this hostile. For the most part, though, the ones others and I have encountered don't want private stock users in the park." Emphasis was in the original article.

I've not been to Yellowstone at all for many years and never with a horse. I cannot speak from my own experience. But published comments like this one give me no desire to have anything to do with riding in Yellowstone nor, by extension, any national park. There are millions of acres of national forest where they are not hostile to private stock owners. There are millions of acres of designated Wilderness Areas where they are not hostile to private stock owners. I'm lucky enough to live in a state where there are millions of acres of available land to ride my horse where we are welcomed and, in fact, encouraged to help the Forest Service with a variety of projects--which helps keep the Forest Service attitude one of welcoming riders instead of wishing we'd just go away.

I know some of the national parks have some really spectacular scenery. So do many other parts of the country. When I've seen all the other spectacular areas, maybe I'll think about riding in a national park. Then again, if they don't want me there, why would I bother? Just my opinion.

"Don't just feed it! Ride it!" And the People said "AMEN!"
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post #6 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 05:05 PM
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Sailor hit it square on the nose. That was a great article by the way in the BCHA mag

I haven't been to the Nat Parks Painted has visited but in the Nat parks that I have been to, private equestrian usage is, if not outright denied, restricted to the point of why bother.

That being said most national parks (Cuyahoga Valley in Cleveland, OH being a notable exception) have a wealth of forest service land surrounding them. USFS is generally much more equestrian friendly than the National Park Service IMO.

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post #7 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 07:04 PM
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If I was to make my trip to Yellowstone and not know what to expect. I could understand confusion.

I have found the rangers escpecially at the "off the Beaten Track" trail heads to be EXTREMELY helpful. In one case they asked if I had copies of my coggins, I told them I did and showed them. They then told me I needed to carry those on my person while riding in the park in case a back country ranger asked for them. A fair warning as I had not heard of that rule. Since there is no fence around the park, There are lots of trails that will enter the park but not pass an official park entrance. Horse riders have a tendence to utilize these back country trail heads because you don't need to buy a Park Pass for your vehicle. At any rate, it was raining and wet and I told the ranger I didn't want the risk of my coggins getting wet. A current coggins is good for 1 year. No sense destroying it on one ride. She promptly collected all the coggins papers, Went in and made copies, placed them in protective plastic envelopes and returned both the copies and the originals to us. I left the originals in the truck and carried the copies. 1st. I appreciate her warning us that we needed to carry the papers. 2nd, I especially appreciated her making copies. That is above and beyond the call.

Yellowstone has certain rules. The main gates to the park are staffed by mostly Volunteers. Often retired folks who drove out from Ohio or some place to work for the summer. These folks often really don't understand anything beyond the ordinary car full of tourist that they charge $$25 for a pass. Most of the time, When I arrive at the park entrance, they direct me to pull over to the side and send out a regular ranger. If he is busy you sometimes get a senior volunteer.

The rules are simple.
1. Trailer must be swept clean. No manure on the floor.
2. No hay in mangers, feed bags , in the hay rack etc. Regardless of whether it's certified weed free or not. They don't want any NON-NATIVE species of grasses being introduced into the park. ( I carry hay pellets when I enter the park, and leave our baled hay at friends ranch just outside the park boundaries)
3. If it appears that there is any trace of hay in the trailer mangers, They usually ask you to close all trailer windows while in the park, so any possible seeds won't blow out.
4. Current coggins for all horses.

Now the problems I usually see are that rig one pulls up to the park entrance. There is a line of 10 trucks/RVs in front, So they jocky for position in the line up and end up in and inside lane. When they get to the Pay booth The volunteer directs them to pull over for a formal inspection. So now you are fighting traffic to get over across 4 lanes of traffic to get to the side with out being a quarter mile walk for the ranger.

Most Rangers DON'T know how to read a Coggins. They look in the trailer and see 4 horses, a bay, a palomino, a buckskin and black. They stare at the papers and count 4 horses on the form ( or maybe you have your whole herd on one form) So they are struggling to figure out what horse you are carrying = what horse on the paper. They don't know what a Grulla or Roan is. They don't understand a Blaze, Strip, a Snip or a sock or socking. Most are totally lost when they start trying to understand your coggins. And the dummies almost aways try to muddle through pretending they understand. Occassionall you get a Ranger who has owned horses and really understands what the coggins paper is describing. And he will look in and see 4 grey arabs and want you to differentiat which horse is which.

I find if I meet the above 4 guidelines, The park rangers are more than helpful. Especially any back country rangers. I've never felt like I wasn't welcome to bring my horses into a national park.

Now camping in the park is a whole nother ball came, Their campsite just are not set up to accomodate horses. In Yellowstone almost every campsite is allocated and taken every night by regular tourist. So there is just not any place to camp with your horses and trailer in the park. But there is lots of forest service land around the park that will allow dispearsed primative camping out side the park boundaries.

If you meet those 4 rules, I've not had any problems entering and using Yellowstone.
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post #8 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 07:39 PM
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Just to clarify, I carry my coggins, state travel permit, brand inspection, and copy of my registration papers in a 3 ring binder. Everything is in slip covers to protect the documents. On the back of my registration papers, I place a color photo of my horse. When the ranger asks to see my Coggins, I present him with the binder. I am basically over loading him with info. I point out what documents are what and usually the ranger realizes that I know way more than he does about what papers are required and hands the whole binder back and compliments me on being prepared and organized. Most of the time, they take a very quick look at my binder, a quick look in the back door of the trailer to see if it's swept out, ask where we are headed and send me on my way.

In contrast, I've seen friends who were searching for their coggins, find them mutilated in the glove box or in the boot box of the trailer. The papers are hard to read. The trailers are dirty and they were in the inside lane and had to park several hundred yards down the road past the gate, making the ranger walk farther . the rangers spend a whole bunch of time with those folks.

Go thru the entrance in the outside lane, be prepared to pull over as soon as you pass the pay booth and have all your papers in clean readable condition and have clean trailer that looks like you are proud to own it, and it's will be no big deal.
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post #9 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 08:19 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Texas
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Thank you so much for the information. You have no idea what it means to me, to have you guys spell it out. I am not very computer literate, and everything I could find was extremely confusing. They never straight out say yes or no. I did find one place that I could overnight my horses around Yellowstone, but I never thought about using the National Forest or even the BLM land.

Painted Horse.....I absolutely love your pictures. So much beauty. Thank you for sharing them.


Truth is meaningless in the absence of understanding.
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post #10 of 19 Old 04-06-2011, 08:37 PM
Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: Texas
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anyone know of any parks in T
exas that allow horses?
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