Chat with us, powered by LiveChat
Title Image

Horseback Riding

Saddle up! Whether you’re an avid rider or a beginner, Smith Fork Ranch offers authentic horseback riding adventures on some of the same trails that the Ute Indians carefully traversed up and down over 100 years ago. While much of our mountain setting does not provide and abundance of opportunities for loping or galloping, our sturdy horses will carry you safely up and down the hillsides to spectacular views and breathtaking vistas. If you are looking for a faster pace by way of horseback our Wranglers will have you exhibit your skills with a lope check in our arena before taking you out on our loping trail that provides several opportunities to “ride like the wind”.

WC - Fall Trail Ride

Our Philosophy

We emphasize natural horsemanship and the importance of developing mutual trust and respect between horse and rider. We will match one of our strong, sure-footed horses with your ability, size and personality. You’ll receive instruction from our experienced wranglers, who can bring out the equestrian in everyone.

10-Trail Ride through Lawn
WC - Horses Tacked Up

The Setting

Smith Fork Ranch has access to 1.7 million acres of the Gunnison National Forest and West Elk Wilderness areas. We travel these reclusive mountains of the Rockies by means of game, trapper, and old Indian trails that wind along ridges, peaks and valleys, through Aspen groves, mountain streams and breathtaking vistas.

Our Herd

Our herd consists of mostly Quarter Horses, Paints, and some draft crosses. Our horses are familiar with the trails and terrain, and have safely carried riders of all abilities through some of the most beautiful, undiscovered valleys in the American West.

Signature Rides

Daily Trail Rides

Ride back in time and experience our ranch and the untouched backcountry by way of one to two and a half-hour trail rides. We have 14 trail accessed through the Smith Fork Ranch property and with the Gunnison National Forest as our backyard we have access to many more hours of rides. Our Ranch Reservationists and Wranglers will ensure that your are comfortable no matter your ability level.

Orientation Ride

Before heading our on the trail, all guest’s riding skills will be assessed through a brief orientation, verbal and practical.  All guests planning to ride must attend our orientation to understand the rules of the Smith Fork’s Riding program. Our verbal orientation will cover: Barn rules; What to Wear; What to Bring; Horse Vision/Mindset; Rider Mindset; Mounting and Dismounting; Rein and stirrup lengths; Starting, steering, stopping and reversing; Trail ride rules and guidelines.


Breakfast Horseback Ride to Creekside Cafe

Ferrier Ditch Loop | .75 Miles to Creekside Cafe | Dismount & Campfire Breakfast | Ferrier Ditch Loop or Willow Bend

Experience our Creekside Cafe Campfire Breakfast Ride on Wednesday mornings mid-June through August. Rise a with the sun bit early and saddle up for a  morning horseback ride (or ranger ride through the river for the young ones) and stop at the Creekside Cafe off the Smith Fork for breakfast cooked over campfire. A traditional cookout breakfast is prepared with a buffet of fresh ranch made pastries and baked goods, ranchmade granola and local fresh fruits as well as eggs, dutch oven fried potatoes, ranch cured and smoked bacon, ranchmade pork and chicken sausage, and our much anticipated ranchmade biscuits and sausage gravy. All is served with smile by a roaring fire with “Cowboy Coffee” or hot cocoa.


All-Day Backcountry Ride to Little Elk Basin with Fly Fishing

Gunnison National Forest Access | USFS Trail Throughline & Little Elk Basin Trails | Picnic Lunch | 1.5 hr Horseback Ride, 2hrs Fishing & Lunch, 1.5 hrs Horseback Ride

For guests looking for the ultimate ranch adventure opt for this unforgettable Horseback & Fly Fishing adventure. This ride is offered to riders of a moderate riding ability that also want to participate in some back country high-altitude stream fishing. Our wranglers will be responsible for saddling & packing horses for guests, our fishing guides will ensure that all necessary fishing equipment makes it into the saddle bags. Accessing the Gunnison National Forest you will be traveling the USFS Throughline Trail  #860 and following it for approximately 2.7 miles to the intersection with the USFS Little Elk Basin Trail #892. Settle into the Little Elk Basin around lunch time and recharge yourself with a picnic lunch that rivals our plated lunches on the Pavilion deck, it’s hard to compete with the virtual untouched (by humans) surroundings of the Little Elk Basin. In the meantime, our guides will be tying one on, that is flies! After you have finished lunch fishing guides will take you out onto the Smith Fork of the Little Elk basin where you will be catching (and releasing) trout that live at an elevation of 8,369′. We’ll hope the fishing (and catching) of the day is good for you and once you are done, head back to the ranch for a relaxing evening of dinner and stories of the day in the Elk Lodge Pavilion.

Please refer to the USFS information for the Little Elk Basin for more information.


Cocktail Ride to the West Elk Watering Hole and then to the Pasture Pavilion Cookout

Needle Rock Pass | 1.5 Miles to Cocktail  Site | Mountain Top Hors d’oeuvres & Cocktails | Needle Rock Pass to Pasture Pavilion Cookout

This adult’s only ride is an escape to a mountain top cocktail experience.

Saddle up in the afternoon for a trail ride up Needle Rock Pass to stop at our West Elk Watering Hole, a mountain top meadow where we have set up a bar complete with hors d’oeuvres. Enjoy each other’s company resting assured that the children are entertained. With a selection of beer, wine and a specialty cocktail for the evening you can relax and take in the views of the Smith Fork Valley accompanied with good cheer. Fear not, the kids have been enjoying a good ol’ water balloon fight with our Youth Counselors and they’ll be meeting up with you down at the Pasture Pavilion Cookout after a immersive scavenger hunt. A 45-minute trail ride to the Pasture Pavilion with leave you hungry for the fare and maybe a game of corn hole!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can my kids go on the trail rides with us?

To participate in independent trail rides, children must be at least 7 years old and able to control their horse (we leave it to the discretion of our experience wranglers to determine if your child is able to control their horse). Pony rides are also available for ages 4-7 and those children not yet ready for a trail ride.

Do I need to bring my own boots and helmet?

If you have your own cowboy boots and helmet feel free to bring them! If not- no worries. Our boot barn has plenty of options and sizes available for men, women, and children. Please remember the importance of wearing the actual cowboy boot is the heel and smooth bottom for safety when your foot is in the stirrup. Hiking boots will not be permitted for horseback rides.

Which horse will I be riding?

One perk of riding at Smith Fork is that you are matched with one horse for the entire duration of your stay to allow you to build confidence and comfortability. We match you with a horse based on your experience and size.

Will I be able to ride English?

We want you to experience a western ranch adventure and therefore we only have western tack available for our trail rides. Due to our terrain the western saddle will also provide more stability and support & add to your comfort while riding in the beautiful West Elk Wilderness!

Will I be able to go off and ride alone?

For safety reasons we do not allow solo rides without being accompanied by a wrangler. Our wranglers are trained and educated on horse safety and familiar with our trails and the terrain. We want to ensure you have the best experience possible and for those reasons we send at least one wrangler out per trail ride.

Why do you ask for my height and weight?

The general rule of thumb is that a horse should carry between 15-20 percent of their weight. We require your height and weight so that we can properly assign a horse to you and vice versa the safety of both horse and rider are our main concern. Remember that this weight also includes the saddle and other riding equipment, in addition to the rider.

19-Horses from the Barn