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Las Vegas: Saddle the Horses, We're Going for a Ride

Posted by Anne Burke on June 02, 2011
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  • horse in corral with mountains in background picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Michael Tucker
    Photo caption
    Horses at the Cowboy Trail Rides rest while waiting for their riders.
  • cowboy Ernie Love seated by campfire plays guitar for friends picture
    Photo credit
    Photo: Michael Tucker
    Photo caption
    Singing cowboy Ernie Love serenades by the fire.

Road Journals Blog—Horseback riding is one of Las Vegas's most entertaining—and underappreciated—attractions. Out past the casinos, strip malls, and cookie-cutter subdivisions are riding trails that are remarkably unchanged from the 1800s, when Las Vegas was a key stopover on the Old Spanish Trail.

Horseback riding is a year-round activity in Las Vegas. Even during the summer months when the Strip sizzles, the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, probably the best-known local riding destination, stays relatively cooler. I took a 90-minute sunset ride there with Cowboy Trail Rides, which took us along canyon ridges with painterly vistas of Red Rock's red and grey sandstone cliffs, and through forests of Joshua trees and spiny banana yucca.

Our horses maintained a gentle, clippity-clop pace that was about as slow as Los Angeles's 405 freeway on a getaway Friday afternoon. Nobody complained. Trail ride prices usually include a box lunch or, as in the case of my sunset ride, an early-evening barbecue. Our paper plates sagged under the weight of juicy grilled steak, chili con carne, baked potatoes, and salad. This being Vegas, of course, there had to be entertainment. After dinner, we roasted s’mores over a campfire while a singing cowboy named Ernie Love strummed the hits of Willie, Waylon, and lots of others.

Many tourists combine horseback riding with a visit to Bonnie Springs Old Nevada, a replica of an Old West town located inside Red Rock Canyon. One can ride horses past colorful bluffs, then wander into town for a gunfight, melodrama, visit to the blacksmith, and public hanging. (Recreations all, it should be pointed out.) Southeast of Las Vegas is Eldorado Canyon, a historic gold and silver mining area that is also a popular riding venue. From higher elevations you can see the Colorado River. On the opposite side of the city is the Mount Charleston area in Humboldt Toiyabe National Forest, where you can ride through the Ponderosa pine and juniper trees.

Anne Burke writes about Las Vegas for an upcoming issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in June 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.