Horseback Ride to Lake Annette and Paradise Valley
Updated: Jul 27, 2018
Horse Stable: Brewster Stables at Lake Louise
Distance: 20 KM
Time: 7-8 Hours
During our vacation to Banff- mostly everything we did there was completely free! Hiking, sightseeing, walking around the towns of Canmore and Banff. On our first day visiting the park we saw a group of people on horseback, and it inspired us to book a trail ride of our own. They bring you over some trickier trail terrain through the mountains- it's not just a walk in the park. Plus exploring Banff on horseback is another unique way to see the views.
We started researching different horseback rides in the area, and found one that caught our eye. It was a 7-8 hour ride for intermediate to experienced riders only. The cost was not that much more - between going for a quick 3 hour experience, or going for this full day once in a lifetime opportunity. We called the stables to inquire about the necessary experience. Neither of us had been on a horse since we were children. The girl said as long as we are athletic- skiers, hikers, or in semi shape- that we should do fine. Promising they would teach us all the instructions when we arrived.
We really lucked out that we were the only 2 doing this full day adventure. It ended up just being John and I, and our guide. An even better deal to have a private horseback trail ride.
We were assigned our horses and on our way. John was given Carter, and I was given a horse named Billy. Carter was hilarious and would not walk at first. He kept stopping for snacks (AKA green plants along the side of the trail). Billy was a perfect horse for me, I let him snack a little but he was sooo good and listened perfectly. Really great for my first time on a horse. Except for clotheslining me with tree branches, but we'll get to that in a moment...
As we started our way down the trail our guide shared lots of really cool facts with us. She was well educated on the plant and animal life we could pass along the trail, as well as just the area in general. She is the one who helped us identify the Hoary Marmot we saw, as she described they are the size of a beaver and make a loud whistling noise. Although we didn't see one on horseback, we did hear their whistling call.
We also passed bear poop, the first sign of bears on trail all week!
We had the trail completely to ourselves. Not a person in sight once we entered the woods, just the sound of horses feet and our casual conversations. Perfection.
Eventually we reached Lake Annette. Such a beautiful, hidden gem! More blue/green water, with mountains cradling it in the background. Some hikers were enjoying the view along the shore line.
The perks of being on horseback... our horses walked the lake shore to our own private section around the bend. Really only accessible by going through the water so we wouldn't have to share our space with any hikers either. A perfect place for a break. Lunch was provided as part of the package- a Ham & Cheese sandwich on a Croissant, chips, water and a muffin. Soo good! Who knew that being carried up the trail you could still work up quite the appetite? It also felt really good to get off the horse for a moment and stretch our legs. We would later find out why they suggested this ride for athletic people only.
We learned some background on the Brewster Adventures horses, the horses they use for their trail rides get to spend their winters in the wild. Then come summer, they send a helicopter out to locate the now "semi wild" horses, and round them back up for summer trail rides. In exchange for their summer work they get shelter and food. Come winter, they are free again. This actually made me feel phenomenally better about riding them.. I kinda of felt bad about the idea of this poor animal carting me around all day. But now that I know that they get some freedom when their work season is done? I feel like these horses have a pretty good deal going on.
Once lunch was done we mounted our horses again, and headed towards Paradise Valley. At this point the trail got a whole lot more interesting! A steeper climb- which our horses handled no problem. River crossings that our fearless rides charged straight through. & About 3 or so trees that were blow downs across the trail... we had to duck on our horses to prevent being beheaded. Our guide also pointed out the Larch Trees- we had hiked through Larch Valley where there was known to be an abundance of them, but we didn't know what to look for or anything about them. While riding past she had us feel the needles on them- they are SOOO soft and feathery! So different than our pine trees in NH which have very sharp needles on them.
Our trail became very rocky, and opened up to gorgeous mountain views. There was really so much to see and take in. & What a unique perspective that you can only get to this place- either by foot or by horse. This was a nice mix up in the week for us since we had already done so much hiking. But we were still reaping the benefits of trail time, views, and some peace and quiet away from the crowds.
Another REALLY incredible piece of doing this trail is that this trail eventually connects to Sentinel Pass (which we hiked a few days prior). Today we were enjoying the backside of the 10 Peaks Range, we just on the other side when hiking in Larch Valley. Such a cool perspective that we were able to take this alternative horseback route to cover as much trail as possible during our week here.
Eventually we reached our destination! Our guide told us we could follow a path right down and we would see the giant steps. Another welcomed break to get off our horses! Turns out sitting on them for so long gets quite painful. We took our muffins & an apple each and followed the well marked path to see what Paradise Valley was all about it. It was breathe taking! & Not a single soul was here. We really struck jackpot for timing. John and I sat near the water and snacked ... being sure to save some for the horses.
The giant steps are just what they sound like- Giant Steps, but with a waterfall that runs down them. They are almost carved so perfectly its hard to believe they are not man made. I saw a sign near where we left our horses indicating Paradise Valley Campsite- I would so love to come back one day and do some backpacking in Banff. Perhaps not at this exact site since I have now already visited and experienced it, but as a way to see more of the park in the future. & Even save on lodging a bit.
Heading back to Carter and Billy- we shared our apple cores. & Even a bite of muffin with them. Now if that isn't a bribe to cart my ass back to Lake Louise, I don't know what is!
Now to get on our horses here, we did not have the luxury of any steps or a rock to use at this break point. John went first to try and John Wayne his way up there- like a pro. Next was my turn... You kind of have to add a little bounce into your leg that's on the ground to hoist yourself up. Let's just say I made it.. but John was more of a natural at it than me.
On our trail ride back, our horses were eager to return as well. We think it was approaching their dinner time. Anytime our leading horse "Big Show", got too far ahead, Billy and Carter would gallop to catch up. It actually made the ride all that more fun, with little bursts of speed.
As our ride continued all the way back- the longer we were on that horse, the more painful it got. I was trying to get creative with different positions I could ride in, to try and stretch my legs. I called it "Horseback Yoga." Stay tuned, it may be coming to national parks, near you. We even heard an avalanche on our way out. It sounds like thunder, but is snow falling from up in the Rockies. Our guide mentioned to us towards the end- that she couldn't believe we had never ridden horses before! She recently went out with a girl who takes lessons 3x a week... the guide had to hold the girls horse for the entire 8 hour trip. Here John and I were basically horse riding level Pro, doing all the commands and everything ourselves.
I think that John and I definitely both have a go-getter type mindset. We learn quickly and are up for a challenge- especially fun challenges like horseback riding on difficult trails. I am really grateful that we decided to try something new and had this unique experience through Banff National Park. All of these photos (for the most part) were shot by us while riding! Especially difficult because your horse is bouncing you around, and you're trying to get a steady shot. Brewster Adventures.. in case you are needing an on trail photographer to enhance your guests riding experience.. I am available for hire.
It was worth not being able to walk straight for the next 4 days following.
Have you seen cowboys in the westerns? They kind of walk with a wide legged bow straddle... that is how we walked around town that night.
Happy Hiking & Horseback Riding :)
- Laura the Explorer