Teeming with immeasurable beauty, wondrous wildlife, magnificent flora, and an overwhelming sense of serenity, the Great Smoky Mountains is a majestic place best seen from the many trails in the Smokies. While hiking can be enjoyable, there is truly nothing like sharing an adventure with your friends and family through the mountains on horseback. Get away from the hustle and bustle of town and ride back in time to experience the mountains from a pioneer perspective. Breathe in the abundant fresh air, keep an eye out for wild animals, listen to the rustle of the trees, and let the rhythm of nature bring peace to your mind.
Where to Saddle Up
Whether you have never ridden a horse or are an accomplished rider, horseback riding in the Smokies is a unique experience for all — it is never the same and always a pleasure. There’s just something special about forging an unforgettable bond with a powerful creature on one of the trails in the Smokies. When booking your horseback riding trip, keep a few things in mind: the number of people in your group, their ages, the trail difficulty level, the time it will take to complete the route, the travel distance to the stables from your Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg cabin, and — perhaps most importantly — the type of views you wish to see (e.g. if you want to see wild animals, the morning or evening hours are your best bet). With multiple stables to choose from in the Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge area, you are sure to find one suited to your group’s needs.
Waldens Creek Stables | Sevierville
With over 500 acres of trail-riding possibilities, Waldens Creek Stables welcomes families and riders of all ages to explore the surrounding mountains and valleys — joined by 4-hooved friends, of course! Open year-round, you can head out on a trail during any season: smell the spring flowers in full bloom, witness the greenery of summer change into the colors of fall, and hear the winter snow crunch under the weight of your horse’s feet. Animal lovers get ready because you may come across wild turkeys, black bears, small turtles, dainty deer, and adorable chipmunks!
Four trails can be found on the property, each at least 6 feet wide and routinely checked and maintained for your (and your horse’s) safety and comfort. After matching everyone to their appropriate horse, a guide will go over riding instructions with each rider, beginner or experienced, individually so no one misses any important information. Also, with the assistance of a cowboy or cowgirl — and a convenient loading ramp — you will have no problem mounting your horse, so put that concern behind you and enjoy the ride!
- Valley Hill Ride – Pass across mountain valleys, over wooden bridges, through Waldens Creek, and by the original 1903 homestead. (Doubling — a small child and a parent on one horse — is allowed on this trail.)
- Valley Mountain – A similar trail to Valley Hill Ride, you will not only cross bridges and splash through Waldens Creek but also travel halfway up Waldens Mountain and go past an old 1960s moonshine still.
- Mountain View – More geared towards wildlife viewing and breathtaking mountain scenes, this trail offers a group photo with a mountain backdrop.
- Mountain Adventure – From traveling across almost the entire 500-acre ranch (including on top of the mountain) to leading your horse to water at your journey’s end, this trail is where your true cowboy experience awaits!
Five Oaks Riding Stables | Sevierville
Boasting a 70-acre nature park with Smoky Mountain views, Five Oaks Riding Stables has trails in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville. With more than 27 years of experience in the horseback riding industry, riders of all ages will not only have loads of fun but also feel quite safe. Plus, there are 60 experienced horses who know the main six-mile trail like the back of their hooves, so just sit back — but not too far — and let your new friend take you for a ride past beautiful streams, possibly white-tailed deer (or other forest critters), remnants of an old moonshiners still, and views of a mountain lake and Mount LeConte.
Before your riding adventure begins, the trail guides will match you with a suitable horse, brief you on proper riding techniques, and teach you a bit about horse etiquette. Available for free upon request, you can also wear a helmet for extra protection (recommended for all riders and required for children 12 and under). Doubling is also okay for children 3 to 6 years old with a parent. Imagine your 5-year-old’s smiling face as he rides his first horse with daddy — on a trail in the Smokies no less!
Cades Cove Riding Stables |Townsend
Offering guided trail rides within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cades Cove Riding Stables is located in a gorgeous valley area surrounded by incredible views of the Smokies and filled with historic structures and enchanting wildlife. White-tailed deer, raccoons, pileated woodpeckers, and even coyotes can be seen at any time of year. In spring, you may see male turkeys strutting their stuff, and frolicking bear cubs can be seen in the summertime.
Before you head into the wilderness, you will be matched with a well-trained horse and given an informative orientation to help you feel more comfortable with your new riding partner. Ages 6 and up of all skill levels are welcome, and safety helmets (recommended for all and mandatory for children under 16) are provided free of charge. With a guide at the head, small groups of 9 hit the trail at regular intervals throughout the day (closed in winter), making it easier for everyone to hear the rich history of the area relayed while traveling through the wild landscape.
- Big Rock Dude Ranch at Ponderosa | Pigeon Forge
- Deer Farm Riding Stables | Sevierville
- Douglas Lakeview Stables | Sevierville
- Jayell Ranch | Sevierville
- Smoky Mountain Riding Stables | Gatlinburg
- Sugarlands Riding Stables | Gatlinburg
A Bit on Horse Behavior
Although domesticated, a horse is still an animal with thoughts, feelings, senses, and emotions. Because of this, it is important to be aware of common equine behavior patterns before going on a trail ride — be it your first or your fiftieth time. When greeting your new riding partner, hold your hand out flat and let his nose come to you. This adds a touch of respect between you both and starts a “conversation.” After all, you wouldn’t walk into someone’s home without their consent, would you?
Also, if a horse’s ears are pinned back tightly, he is probably upset. Be sure to stay away from the mouth area and avoid petting him until he calms down. However, if his ears are perked softly forward or flickering gently, he is presumably a happy camper (or is it trailer?). A pat on the neck is always okay, but, in truth, horses generally prefer gentle pets or strong scratches — the neck and shoulders are good places to start. Additionally, horses aren’t fond of fast movements, so running, jumping, or any other tomfoolery near them is not only unwise but also dangerous. Though, it is worth mentioning that trail horses are typically used to a certain amount of noise and activity.
Are You Ready to Ride?
- Listen to your guides and follow their instructions — they know their horses best!
- Take time to get to know your horse (each has their own horsenality) before you get on, even if it is only a few minutes of soft strokes and gentle whispers.
- Wear a comfortable outfit with closed-toed shoes (preferably with a small wedge heel to keep your feet in the stirrups) that you don’t mind getting dirty.
- Speak up if you believe your horse is acting funny or skittish, especially if their behavior changes drastically and suddenly. It is always safer to ask, even if it is nothing!
- Journey as a true pioneer and turn off your cell phone or — better yet — leave it behind.
- Stop thinking about work and live in the moment. Inhale the mountain-fresh air, take in all the spectacular sights, listen to the sounds of the earth, and reconnect with nature.