There’s only one problem with wilderness areas - getting into them.
No motorized or mechanized conveyances are allowed on wilderness trails, nor can aircraft or helicopters land within the boundaries.
Access to these pristine wonderlands usually means going by foot or horse. Horseback riding gets you much deeper into the wilderness, but unless you’re a skilled backpacker with the necessary equipment and knowledge for a multiple-day hiking trip, you’ll need an outfitter and his horses.
Outfitters are skilled horsemen and woodsmen who can open up a vast new territory for fishermen, hunters, photographers and nature lover. Alpine meadows carpeted with wildflowers reflecting a rainbow of colors are literally at your doorstep … or tent flap.
You leave the packing and camp work to the outfitter and spend your time basking in the sun, catching fish, photographing inquisitive wildlife and just relaxing in the mountain splendor.
The hard part of horsepacking trips is choosing a place to go, because there are so many magnificent wilderness areas in the Inland Northwest. Once you’ve decided where, the next step is who. Each state and province has an association of licensed, bonded outfitters and guides.
Generally, outfitters supply everything except your personal gear. You’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag and hygiene items. The outfitter does all the necessary chores to ensure the wilderness adventure of a lifetime. His or her sole aim is to provide a safe and enjoyable horsepacking experience. The horses know what to do and where to go, so all you have to do is sit in the saddle and enjoy the panoramic views along the trails.
An outfitter can customize a horsepack trip to fit your interests and abilities. I recommend planning a minimum three-day trip to fully appreciate the grandeur of your chosen Shangri-La. Horsepack trips are available from mid-June through mid-September, depending on snowpack conditions in the mountains. Many outfitters also offer trail rides by the hour.
Here are some suggested wilderness areas and a representative example of outfitter’s services. This is only a sampling of what an outfitter, his horses and nature have to offer you.
Outback Ranch Outfitters is based in Joseph, Oregon. Eagle Cap Wilderness and Hells Canyon trips are its specialty. Base rate is $150 per person per day. (503) 432-9101.
R.D.N. Ranch is based in Port Angeles and offers trips into the back country of the Olympic Peninsula. A typical two-day/one-night trip starts at $225 per person, with a two person minimum. (360) 457-3923.
Mystic Saddle Ranch in Stanley, Idaho, offers one- to 10-day horsepack trips into the Sawtooth Wilderness Area. Typically, on a five-day trip, a base camp is established, and you ride out to new country every day. A traveling camp trip also is available where you move camp every few days. The base rate is $159 per person per day. (208) 774-3591.
Bill Mitchell Outfitters is based at Hamilton, Mont. His trips go into the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church Wilderness Areas. Base rate is $150 per person per day. (406) 363-4129.
Kanata Wilderness Adventures is based at the Wells Gray Ranch, near Clearwater, British Columbia. Its popular Clearwater River Valley Trip lasts a week, with five days at a base tent camp. You leave camp each day on a different trail to explore a different wonderland. The trip costs about $446 (approximate U.S. dollar equivalent). (604) 674-2774 or 674-2792.
Boundary Stables is based near Kananaskis Village, located in the southwest corner of Alberta. Overnight pack trips go into the Canadian Rockies. Packages range from $207 for a two-day/one-night trip to $558 for a six-day/five-night stay at their remote Happy Valley camp. The prices have been converted to approximate U.S. dollar equivalents. (403) 591-7171.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SADDLE UP Call one of the following outfitters associations for a list of their registered, licensed guides. Washington State Outfitters and Guides Association, (206) 392-6107. Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, (800) 847-4843. Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, (406) 449-3578. Oregon Guides and Packers Association, (503) 683-9552. Alberta Guide and Outfitters Association, (403) 486-3050. Guide-Outfitters Association of British Columbia, (604) 828-1553.