Estes Park with kids: Hi Country Stables review

Rocky Mountain National Park is spectacularly beautiful, but with kids, there can be limits to the distance and elevation you can reasonably expect to cover on foot. Fortunately, there’s another way to get up to the heights: a trail ride with Hi Country Stables.

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Hi Country Stables review:

Hi Country Stables, which is part of Estes Park’s Sombrero Stables family, operates two locations inside the national park. We worked with Moraine Park Stable, near the Cub Lake Trailhead. Hi Country offers guided trail rides lasting from two to eight hours. We were given the two-hour option, which was perfect for a family with kids ages 5 to 12. Our route went up over the ridge and down into Beaver Meadows before looping back. It actually took us about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and it was one of the highlights of our entire week in Colorado.

The corral at Hi Country Stables holds several dozen horses, and we were amazed at the number of guides on hand to keep the process running smoothly. With their help, we mounted our horses from a wooden deck alongside the trail. We were told our horse’s name and instructed on how to use the reins, but as the ride progressed, we realized we didn’t have to direct the animals too much; they’re very well trained

The trail ride itself carried us up a narrow, rocky path above the Moraine Park Campground, with a spectacular view of Long’s Peak and the Continental Divide that only got better as we ascended. It took us along rocky, steep mountainsides, beneath the shade of aspen and pine groves, and through grassy meadows. Our guide, Evan, took the opportunity to share interesting information about the park’s trees, plants, and wildlife.

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A family friendly outing:

Hi Country Stables does a great job of accommodating families. We had told them in advance that we had a daughter with Down syndrome; although it was an offhand comment, meant to reassure them that she was cleared to ride, they responded by planning around her. They chose a horse specifically for her and put her up front, right behind Evan, who kept hold of her lead rope whenever we were in motion. Evan was infinitely patient with all our kids but especially with Julianna, who can be difficult to understand and loves to talk. The adults were placed in the back so we could keep an eye on the kids at all times.

Our horses were extremely well-behaved, requiring only occasional direction from the rider. In fact, our 8-year-old, who did have to convince his mount he couldn’t stop to nibble on the grass, had more fun than anyone else, because he actually got to interact with his horse more! The child who had the most trouble was our five-year-old, who kept sliding off-center on the saddle because his legs were short.

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Preparing for your trail ride:

You’ll definitely want to make arrangements in advance, because like most things in Rocky Mountain National Park, spaces fill quickly. Rides in the national park are scheduled by phone rather than online, and cancellations and schedule changes need to be made at least 24 hours in advance. If you don’t get an answer right away, try again in a few minutes; the office for Hi Country Stables is a short horse trailer hooked up outside the corral in Moraine Park, and although the phone rings there, the manager is often called out to work with customers or receive loads of feed. Without exception, everyone we met at Hi Country Stables was extremely friendly and accommodating.

Trail rides go on even in the rain, and every saddle has a rain poncho hooked to it. Hi Country Stables loans out saddle bags to carry phones, keys, and water bottles. Wear long pants for greatest comfort. Helmets are provided. Sunscreen is a must, as you burn much easier at high elevations. Age restrictions are outlined here.

Photography tips:

I took our DSLR on the ride, but if I were to do it again, I’d stick to the camera phone. Horseback riding is very bouncy and not particularly conducive to fiddling with zoom and settings, and we only stopped for one photo op; otherwise we were in motion.

Locations and pricing:

Sombrero runs stables in Estes Park as well as from Moraine Park and Glacier Creek inside the national park. They also have stables in other popular destinations around the state of Colorado. See the website for all the many interesting options. A two-hour trail ride from  the Moraine location costs $60 per person and goes up for longer rides.

Parking is available at Moraine Park, but can get crowded, so be sure to leave plenty of time. You can also get to the stables by riding the national park shuttles.

Our family was offered a complimentary trail ride in exchange for an honest review.

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About the author

Kathleen Basi

Freelance writer Kathleen Basi has lived her entire life in “flyover country,” but she’s an old pro at road trips, having taken the first of many extended driving vacations at the tender age of five. She’s a huge proponent of letting kids see and experience the space between “here” and “there.” Find her at http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/.

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