I hadn’t ridden a horse in fifteen years, but my daughter and I love them, so we wanted to try a family trail ride during our vacation in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are many stables in the area, but the most convenient was only a two-minute bike ride from our campsite: Cades Cove Riding Stables.
We arrived around 10:00 a.m. to inquire about making a reservation. It turned out to be a first come, first served operation, and we were able to get on our horses in about fifteen minutes.
First, we went inside the office to fill out liability waivers, pay and select helmets that fit. Helmets are optional for those over age 16, but I feel strongly about safety, and we have a friend who got badly injured when her horse got spooked a few years ago, so we all wore them. I was hoping we could just wear our bike helmets, but they wouldn’t allow that.
This trail ride was a splurge for us at $30/person. The price seems to be in line with other stables in the area, but some of the other stables allow “doubling up” for young riders with an adult at an additional cost of only $10. My kids did great riding on their own, though. Plus, we wanted to stay in the “national park bubble” and avoid driving 25-45 minutes.
What we did not consider ahead of time is that tipping is expected, so we were glad we had some extra cash on hand for our amazing guide, Debbie. We were really unsure what an appropriate tip would be and would have loved to Google some advice, but there’s no cell service available in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have since learned from various online sources that 15% of the price of an excursion is considered appropriate for trip guides.
Our riding group consisted of the five of us and another family of four. Before the ride started, we lined up on a raised deck that made mounting the horses very easy. Debbie and several of her associates adjusted our stirrups and went over some basic instructions on how to ride Western.
I’ve been on trail rides that required no horse handling skills whatsoever. This one was a little more mentally stimulating! The horses knew the route, but knowing how to use the reins and being authoritative in setting the pace was important.
Debbie did a great job reiterating the instructions on using the reins and coaching us on how to handle our horses. Each horse had its own personality and bad habits, whether stopping to eat plants or going off-trail to avoid mud. Personally, I appreciated that we got some skill practice in, but I understand now why they have the age requirement of 6 years and older. They don’t check birth certificates or anything like that. Read “About Us” to see whether we followed the rules.
Unfortunately, our two sons’ horses did not get along. While stopped to arrange a group picture, Noah’s horse bit Joshua’s in the rear end, and Josh’s horse reared up on its hind legs and ran off the trail. One of the other family’s horses didn’t like keeping pace with the rest of us.
The entire ride was through the woods. We crossed a creek and the Loop Road twice, but otherwise, we were riding single-file on a path through the woods. While we enjoyed the shade and pleasant temperature, this ride would not be for someone seeking a variety of views.
The ride lasted at least an hour. We were glad we hit the bathroom beforehand! Backpacks are not allowed, so we were lucky that Andy wore pants with roomy zippered pockets for our wallets and cell phones. I did wear my camera around my neck, but I’m not sure whether I was supposed to. Also, I highly recommend using insect repellent. We used this one (affiliate link) and it worked great and felt nice on our skin, so I’m buying a half-gallon (affiliate link) refill of the lotion.
The trail ride at Cades Cove was a wonderful experience for us! If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.
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