Where the Wild Things Go

Horsepack: HOW TO VISIT THE BACK FORTY WITHOUT ABUSING YOURSELF? BY HORSE, OF COURSE. Three equine outings that serve up the best of the American outback.

The jagged face of Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness     Photo: PhotoDisc

DREAM PICK
Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona
THE PITCH In the Southwest, the Grand Canyon tends to hog the spotlight—and, therefore, the crowds. Steer clear of that clogged chasm and beat it to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "shay"), three miles east of Chinle, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. There, trundle along the base of soaring sandstone cliffs, gaping at spectacles like the White House and Sliding House ruins, ancient Anasazi dwellings built high above the canyon floor. Hitch your steed and unpack your bedroll beneath the Russian olive trees and cottonwoods at the foot of Spider Rock, an 800-foot tower that is the spiritual home of the Navajo deity Spider Woman.
BETA From Chinle, follow Route 7 east toward the national monument. No entry fees, but you must arrange for a Navajo guide or park ranger to travel with your group to most destinations. Park Service permit required.
PRIME TIME April-May, October
RESOURCES For info: Canyon de Chelly visitor center, 928-674-5500, www.nps.gov/ cach/index.htm. For commercial trips: Equitours, 800-545-0019, www.ridingtours.com.
PLAN B
Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho
THE PITCH Horsepacking isn't the only way to get into the heart of south-central Idaho's vast Sawtooth Wilderness, but it's the best. The perfect home corral in this more than 200,000-acre expanse of mountains and meadows: the Ten Lake Basin region, 22 miles from the Grandjean trailhead. After a 3,000-vertical-foot clop up to camp, park the ponies and set up shop near the shores of pristine Lake Edna, keeping your eyes peeled for bears, cougars, and mountain goats.
RESOURCES For info: Stanley Ranger Station, 208-774-3000. For trips: Sawtooth Wilderness Outfitters, 208-462-3416, www.sawtoothadventures.com.

OR TRY
Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina
THE PITCH Welcome to one-million-acre-plus Pisgah—a lush hardwood empire with an endless network of galax-lined paths. After leading your steed from the Buckeye Ridge trailhead, 16 miles southwest of Hot Springs, on a half-day ride through fields painted with blueberries, blackberries, and wildflowers, arrive at a secluded campsite atop high Buckeye Ridge. Give the horses some post-ride TLC, then take care of yourself while watching a sunset in the Smokies gild the mile-high Black and Bald mountains.
RESOURCES For info: Pisgah's French Broad Ranger District, 828-622-3202; Big Creek Horse Campgrounds, 828-456-7053. For trips: Little Creek Outfitters in Hot Springs, 800-653-9984, www.littlecreekoutfitters.com.

Crux Gear
Forest rangers swear by White's boots: foot armor with double the versatility of hikers or cowboys. Horsemen, try the ORIGINAL PACKERS ($345; 800-541-3786, www.whitesoutdoor.com). Your high-tech jacket is Kleenex next to the oil-finish cotton of FILSON's OUTFITTER SYSTEM ($388; 800-297-1897, www.filson.com). This weather-beating beast comes with wool zip-in jacket and vest.

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