The Ozarks and Missouri River wilderness regions are particularly captivating. One of the best ways to experience hidden bluffs, elusive creeks, and historic cabins is by horseback. Whether you’re an experienced equestrian or someone who’s never been around horses, there are plenty of outfitters to get you saddled up and plenty of trails all around the state through some of these pristine places.

Riders shed sweaters and make headway through pockets of fog in the spring, but later in the year, they pass through a kaleidoscope of colors.

Dale Lawson, a member of the Douglas County Fox Trotting Horse Breeders’ Association in Ava, describes the Willy Lee trailhead in the Mark Twain National Forest like this: “The terrain is steep and rocky; many places are surfaced by broken limestone outcroppings. It’s like riding up and down courthouse steps, only it’s three hundred feet up, then three hundred feet down.”

A ride on this trail brought Dale and his group of nine to an abandoned saw mill around noon. They dined while sitting on old walnut logs and discussed the waterfalls they’d passed during the morning.

This experience can be had by anyone, beginner or experienced rider, and Missouri outfitters can provide everything you need to enjoy fall color from horseback.

Big River, Big Fun

Show-Me Trail Ride Outfitter, located on Big River Ranch at Lexington, supplies horses, tack, training, lodging, and food, depending on a customer’s vacation package. Some adventures include tracing the trail along the Mighty Missouri or meandering down old wagon trails where the scent of purple phlox perfumes the fields.

Owner Jeff Strahle wants his guests to relax and enjoy their time. “I had a family visit, and the grandpa was dragging his feet as soon as he got out of the car,” Jeff says.“After the ride, he shook my hand. Told me he didn’t really want to come but was so glad he did. He said, ‘We knew you were good. You took the time to teach us about your horses before we even got on.’”

And it’s true.

Jeff educates riders with a thirty-minute demonstration before each ride. One of the most notable trails is a five-mile stretch along the Missouri River. A breeze might spray mists of water off the river to cool you down, and the setting sun’s light steadily recedes from the surface of the water. The property holds trails for beginners, children, and those who want to take it easy. Some are so flat you could drive a car on them.

Trail rides range from one to three hours to several days. Recent visitors, Cindy Matchell and her daughter, Heather, hailing from Franklin County near St. Louis, chose a weekend camp out. They drove more than three and a half hours for the trip. When they arrived, it rained.

“Jeff was totally awesome,” Cindy says. “He rode with us for three hours in the rain. I’m sure he was miserable.”

Jeff customizes rides and cooks pioneer-style food on camp outs. Big River Ranch also offers an extensive outlet for experienced riders. A rider can explore approximately 2,100 acres on the property. The acreage contains many natural obstacles: log crossings, steep descending slopes, and water features to wade through.

Visit www.showmetrail.com for more information.

Freedom to Roam

Freshly made meals and secluded cabins await riders at Coldwater Ranch in Eminence. Riders can go on a scheduled ride through the wilderness on a ranch horse or bring their own and board it at the stables.

Guided trail rides are popular for both experienced and inexperienced riders. On a Rough-Out Ride you can fulfill your inner cowboy, pitch your tent, and feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

Owner Kathy Phillips also gives horse owners an opportunity to explore some of the 250 miles of trails on their own. She’ll give you a map and the freedom to roam the hills of Southern Missouri.

Visit www.coldwaterranch.com for more information.

Teepee Camping

Redbeard’s Ranch in Lebanon boasts riverfront recreation on the Niangua River. Guests are welcome to fish and float, in addition to participating in the guided trail rides. This ranch is focused on giving newcomers a great horseback experience. The horses provided are easy-going, and an introduction to your horse gets the ride started on the right foot. In addition, a child can ride a gentle horse or donkey led by hand.

Step out of the box and camp in a teepee, designed in the styles of the Sioux Indians. For those who wish the outdoors included modern comforts rather than limestone-pillows, try glamping or “glamorous camping”  outdoor experience in comfort. Wall-tents are constructed around cedar floors, with a bed and chairs. The tents even open to a front porch, where you can stargaze at night or relax in the early morning as dawn dries the dew from the grass.

Visit www.redbeardsranch.com for more information.

Throughout Missouri there are trail rides available that can provide horses for riders at any level. Try one of these, or visit MissouriLife.com for an extended listing of trail riding opportunities in the state.

Explore the ranches in Missouri with our interactive map.