South Dakota is full of amazing excursions throughout the Black Hills area. To make the most of our time there we scheduled a variety of western activities. While looking forward to all of the adventures, Emilie was most excited for horseback riding with The Palmer Gulch Stables at Mount Rushmore KOA.

Mount Rushmore KOA Palmer Gulch Stables

Saddle Up

We scheduled our horseback riding adventure for early morning. At the time, I selected the option because it would leave the rest of the day uninterrupted for other adventures. It ended up having other benefits also. The golden light for an 8:30 am trail ride was a beautiful way to see the trail. Additionally, weather on the morning of our ride was in the mid 50s, persuading us to dress in jeans and long sleeves. We realized later this is also a more practical and comfortable outfit than shorts I would have selected for a warmer midday trip.

About a half hour before the start of the ride, we met at the Palmer Gulch stables. After signing in there was a brief group session to teach the basics of horseback riding. It’s been years since I’ve been on a horse and I was slightly nervous beforehand how hard it would be for me to remember. The Stables at Palmer Gulch made it easy though.

The Stables at Palmer Gulch Horseback riding education

With the instructor on horseback, she demonstrated how to move the reins if needed. She explained the horses knew the trails well and wouldn’t need a lot of guidance. We got a good laugh when she informed us that despite the horses all being well fed, the most common command used on the trails is to prevent the horses from snacking. We learned to lift our reins straight up to keep the horse going if they tried to stop and eat the grasses.

Emilie and I both felt comfortable with how to guide the horses by the time the lesson was over. At the end, each rider was given the name of their assigned horse based on the rider’s previous experience and weight. Emilie was on Baker and I got to ride Tanka.

Emilie and Baker at Palmer Gulch Stables

Horseback Riding

After completing the educational session, our group headed out to mount our horses. Palmer Gulch made this such an organized and easy process. As the staff brought out each horse, they would announce its name for the rider to approach. We then stepped up onto a platform to climb into the saddle. It was much easier than trying to climb up from the ground as I’ve done in some previous trail rides.

Even though the initial group was around 30 people, as we mounted our horses the stables divided us into smaller tours of 5-8 guests. This made for a personalized trail riding experience where we could really interact with our guide.

Palmer Gulch Custer Trail Horseback riding group

Trail Options

The stables at Palmer Gulch offers three different trail rides. All are close in price and range between an hour and 1.5 hours long. We opted for the Custer Trail, which came in at 1 hour and 20 minutes. This guided trail rides through the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve in Black Hills National forest.

Although I’ve been horseback riding before, I have never been on a ride like the Custer trail. The horses climbed mountainous roads and descended step paths. Although some of the route appeared narrow and rocky, the horses were sure footed and confident. It also helped that our guide would provide direction about leaning forward or back in the saddle, depending on the grade of the hill, to make the climb easier for the horses.

Throughout the ride I couldn’t stop laughing at Emilie’s horse Baker. During most of our trail ride, Baker pretended he was starving. He would stop walking every few feet to try to snack. Despite Emilie’s best efforts to tug at the reins and prod him on, he was stronger and more stubborn than her. In talking with other guests, I found most stories revolved around the horses’ personalities. Every rider had unique memories because of their horse’s demeanor.

Emilie and I both enjoyed the trail scenery. Our guide pointed out Black Elk Peak, the highest peak east of the Rockies. We also saw a yellow bellied marmot. Additionally, there were large boulders, a small waterfall, and bridge crossings. It made for such a picturesque riding experience!

Black Elk Peak Harney Peak

We absolutely loved our horseback riding adventure at Palmer Gulch. With the high expectations Emilie had for this excursion it did not disappoint. As soon as we returned to the stables, she asked if we could make another reservation. If you have the chance, we highly recommend trying one of the horseback riding experiences through the Stables at Palmer Gulch.

It should be noted that riders do not have to be staying at the Mount Rushmore KOA to book a trail ride. They have parking available so other guests to the area are also able to enjoy the scenic horseback riding experience.


The Stables at Palmer Gulch Mount Rushmore KOA
12620 HWY 244
Hill City, SD 57745
Phone: (605) 574-3412
Website: The Stables at Palmer Gulch Horseback Riding