Photos by Rob Wood (below) and Jeff Vanuga (above)
If you want to see the romantic symbol of the American West— wild horses—you’ve come to the right place.
Wild Horse Herds in Wyoming and Montana
Wyoming is home to the nation’s second-largest wild horse population (behind Nevada). The Pryor Mountain herd, arguably the nation’s most famous wild horses, can be viewed in parts of Wyoming and Montana.
Wild horses differ from domestic ones mainly because they are bred for survival in the wild countryside, with thicker, more sturdy limbs and a more compact build, says Don Glenn, wild horse specialist at the Wyoming State Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The wild horses visitors will see here represent “part of the mystique of the Old West,” he says.
Glenn estimates Wyoming’s wild horse population to number about 6,000 animals, but says the appropriate management level is 3,100. As a result, horses are rounded up between mid-July and mid-November annually and shipped to various places in the country to be adopted.
Glenn says the Wyoming horse population grows by about 20 percent a year. “We have to round up about 1,200 head every year just to stay even,” he says.
Where to See Wild Horses Near Yellowstone
North of Yellowstone near Billings, Montana
About 60 miles south of Billings, Montana, are the Pryor Mountain wild horses, Montana’s only large herd of free-roaming wild horses. This herd of 120-160 animals is reputed to be of Spanish ancestry, of which very few are in existence today. To view them, head two miles east from Lovell, Wyoming, on Highway 14A and turn left onto Highway 37. Go 17 miles to Devils Canyon Overlook. Or, if you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, go 13 miles on Highway 37 to a road marked with a sign that says “Tillets Fish- Rearing Station.” Take that road to the Bad Pass Highway to try to view these horses.
East of Yellowstone near Cody, Wyoming
East of Cody, the McCullough Peaks area is home to wild mustangs believed to be descendents of Buffalo Bill’s horses from his Wild West Show. Daily guided tours are available in summer. To reach the McCullough Peaks WSA from Cody, take U.S. Highway 14/16/20 east toward Greybull for about 5 miles. Turn north (left) onto the McCullough Peaks Road #1212. This well-graded road is marked by a large kiosk, and is directly across the highway from the Cody Archery Range. You will reach the southern border of the McCullough Peaks about 8 miles up Road 1212. Road 1212 follows the southern WSA boundary for about 2 miles before it turns south and travels another 11 miles back to U.S. Highway 14/16/20. For more information: yellowstonecountry.org or www.codywyomingadventures.com.
South of Yellowstone near Rock Springs, Wyoming (Sweetwater County)
To see wild horses in Wyoming, Glenn recommends visitors especially keep their eyes peeled when traveling the Red Desert region between Rock Springs and Rawlins. For more information: http://www.tourwyoming.com/things-to-do/attractions/pilot-butte-wild-horses/guide-to-the-wild-horses-in-sweetwater-county.html
Also look for them in the Muskrat Basin-Rock Creek Mountain area stretching from Jeffrey City to the Gas Hills.