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
Pryor Mountain Wild Horses
North of Yellowstone near Billings, Mont.
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.
Horses have lived wild on Pryor Mountain straddling the Wyoming/Montana border for a couple of centuries. But it wasn’t until 1968 that any federal protection was given to them. That year, US secretary of the interior Stewart Udall created the country’s first wild horse range, the 31,000-acre Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. The range was later expanded to 38,000 acres, but the horses are truly free to roam; there are no fences to keep them from wandering into adjacent national forest land. The Pryor Mountain horses are the only wild horses in the state of Montana, and the herd usually numbers around 160. The larger herd separates into smaller groups called “harems” with one stallion as the leader of the mares and younger horses.
The Bureau of Land Management, which has jurisdiction over the range, asks that you stay more than 100 feet from the wild horses and never feed them. You can get as close as you’d like to the adopted horses at the center though. Bring the herd into your own home by watching the 1995 documentary film Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies and its sequel, the 2003 documentary Cloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns. (It is believed Cloud died in 2016.) In addition to horses, the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is also home to mule deer, black bears, bighorn sheep, and coyotes. Mustang Center—1106 Rd. 12, (307) 548-9453, Pryormustangs.org. Pryor Wild—(307) 272-0364, www.pryorwild.com
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.The best spot to see bands of these horses is along Highway 37 in the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.
Pryor Wild does guided, daylong trips to view and photograph the horses. Founded by longtime Lovell locals Steve and Nancy Cerroni, Pryor Wild takes clients up Burnt Timber Ridge Road, which climbs 4,400 feet over 12 bumpy miles. At the top, expect to see wildflowers in addition to horses. If you want to horse-watch on your own, first stop at the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center. They’ll have reports on where horses have most recently been spotted. They’ve also adopted some horses from the herd over the years.
This text on Pryor Mountain is excerpted from On the Road Yellowstone by Dina Mishev. The book is a joint partnership between us, National Park Trips Media, and Lyons Press.
McCullough Peaks Wild Horses
East of Yellowstone near Cody, Wyo.
East of Cody, the McCullough Peaks area is home to wild mustangs believed to be descendants 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.
Wind River Horse Sanctuary
Southeast of Yellowstone in Lander, Wyo.
Head to Wind River Horse Sanctuary in Lander, Wyo., the only wild horse sanctuary on a Native American reservation. Opened in June 2016 by the Oldham family, in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, it's home to 130 mustangs. The sanctuary offers tours and has a visitor center. Learn about the history of wild horses in North America and then ride on a large ATV that seats six, including the driver, to see the mustangs in the sanctuary.
In summer 2017, which goes from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the sanctuary is open to the public Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 307-438-3838 for additional information or for an appointment if you would like to visit outside of the summer season. The cost is $35 per adult and $15 for children ages 13-18. Kids 12 and under are free.
Pilot Butte Wild Horses
South of Yellowstone near Rock Springs, Wyo. (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.
Also look for them in the Muskrat Basin-Rock Creek Mountain area stretching from Jeffrey City to the Gas Hills.