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Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters offers memorable horseback riding adventures throughout the untouched beauty of Yellowstone National Park. Riders without a lot of time can experience a nice one-day trail ride should they wish, but those looking for a truly breathtaking multiple-day horseback riding vacation will surely want to learn more about this company.
Luckily Jett Hitt, the owner of Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters, generously accepted our request for an interview. If you are searching for a horse vacation that offers something different than the normal dude ranch experience, be sure to see what he has to say.
AH: Hi Jett, I appreciate you taking some time to chat with me about your fine operation, Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters. Before we talk about the horse adventures you offer, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I grew up breaking and training horses on a ranch in the Ozark Mountains. Like many ranchers, we were forced out of business by the feedlots because there was simply no longer any money in beef. The ranch was converted to a dairy farm that raised beef on the side. By the time I was 18, the one thing I knew that I did not want to do for a living was milk cows. So I went to college—for ten years! To my father’s befuddlement, I emerged with a doctorate in music composition and became a university professor. After a few years of giving Yellowstone guided horseback tours during the summer and teaching at the university during the winter, I realized that I was just enduring the winter and living for the summer. One day I just didn’t go back. I graduated from guide to outfitter, and I now I offer my own tours of Yellowstone. My mother always said, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”
AH: While some might dream of lead packing trips day after day as you do, the physical work and lack of amenities inherent in such an occupation definitely appeals to a certain "breed" of person. What is it about this lifestyle that calls to you?
As a child, I watched every western that came on television. I read every book by Louis L’Amour, and I owned countless photo albums of the Rocky Mountains. I looked at those mountains and yearned to disappear deep into the wilderness. And one day, I did. It was even better than I had imagined. Of course I had to come back, but time and time again I head into those mountains with a horse, a string of mules and a few clients. It is a rugged existence. Sometimes it is downright vicious.
One snowy September morning, it was particularly cold, and one of my guides and I were trying to pack a rather disgruntled mule. Both us got kicked, and the mule bucked the packs off several times and ran away. It was a cold, miserable affair. When it was over, the guide and I sat staring down the valley at a beautiful mountainside through a haze of snowflakes. We were both in pain, and we were worn out at seven o’clock in the morning. I turned to the guide and said, “As bad as it was, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be or anything I’d rather be doing. He just kept staring down the valley and said, “Nope, me neither.”
AH: Some readers might not be familiar with what a pack trip entails, so would you like to briefly explain what we mean when we refer to pack trips during this interview?
A pack trip is a multiple day horseback adventure. We take our clients deep into the wilderness to areas that few people ever see. Each guest has his or her own horse, and the gear is packed by a string of mules. We stay at designated campsites in the wilderness.
AH: Being able to experience such a horseback riding adventure in itself is rewarding enough, but having it take place in the beautiful Yellowstone National Park offers some sweet icing on an already tempting cake. What sorts of wildlife might one expect to see during a standard pack trip?
Some of my trips are geared toward viewing specific wildlife, such as moose or wolves, but regardless of the trip, I never promise wildlife. It is impossible for me to guarantee that we will even see so much as a squirrel. It would be pretty unusual not to encounter something, but some of it is pure luck. On my last trip of the season this past year, we saw thirteen wolves, three grizzly bears, two bull moose, two buffalo, and a lot of smaller critters. The week before that, however, we saw only a great grey owl, a bald eagle, a few buffalo, and the usual rodents. Every trip is different, and each area of the park provides different possibilities. If you are really interested in seeing specific wildlife, tell me beforehand, and I will design the trip with that in mind. But there are no guarantees.
Most outfitters will take you out to one campsite, plop you down and leave you there for four or five days. You can then do day rides in several different directions, but ultimately, you don’t get to see that much of the park. If I were paying for such a trip, however, I would want to see as much of the park as possible, and so that is what I try to offer my clients. I design the trips so that they either enter the wilderness in one place and exit in another, or the trip makes a loop. Thus, the client gets to see new terrain and different wildlife habitat each day. This makes for a lot of work. We have to tear down camp every morning and set it back up the following evening. The benefit is that my clients get to see as much as 80 miles of virgin wilderness.
AH: Now obviously one doesn't take part in a horseback riding vacation for food, but let's face it – riding and camping can develop quite the appetite. What sorts of meals do you offer guests to help tame their bellies?
Good food is essential. The days are long and hard, and everyone is starving by dinner. Over the years, I have managed to put together a menu that tastes great, is really filling and withstands the rigors of mule transport. I am always adding to my repertoire because I get tired of eating the same thing week after week, but some things are always present: steaks, pork chops, ribs, pork roast. A lot of our food has a Southern influence because I am a Southerner. We have candied carrots, fried cabbage, and green beans flavored with bacon drippings and new potatoes. We usually have coleslaw, pinto beans and cornbread with some meals. I also add in a few European specialties such as colcannon and German red kraut (sweet kraut). For breakfast we serve eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, pancakes, French toast, and hash browns. I have never had a complaint about the food.
AH: One thing our readers should be aware of is that you offer a wide assortment of packages (well over 10), each with varying durations and slightly different agendas. In fact guests can opt to partake in a ride as short as half a day or jump straight into the mix of things with a whopping six-day adventure. Is there a package that your previous guests have favored over the others, or is the interest pretty evenly split amongst them?
Is there a package that your previous guests have favored over the others, or is the interest pretty evenly split amongst them?
My two favorite trips are the six day Thorofare trip, which is an eighty mile venture through the most remote wilderness area in the lower forty-eight states, and the four day Gallatin trip, which takes us up over Electric pass. There are lots of great trips in Yellowstone, and regardless of which one you choose, you’re in Yellowstone!
AH: Outdoorsmen can experience much more than just horseback riding, such as wildlife observation, hiking and fly fishing. In fact it's argued that one of your pack trip destinations, Slough Creek, just might be the premiere fly fishing spot in the entire lower 48 states…
The Slough Creek trip is extremely popular. It is not only some of the best fly fishing on the planet, it is also one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is just stunning! It is one of those places where I can take a group with varied interests, and everyone is satisfied: hikers, wildlife watchers, horsemen, and fly fisherman.
AH: Although the majority of AlphaHorse readers are perusing this interview because they are interested in horse vacations, you do also offer an unrelated service for hikers: drop camps. What exactly does that service entail?
We offer a service for hikers who want to hike but don’t want to pack the gear. We load their gear on a string of mules and pack it in to their campsite. Older hikers who love to hike but are no longer capable of carrying eighty pound packs are often interested in this service, and fly fishermen who want to bring a lot of gear. We also provide full service campsites to hikers, in which case we provide all of the food and do all of the cooking in addition to packing in the gear.
AH: From the sounds of things, it's a safe bet to me that anyone considering a horseback riding vacation in the near future owes it to himself/herself to visit your website for further details on what packages and options you offer. But before we conclude this interview, is there anything you would like to share with our readers?
If you are interested in the American West, this is the ultimate experience. It is a chance to see the American frontier much the way the settlers and the trappers would have seen it, minus the Indians of course. Every mile of our trips is through virgin wilderness, untouched by man. It is one of the last great wilderness experiences available to us on this increasingly crowded planet.
If you would like to learn more about Yellowstone Wilderness Outfitters, please visit their site at http://www.yellowstone.ws.