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5 National Parks for Wild Horse Spotting

Have you ever seen a wild horse gallop through a national park? We’ve probably all admired horses on a ranch from a car window or maybe even up close.

But if you’ve never seen wild horses in their natural habitat, you’re in for a treat. They don’t live everywhere, so you’ll need to plan accordingly to catch them in action.

That’s why we’re here to help you plan your next horse-spotting trip.

Let’s giddy up!

What Are Wild Horses?

Herds of wild horses live on every continent except Antarctica. Some species, like Przewalski’s horse in Mongolia, have never been domesticated and can be considered truly wild. Others, such as the American mustang, technically fall under the umbrella of feral instead of wild. In the United States, we colloquially use the word ‘wild’ to include feral horses.

The wild horses you see in the national parks have likely descended from those that escaped from ranchers, miners, and Indigenous peoples. Sometimes explorers would set their animals free after their trip. 

Are Wild Horses in National Parks Friendly?

Horses may not be predators, but that doesn’t mean they’re nice. Wild horses, especially those separated from their pack, usually attack perceived threats, including people. Their kicks can break bones and have killed humans on several occasions.

They’ll also bite and stomp with their front legs when frightened. 

As with other wildlife, you can view these creatures from a safe distance. Generally, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) suggests watching these creatures from at least 50 feet away.

Boy looking at wild horses
Spotting a horse in the wild is a magnificent experience.

What States Have Wild Horses?

If you want to see wild horses, you need to head out west. They usually live on government land that’s been designated a Herd Management Area. 

Nevada houses nearly half of the wild horses in the nation. Utah, Wyoming, and Oregon also have decent populations. You might also catch a few in California, Arizona, or Colorado, but the Herd Management Area’s small size in those states limits the population that can be sustained. 

What Is the Difference Between Feral and Wild Horses?

We’ve been calling both feral and truly wild horses ‘wild horses.’ Let’s look a little deeper at the difference.

An escaped housecat and her litter of kittens might be considered feral. The kittens may live on the streets, but they’re still a domesticated cat breed. A leopard, on the other hand, can be considered a truly wild animal. 

The same rings true for equines. In the U.S., all horses descend from previously domesticated animals. Their ancestors worked on ranches or provided transportation for exploration. Now, these feral horses roam free, providing for themselves without human assistance.

wild horses running
The U.S. has many national parks that are home to wild horses.

5 National Parks with Wild Horses

We’ve compiled this list for you if you want to see wild horses at a national park. We restricted the list to national parks, not herd management areas. We also tried to include options across the U.S., so you can make a pit stop to see these animals no matter where you want to go on your next vacation.

#1 Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)

In the late 1800s, ranchers would let their horses live out on the plains. When they needed a few for their ranch, the cowboys would head out to the open range and wrangle some up. Today, you can stop by this historic park to see horses roaming the Great Plains.

Summer is the best time to see horses at this national park. You can try watching them from a high point such as Painted Canyon Overlook. They like to hang out at the park boundary near I-94. Rangers recommend bringing your binoculars for a good look at these beautiful creatures. 

#2 Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland)

For over 400 years, wild horses have lived throughout this national park. Today more than 300 inhabit the area. They graze along the beaches and in the salt marsh. In the summer, you’ll likely see newborns if you visit the Virginia side of the park.

We recommend booking a guided wildlife tour for this location. You’ll take a boat along the island, watching for horses, dolphins, and birds. If you prefer to be a little more active, you can rent a kayak and go on a self-guided tour. 

Pro Tip: After searching for wild horses in Assateague, spend the night at one of these 5 Best Assateague Island Campgrounds

#3 Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area (Montana)

In Bighorn Canyon, rangers recommend staying at least 100 feet away from all animals. As with other wildlife, you shouldn’t feed them or attempt to handle sick horses. You should keep your dog on a leash to avoid provoking the animals. You might also see bears, mountain lions, and bighorn sheep in the region.

This 38,000-acre property is home to about 100 mustangs. Generally, they travel around in small bands of up to 6. Horses in this herd have unique markings called the Dun Factor. Other distinct features are a dorsal stripe and zebra stripes on their legs. 

#4 Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Shackleford Banks, the southernmost barrier island of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, has more than 100 horses living on it. You can visit the island by taking a passenger ferry or otherwise boating to the location. Once you arrive, you can wander around on foot, looking for horses.

The horses have lived on this island for centuries, and genetic researchers traced their roots to Spain. Evidently, the horses swam to the island from a shipwreck or paddled ashore after being thrown overboard to lighten up a ship. 

#5 Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Nearly 200 wild horses live on this island off the coast of Georgia. You can get there via private boat or on a ferry. Visitors love to stay in a bed and breakfast and then bike or kayak around the island for a relaxing getaway. Horses can be seen grazing and especially love eating the lawn of the Dungeness Historic District.

Like Theodore Roosevelt National Park, landowners originally used this island to house free-ranging livestock. Eventually, these domesticated horses became known as feral. 

Pro Tip: Cool off from all of your horse hunting to go for a swim in one of these 7 Best Lakes in Georgia (and Awesome Nearby Campsites).

See Wild Horses in a National Park

Certainly, If you love admiring wild horses or other animals, these national parks should be at the top of your list!

You won’t be bored with all the activities offered at these locations, such as kayaking and hiking. If you’d rather relax, don’t worry, you can do that too.

Anyone can enjoy spotting horses across the United States. And catching a glimpse of these majestic creatures might help you get in touch with your wild side.

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