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Discover the Magic of Wild Horses: 19 Places to See Them in the United States

Imagine standing in rugged, untouched landscapes as the sound of hooves echo in the distance. Wild horses, symbols of freedom and untamed beauty, gallop across the open plains, their manes flowing in the wind. The United States, with its diverse and expansive terrains, offers some of the most spectacular opportunities to witness wild horses in their natural habitats.

From the East Coast to the West, each location offers a unique glimpse into the lives of these wild herds. Whether you’re a seasoned wildlife enthusiast or a curious traveler, embarking on a journey to see wild horses is an unforgettable experience that connects you with nature.

The United States offers several remarkable locations where you can see wild horses in their natural habitat. Here are some of the best places to experience these majestic creatures:

Wild horses in Chincoteaque National Wildlife Refuge

1. Assateague Island, Maryland 

  • Wild Horse Population: The Assateague’s wild horses are known for their unique adaptations to the island’s harsh environment.
  • Viewing Tips: Visit Assateague Island National Seashore for the best chance to see the horses. 

Assateague Island is famous for its wild horses. As you explore, you’ll see the horses grazing on the salt marshes to playfully frolicking along the sandy beaches. Although you can see horses any time of the day, early mornings or late afternoons are magical times, as the gentle light casts a warm glow over the landscape, highlighting the majestic grace of these animals against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s no designated viewing area, as these horses roam freely your encounter with them on Assateague Island will be an unforgettable experience.

In Maryland, the horses are known as “Assateague horses” and are managed as wildlife by the National Park Service. The population is carefully managed with contraceptive methods to maintain a stable and healthy population, usually kept around 80-100 horses to minimize environmental impacts.

Note: Assateague Island, which spans the coasts of Maryland and Virginia, is famous for its wild horses. They are two separate areas although they share the coast. You will have to drive about 53 miles to get from one area to the other as there are no roads near the beaches.

Wild ponies on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge  Virginia

2. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Virginia

  • Wild Horse Population: Famous for the annual Pony Swim, where the Chincoteague ponies swim across the channel.
  • Viewing Tips: The best time to visit is during the Pony Penning in late July, but the refuge offers opportunities year-round.

On the Virginia side, the horses are often referred to as “Chincoteague ponies”. They live within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. The population here is managed through an annual pony swim and auction, which helps control the population size and raises funds for the local fire company. The Virginia herd is usually maintained at around 150 horses.

This event, made famous by Marguerite Henry’s book “Misty of Chincoteague”, is a highlight that draws many visitors each year. The horses swim across a narrow channel between the islands, and some of the young ponies are auctioned off to keep the herd sizes manageable.

The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is a short car or bike ride from the main town and offers a specular area to see these beautiful “ponies” in their natural environment. There is a loop where you can ride bikes or drive and you will see these horses. There is also a narrated bus tour which will take you to places you can’t get in your car. 

For more information on Chinatogue Island and the wild horses refer to our complete travel guide.

3. Onaqui Mountains, Utah

  • Wild Horse Population: The Onaqui herd is one of the most photographed in the country.
  • Viewing Tips: Access the herd by driving the Pony Express Trail west of Salt Lake City.

The Onaqui Mountain wild horse herd is one of the most well-known and frequently visited wild horse herds in the United States. Located in the Great Basin region in Utah, about 40 miles southwest of Tooele, this herd roams a range that covers approximately 240,000 acres of public and private lands.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees the Onaqui herd, aiming to maintain a population that balances the ecological health of the land with the viability of the horse population. The target population is typically set at about 125 to 210 horses. This range is determined based on the amount of available forage and water, as well as the overall condition of the habitat.

The Onaqui wild horses are relatively easy to spot, and there are specific locations near the Onaqui Mountains in Utah where visitors have a good chance of seeing these beautiful animals.

Viewing spots

  1. Simpson Springs: This area is accessible and one of the most popular places for viewing the Onaqui wild horses. It offers a water source for the horses, making it a frequent gathering spot for the herd. The area also has a campground, making it a great option for those who want to spend more time in the vicinity.
  2. Dugway Road: Traveling along the Dugway Road gives visitors a chance to see horses. The horses are often seen grazing or traveling in groups, and this road provides several pull-off spots where you can safely park and watch the horses.
  3. Lookout Pass: Located on the western side of the Onaqui Mountains provides a higher vantage point for those hoping to spot wild horses. The elevation allows for broader views of the area where the horses may be roaming.

While the Onaqui horses are accustomed to human presence, it’s important to maintain a safe and respectful distance to ensure both your safety and their well-being

4. Pryor Mountains, Montana and Wyoming

  • Wild Horse Population: Known for their distinctive Spanish heritage, the Pryor Mountain wild horses are a unique sight.
  • Viewing Tips: Take a guided tour to increase your chances of spotting the horses in this rugged terrain.

The Pryor Mountains, located on the border between Montana and Wyoming, are home to a unique and historic wild horse herd known as the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs. This herd is renowned for its distinctive characteristics and colors, including unusual coat patterns and colors such as grullo, roan, and dun.

The herd is managed by the BLM and their management goals are aimed at maintaining a healthy herd size that the range can support, typically around 90 to 120 horses.

Best Places to See Them:

  1. Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center: Located in Lovell, Wyoming, this center provides information, maps, and guided tours to see the wild horses. It’s a great starting point for anyone looking to learn more and get a closer look at the Mustangs.
  2. Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area: This area offers opportunities to see horses and stunning landscapes. The mustangs often roam the Pryor Mountain sections within this recreation area, and visitors can use binoculars or spotting scopes from overlooks to view the horses at a distance.
  3. Dryhead Overlook and Mustang Flats: These are popular viewing areas accessible by vehicle where people frequently report sightings of the horses. These spots provide panoramic views of the territory that the Pryor Mountain mustangs frequent.

5. Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National park
  • Wild Horse Population: The park is home to a herd that roams freely across the landscape.
  • Viewing Tips: Drive along the park’s scenic loop roads for the best viewing opportunities.

The wild horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are not native wildlife but have become a well-established and beloved part of the park’s ecosystem. They are thought to be descendants of horses that escaped from local ranches or were released into the area. Over the decades, these horses have adapted to the rugged badlands terrain.

The National Park Service (NPS) manages the wild horse population and aims to maintain a stable and healthy population of around 70 to 110 horses, achieved through periodic censuses and management actions such as rounding up and removing excess horses, which may then be offered for adoption to the public.

Best Places to See the Horses:

  1. Painted Canyon: This area provides not only a stunning vista of the park’s colorful and eroded landscape but also opportunities to see wild horses grazing in the distance. The Painted Canyon Visitor Center has viewpoints that are easily accessible and offer good chances of spotting horses.
  2. South Unit Scenic Loop Drive: This 36-mile loop drive offers several spots where wild horses are seen. Keep an eye out as you drive; you may find horses near the road or off in the distance. 
  3. North Unit: The North Unit offers chances to see wild horses, particularly along the scenic drive and near the Oxbow Overlook, which provides expansive views of the Little Missouri River and surrounding areas.
  4. Cottonwood Campground: We saw horses every night around dusk roaming the campground when we were there for 3 nights. Just beautiful they were right behind our camper!

6. Nevada Wild Horse Range, Nevada

  • Wild Horse Population: Nevada has the largest population of wild horses in the United States.
  • Viewing Tips: Visit the range in the early morning or late afternoon to see the horses grazing.

The Nevada Wild Horse Range is a unique area dedicated to the protection of free-roaming horses. Located within the Nellis Air Force Range in southern Nevada, it covers about 1.3 million acres. 

The wild horses in Nevada are part of the state’s cultural heritage and are protected under federal law and managed by BLM in a manner that ensures the horses  well-being and ecological balance with other wildlife.

Here are some of the best places to view wild horses in Nevada’s Wild Horse Range:

  1. Cold Creek Area: Located just outside the boundaries of the Nevada Wild Horse Range, Cold Creek is close to Las Vegas. It’s one of the most popular spots for viewing wild horses, as the horses are often seen near the town and along the roads.
  2. Antelope Valley: Within the Nevada Wild Horse Range, it offers expansive landscapes where wild horses are frequently spotted. It’s more remote than Cold Creek, providing a more untouched and natural setting.
  3. Mountains around the Range: The mountains surrounding the Nevada Wild Horse Range, such as the McCullough Range, are good areas to spot wild horses.
  4.  Pahrump Valley: This area, located west of Las Vegas, is on the perimeter of the Nevada Wild Horse Range and has populations of wild horses. Visiting during early morning or late afternoon increases the chances of sightings.

7. Steens Mountain Wilderness, Oregon

Herd of wild horses
  • Wild Horse Population: The Kiger Mustangs, known for their Spanish Barb ancestry, reside here.
  • Viewing Tips: Hike or drive through the wilderness area to spot these beautiful horses.

The Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon is renowned for its rugged, remote landscapes and is also home to one of Oregon’s wild horse herds. The area provides a dramatic backdrop of stark ridges, expansive plateaus, and deep gorges, where these 200-400 (depending on conditions) wild horses roam freely.

The South Steens horses are noted for their hardiness and diverse coloration, making them a fascinating subject for photography and observation.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages these horses to ensure that their populations remain sustainable and do not adversely impact the ecosystem.

For those interested in viewing these majestic animals, the South Steens Campground is a good starting point. From there, visitors can explore various trails and roads that may offer sightings of the horses in their natural environment. Early morning or late afternoon are typically the best times to see wild horses, as they are more active during cooler parts of the day

8. Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range, Colorado

  • Wild Horse Population: Home to around 150 wild horses, the range offers a picturesque setting.
  • Viewing Tips: The best time to visit is in the spring and fall when the horses are more active.

The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range in Colorado is one of only three ranges in the United States specifically designated for the protection of wild horses. Located near Grand Junction, this area encompasses about 36,000 acres of rugged canyons and plateaus.

The Little Book Cliffs area is accessible to the public for those who wish to view these magnificent animals in their natural setting. There are several trails and viewing areas throughout the range that allow for horse watching. Popular activities in the area include hiking, photography, and guided tours, which can enhance visitors’ understanding of the wild horses and the management efforts in place to protect them.

9. Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Arizona

  • Wild Horse Population: The Heber Wild Horses roam freely in this area.
  • Viewing Tips: Explore the forest’s trails to find the horses, especially in the cooler months.

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests are home to a variety of wildlife, including a relatively small population of wild horses, known as the Heber Wild Horses. These horses roam freely within a designated territory in the forests, which span over 2 million acres across eastern Arizona.

The Heber Wild Horses have a unique history and are believed to be descendants of horses that escaped from or were released by Spanish explorers, settlers, and local ranches over the centuries. The exact size of the herd varies, but it typically numbers around a few dozen horses. These horses are known for their resilience, surviving in a challenging environment that ranges from snowy winters to hot summers.

The U.S. Forest Service, local advocacy groups, and other stakeholders manage these wild horses aiming to ensure the horses’ well-being while balancing the ecological health of the forests.

For those interested in viewing the Heber Wild Horses, the best opportunities are usually in the open meadow areas of the forest where the horses come to graze and access water sources. Early morning and late afternoon are typically the best times to observe these animals when they are most active.

10. Sand Wash Basin, Colorado

Wild Horses in Sand Wash Basin, Colorado
  • Wild Horse Population: This area is renowned for its diverse and colorful herd.
  • Viewing Tips: Drive through the basin on designated roads for excellent viewing opportunities.

The Sand Wash Basin in Colorado is a renowned location for observing wild horses in their natural habitat. Situated in the northwest corner of the state, this area covers approximately 160,000 acres of rugged terrain, including rolling hills, steep canyons, and broad, arid basins.

The wild horse herd in Sand Wash Basin is one of the most accessible and visually striking in the United States. The horses are famous for their varied and vibrant colors, including paints, palominos, roans, and blacks. The herd size is typically around 600 to 700 horses, but this number can fluctuate based on BLM actions aimed at keeping the population in balance with the land’s capacity to support it.

There are no formal facilities, and roads within the basin are rough and unpaved, so high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended. Visitors are advised to bring all necessary supplies, as there are no amenities in the immediate area.

The best times for horse viewing are early morning and late evening when the horses are most active. Due to the open terrain, visitors can see horses from a distance with binoculars, allowing for natural behavior observation without disturbance.

11. Shackleford Banks, North Carolina

  • Wild Horse Population: Shackleford Banks, part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, is home to a herd of wild horses with a genetic link to Spanish mustangs.
  • Viewing Tips: Accessible by ferry, the best times to see the horses are early morning or late afternoon.

Shackleford Banks in North Carolina is famous for its small, isolated herd of wild horses, known as the Shackleford Horses or Banker horses. This narrow, 9-mile-long barrier island is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore and is only accessible by ferry or private boat. The island offers a unique wilderness experience, featuring pristine sandy beaches, salt marshes, and maritime forests.

The Banker horses are small, sturdy, and well-adapted to the harsh, salty environment. They are believed to be descendants of Spanish mustangs brought to the Americas in the 16th century. The herd size is maintained at about 110 to 130 horses to ensure that the island’s limited resources can sustain them. The National Park Service manages the herd, utilizing methods like contraception to control the population size.

Visitors to Shackleford Banks can often see the horses grazing in the grassy dunes or walking along the beach. The best time to view the horses is early morning or late evening, particularly during the cooler months when the horses are more active.

Banker Horse

12. Outer Banks, North Carolina

  • Wild Horse Population: The Corolla and Ocracoke herds of Spanish mustangs roam freely on the beaches and dunes.
  • Viewing Tips: Take a guided tour for the best chance to see the horses and learn about their history.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are home to several famous herds of wild horses, each with its unique history and characteristics. These herds are found in various locations along the barrier islands. The most well-known of these are the Corolla wild horses and the Ocracoke ponies.

Corolla Wild Horses

Located in the northernmost area of the Outer Banks, near the town of Corolla, this herd of wild horses is believed to be descendants of Spanish mustangs brought to the Americas over 500 years ago. The Corolla wild horses roam freely across a relatively small area of about 7,500 acres, which includes public and private lands. The herd size is carefully managed to ensure a healthy population that the environment can sustain, typically around 120 horses.

Visitors to the area can see these horses grazing among the dunes or moving along the beaches. Several local tour companies offer guided tours specifically aimed at viewing the wild horses, providing a safe and respectful way to observe these animals without disturbing their natural behavior.

Ocracoke Ponies

The Ocracoke ponies, also known as Banker horses, live on Ocracoke Island, accessible by ferry. Unlike their counterparts in Corolla, these ponies are kept in a protected area managed by the National Park Service. The enclosure helps protect the ponies while allowing the public to view them without interfering with their lifestyle. Historically, these horses were free-roaming, but due to the island’s small size and the limited resources available, they are now maintained within the confines of the Pony Pen.

13. Virginia Range, Nevada

  • Wild Horse Population: This range near Reno is home to several herds of wild horses.
  • Viewing Tips: Volunteer-led tours are available, providing insights into the horses’ lives and behaviors.

The Virginia Range in Nevada is another significant location where wild horses roam freely. Situated primarily in Storey County, with parts extending into Lyon, Carson City, and Washoe counties, this range covers an expansive area east of Reno. It’s known for its accessible wild horse herds, making it a popular destination for those interested in observing these majestic animals in their natural environment. Estimates suggest that several thousand horses may roam the area. 

The management of the Virginia Range horses is somewhat unique due to their location on state and private land. The Nevada Department of Agriculture coordinates with local advocacy groups and nonprofits for management efforts, which include fertility control programs to maintain a healthy and sustainable horse population.

There are several accessible areas within the Virginia Range where sightings are common. Popular spots include areas around Reno, Fernley, and Virginia City. Local wild horse advocacy groups often organize tours and guide where and how to safely observe the horses.

14. Spring Creek Basin, Colorado

  • Wild Horse Population: Known for its striking landscapes and a healthy population of wild horses.
  • Viewing Tips: Access is relatively easy, and the horses can often be seen grazing in open areas.

Spring Creek Basin, located in the Disappointment Valley of southwestern Colorado, is home to a lesser-known but vibrant herd of wild horses. This area, managed by the BLM, offers a unique glimpse into the life of wild horses in a relatively secluded environment.

The wild horse herd is smaller than those in more famous locations like the Sand Wash Basin or the Pryor Mountains. The herd size is maintained at around 50 to 80 horses to ensure a sustainable balance with the natural resources available in the basin. The BLM manages the herd with the help of local advocacy groups, implementing measures such as fertility control to maintain this balance.

Spring Creek Basin is remote and less visited compared to other wild horse areas, offering a more intimate and tranquil experience for those who make the journey. Access to the basin is via unpaved roads that can be rough and are best navigated with a high-clearance vehicle. The isolation of the area provides a genuine wild west setting for observing these animals, with minimal human interference.

Visitors are likely to see horses grazing throughout the basin. Since the area is managed for minimal human impact, there are no formal visitor facilities, so visitors should come prepared with all necessary supplies and adhere to Leave No Trace principles.

Wild horses running in water

15. Red Desert, Wyoming

  • Wild Horse Population: The Red Desert is a vast area with several herds of wild horses.
  • Viewing Tips: The desert’s open landscape makes spotting horses easier, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon

The Red Desert in Wyoming is a vast high-altitude desert and sagebrush steppe that spans approximately 9,320 square miles. It’s known for its striking landscapes, which include dunes, buttes, and badlands. Among its most celebrated residents are the wild horses that roam its expanses, making it one of the premier destinations in the United States for viewing wild horses in their natural habitat.

The horses are known for their ruggedness and diverse color patterns, which can include paints, roans, grays, and sorrels. The herds vary in size, with some numbering in the hundreds. The BLM oversees these herds, employing various management techniques to ensure that the horse populations are balanced with the ecosystem’s ability to sustain them.

Viewing opportunities for wild horses in the Red Desert are excellent due to the area’s open landscapes. Visitors can often spot horses from the main roads that traverse the HMAs, such as the Wild Horse Scenic Loop near Rock Springs. However, the remote nature of the Red Desert also means that those wishing to explore more deeply may require a four-wheel-drive vehicle and should be prepared for rugged conditions.

16. Twin Peaks HMA (Herd Management Area), California and Nevada

  • Wild Horse Population: A large area managed by the BLM with diverse terrain and a substantial population of wild horses.
  • Viewing Tips: The rugged landscape can make access challenging, but the scenery is rewarding.

The Twin Peaks Herd Management Area (HMA) straddles the border between California and Nevada, encompassing a vast and rugged landscape characterized by mountain ranges, valleys, and a variety of vegetation types from sagebrush steppe to juniper woodlands. This area is known for its significant population of wild horses, as well as wild burros.

The wild horse and burro populations are among the most visible and accessible in the region. The horses vary in color, including bays, roans, blacks, and paints, reflecting a diverse genetic pool. The herd size is managed by the BLM to ensure that the population remains sustainable and does not exceed the land’s carrying capacity crucial for maintaining the health of the ecosystem.

Viewing wild horses in the Twin Peaks HMA can be a rewarding experience due to the area’s open landscapes and the accessibility of several viewing points along public roads. The best times for sightings are early morning or late evening, especially during the cooler months, when horses are more likely to be active.

For those interested in exploring deeper into the HMA, it’s advisable to use a high-clearance vehicle, as many of the trails and dirt roads can be rough and difficult to navigate. Visitors should also be prepared for the lack of amenities and bring necessary supplies such as water, food, and maps.

pair of wild horses

17. Warm Springs Canyon HMA, Nevada

  • Wild Horse Population: Known for its rugged terrain and hardy horses.
  • Viewing Tips: Visit during cooler months to see the horses more active.

The horse population in Warm Springs Canyon HMA is known for its hardiness, a trait necessary to thrive in the often harsh environmental conditions found in Nevada’s central region, and is managed by the BLM. The horses are generally observed in smaller bands throughout the HMA, grazing or traveling across the expansive landscapes.

Due to the remote nature of the Warm Springs Canyon HMA, access can be challenging. Roads may be rough and only suitable for high clearance or four-wheel drive vehicles. As with other HMAs, the best times to view horses are early in the morning or late in the evening when they are most active due to the cooler temperatures.

Visitors should come prepared with all necessary supplies, including water, food, and a reliable map or GPS, as services are nonexistent in this remote area. The use of binoculars can enhance viewing experiences while maintaining a respectful distance from the horses.

18. Little Owyhee HMA, Nevada

  • Wild Horse Population: One of the largest HMAs with a significant population of wild horses.
  • Viewing Tips: Access can be difficult due to the remote location, but it offers a truly wild experience.

The Little Owyhee Herd Management Area (HMA) is located in northern Nevada, near the border with Oregon. This area is part of a larger region known for its expansive landscapes and significant populations of wild horses.

The wild horse herds in the Little Owyhee HMA are known for their hardiness and ability to adapt to the harsh environmental conditions of the area. The horses exhibit a range of color patterns, reflecting a diverse genetic makeup. Management practices by the BLM ensure that the horse populations are kept within sustainable levels. 

Viewing wild horses in the Little Owyhee HMA can be a rewarding experience, though the area’s remote and rugged nature requires preparation. The best access is typically by four-wheel-drive vehicles due to the rough terrain. 

The horses are often best seen during the early morning or late afternoon hours when they are most active. Visitors are encouraged to use binoculars or long lenses for photography to keep a safe and respectful distance, minimizing stress on the animals and impact on their natural behavior.

19. Sulphur Springs HMA, Utah

  • Wild Horse Population: Known for the unique coloration of its horses, many of which have primitive markings.
  • Viewing Tips: Visit in the spring or fall for the best chance to see active horses.

The Sulphur Springs Herd Management Area (HMA) in Utah is notable for its unique wild horse population, often distinguished by their striking color patterns and Spanish mustang lineage. Located in the western part of Utah, near the Nevada border, this HMA encompasses a diverse landscape that includes desert areas, mountainous terrain, and valleys.

The wild horses are believed to have genetic ties to the old Spanish breeds, a heritage that is evident in their physical traits and colorings, such as dun markings, grullas, and roans. This genetic heritage makes the Sulphur Springs herd particularly significant from a conservation and historical perspective.

Due to the vast and open nature of the terrain, viewing the wild horses can be quite accessible, but it also requires preparation due to the area’s remoteness. Visitors typically use four-wheel-drive vehicles to navigate the unpaved roads. The best times to observe these horses are during the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning and late afternoon.

Wrapping Up Your Wild Horse Adventure

Witnessing wild horses in their natural habitat is more than just a visual experience; it’s a profound connection to America’s wild and untamed spirit. The United States offers a remarkable variety of locations where you can observe wild horses thriving in their natural habitats, each area presenting its unique landscape and history.

As you explore these incredible locations, remember to respect the horses and their environments. Observing from a distance, following local guidelines, and preserving the natural beauty of these areas ensure that future generations can also enjoy the wonder of wild horses.

Embarking on a journey to see wild horses is a reminder of the beauty and resilience of nature. It’s an adventure that leaves you with a deeper appreciation for the wild places that still exist and the magnificent animals that inhabit them. So pack your binoculars, grab your camera, and set out on a trip that will not only fill your soul with wonder but also create memories that will last a lifetime. Happy trails!

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