On the coasts and small islands of North Carolina , wild horses still roam. The Outer Banks is home to several herds that are descended from Spanish mustangs brought over to North America by the conquistadors about 500 years ago. Previously numbering in the thousands, the size of these herds has dwindled as erosion and human development have reduced their grazing land.
East of Reno, Nevada
Nevada is not only a great place to catch a show and put it all on red—it’s also home to nearly half of all the wild horses in North America. East of Reno, a vast network of hiking trails will likely bring you up close to some of these animals, especially if you find one of their customary watering holes. The Virginia Range herd is the largest in this area, a herd that has grown and flourished partly due to the campaigning of “Wild Horse Annie,” an early activist for the protection of wild American horses.
Assateague Island, Virginia and Maryland
Two herds of wild horses wander the shores of Assateague Island—the Maryland herd, which is managed by the local National Park Service, and the Virginia herd, which is managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. If you’re planning a trip to the area in the summer, make a point to see the annual Chincoteague Island pony swim in late July, when the herd is guided to swim across the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island, thus keeping the herd at a reasonable size to protect the local ecosystem.
The Pryor Mountains, Montana and Wyoming
Montana and Wyoming are excellent places to appreciate the wide open spaces and natural beauty of North America , including that of some unique wild horses. These horses live mostly in the Pryor Mountains, a range that extends from Billings, Montana, in the north to Lovell, Wyoming, in the south. The mustangs that live in the mountains—mostly in the Bighorn Canyon—have evolved in isolation so much that they comprise their own genetically unique sub-strain, characterized by their small size and zebra-like stripes on their legs. To have the best chances of seeing the horses on their over 38,000 acre refuge, stop in at the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center in Lowell, Wyoming, where you can find out the most recent reported location of the herd.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
It can be hard to find the herd of stallions that roam the Theodore Roosevelt National Park , as there’s 70,467 acres for them to hide in. Your best bet is to find a high lookout point in the park—like Painted Canyon Overlook or Buck Hill—to get a better line of sight. Be sure to take a leisurely scenic drive through the Badlands to appreciate the rugged, unique beauty of this particular national park.
Sable Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
Sable Island became an official Canadian National Park in 2013, in part to protect the local wild horses and their ecosystem. It’s thought that these mustangs are descendants of ones brought to the country by the Acadians in the mid-18th century. Though this coastal island is somewhat difficult to get to (there’s no bridge—a boat or plane is your only way to get there), its pristine beaches and relatively untouched natural beauty make the trip worth it.