TORREY, Wayne County — Though most wouldn’t expect to spot a llama outside the South American countryside, Utahns may be seeing a bit more of these gentle creatures in the coming months.
Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas is an outfitting service headquartered in Idaho Falls that offers visitors the opportunity to hike through backcountry trails alongside a pack llama. Though headquartered in Idaho, the company also operates in Jackson Hole and Pinedale, Wyoming; Helena, Montana, near Yellowstone and recently expanded to Torrey, Utah, near Capitol Reef National Park.
Founded by Beau and Kirsten Baty in 2011, Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas has grown each year by more than 125 percent, according to Beau Baty, and began its first season in Utah at the beginning of April.
“My wife and I grew the business from hard work and some good luck,” he said. “It has been very challenging, and many friends and family doubted us and our dream. We never gave up and still have much to learn and accomplish, but as a token of our efforts, we now have the largest pack llama ranch and business in North America.”
Visitors to Capitol Reef National Park can book guided hikes online or outside Capitol Reef Resort in Torrey and can choose what they want their hike to look like. Guides offer 1-2 hour hikes for those who want the experience but don’t have all day, as well as half-day hikes and full-day hikes (both complete with a lunch spread). Those who want to dive into the backcountry can take overnight hikes while letting their llamas do the heavy lifting.
According to trail guide Dennis L. Duenas, llamas can carry 25 to 35 percent of their body weight, unlike donkeys or horses that can only carry around 20 percent. Llamas tend to need less food than other livestock and llama excrement contains nutrients that fertilize the soil, making llamas extremely efficient on the trail.
“The llama also has a split toe and it’s kind of padded like a dog, so it’s really light on the environment,” Duenas said. “When we go on trek and we get into these fragile environments, all of our public land agencies … really are advocates for us using llamas as pack animals because they tread lightly like a footprint or a dog.”
Though they have a light and agile foot, the llamas carry nearly 45 pounds on each side, and hikers can unburden their back by dropping their water and food into one of the packs.
“As people get older, they don’t want to carry heavy backpacks,” Duenas said. “We can get farther into the backcountry, we can go harder and longer and really feel supported with the llamas, whether they’re carrying extra gear, extra food or extra water.”
On longer hikes, the trail guides provide homemade, plant-based food (a lunch spread for day hikes and multiple meals for overnight ones) and cater to any guest’s dietary needs. The guides at Capitol Reef also hope one day to be able to grow all their own food and be completely self-sufficient.
“We cook all of our own food and we kind of do a custom catered lunch,” said Rusty Carpenter, a tour guide in Capitol Reef. “We shop locally with fresh ingredients, and we try and focus a lot on plant-based diets, salads, meat on the side.”
Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas gave KSL a full-day tour through Capitol Reef National Park while the guides gave a passionate “naturalist interpretation of the landscape” and expounded on the geology and biology of the natural landscape.
“We try to provide an all-inclusive experience. Educational and fun,” Carpenter said.
The guides tailor the tours to the interest and ability level of the hikers and have scoped out several different trails so the landscape never gets dull. Kids are also welcome on the hikes and can ride the llamas (depending on their size), though adults are not allowed to ride the animal — a common misconception, the guides said.
“Llamas are just really calm, special animals,” Carpenter said. “They’re strong and sure-footed, but their calm demeanor really allows a low-stress trail experience. … I think a lot of people think they’re going to get spit on and that’s just not really what happens.”