I'm writing a novel that takes place in a very sparsely settled coastal PNW, and the MCs have two horses that they use for transportation and as their carrier animals (Bedrolls, tent, some rations). Given the ridiculous verticality of the region and the artistic alteration that barely any beaten paths exist, how far would they reasonably be able to ride within a day, not at a break neck pace either? What would be the best kind of horse for this area? Is it logical that two cops would effectively be able to carry out their duties on horseback in such an environment?

To the question regarding the compliance of this post with the World Building guidelines, this directly relates to the storytelling points of the world, notably characters moving through the world and whether such a system would be feasible and believable to an audience.

As I designed this interpretation of the PNW to be much more untamed than our version, I was curious as to the plausibility of my characters reliably covering distances and what type of creatures could be best suited for the job.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there any reason why they use horses instead of mules? Mules are much better pack animals in rough mountainous terrain; everybody who could get mules used them instead of horses. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 26, 2021 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ Is this question even related to worldbuilding? It looks to be about horseback riding in the Pacific Northwest which can be answered outside of any fictional context. I'm honestly not sure if it's on topic or not. $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2021 at 1:15
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    $\begingroup$ Please contact support to get your multiple accounts amalgamated. More than one account is frowned upon. (BTW, I agree with your edit.). $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2021 at 2:44
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    $\begingroup$ @AustinWright The world record for horses is about 150 miles a day. I think 35 miles a day is the most common, but it seems 50 miles was expected of cavalry on a hard march (though they would have pack and riding horses). Speed over rough terrain is more complex, so a lack of trails could make it 20 miles per day, especially if they have to keep making detours which detract from their progress. $\endgroup$
    – Johnny
    Jan 27, 2021 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @AustinWright, in the absence of human activity, the natural terrain of the Pacific Northwest is dense forest with dense undergrowth. Sure, you might have a saddled horse along as a symbol of your position, but outside of settlements, you're mostly going to be leading the horse, not riding it. (That changes once you get east of the Cascades. The steppe of the Columbia Basin, for example, is wonderful terrain for a mounted patrol.) $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jan 28, 2021 at 21:22

3 Answers 3


It all depends on how rough the terrain is and the kind of weather they are having.
I would suggest to refer to the Lewis and Clark journals. Or Stephen Ambrose Undaunted Courage (also available online).
After meeting with the Shoshones they managed to have horses and followed a native through the Rockies using the Lolo trail. This route was well known to the local tribes who used it to move from the Pacific side across the Great Divide into the great plains to hunt.

The miles covered in a day change a lot depending both on the terrain and the weather. Lewis and Clark had to march in challenging conditions on their way West and lost the track at times. Thus progress was slow. When coming back they had different guides and the passage was far smoother (but they had to wait for the snow to melt so the pass would be open).

On Ambrose's book is fairly easy to track their progress. He loved and knew the trail well. As the expedition met all kinds of terrain and weather you will no doubt find the proper reference for your case.

Regarding the expedition's crossing using the Lolo trail going Eastward Ambrose writes:

Just before sunset, the party rode into Traveler’s Rest. They had covered 156 miles in six days.
The previous fall [the Westward march], the expedition had been slowed by Old Toby’s losing the way and by the fallen timber, and it had taken eleven days to cover the distance.

Short answer: in the best scenario (no snow, grass available for the horses, clear track without obstructions, no steep climbs, etc.) about 30 miles.

Regarding the horses: the Nez Percé had the Appaloosa. Lewis highly praised them. Appaloosa horse. The horses given by the Shoshones were of inferior quality.

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    $\begingroup$ The Rockies are much different than the Pacific Northwest. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Jan 27, 2021 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ @DuncanDrake Thank you for a thorough response, honest. $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2021 at 5:20

Late response, but I do live in California, so this piqued my interest.

The rule of thumb for "regular" horseback riding is "20-30 miles a day," about the same or a little bit farther than a human's walking pace. This would NOT be modern endurance-riding or general "emergency riding," where you go as long/fast as possible, and you and your horse may or may not die by nightfall. Neither would these be messengers with networks of fresh horses. I assume that your characters are setting up camp, grooming their horses in the mornings and evenings, taking breaks in the middle of the day to avoid the worst heat, and other daily chores.

Going on California travel-times in real life, "Visit California" mentions that the Spanish missions are 30 miles apart. Since this is the untamed Pacific Northwest, though, your characters could easily be stuck at 15-20 miles a day because the rainforest would mean paths are harder (lots of mud or too many trees because again, RAINFOREST; plus, North California seems to like their steep hills and mountains). Even if they're not, the paths may well be more roundabout since everyone's trying to AVOID the harsh terrain, and they don't have the population to clear out roads properly.


Figure out how far they could travel by foot, and reduce that to half. Possibly to less than half.

In really rough terrain, with no trails, horses do not give benefit of faster travel than humans on foot, they only provide the means to carry greater weight, while greatly reducing the pathways that can be moved over and increasing the water requirements immensely. For example, it is quite practical for a person to carry 3 days of water ration, but not for a horse even with the added weight allowance of a horse.

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    $\begingroup$ In the Pacific Northwest, water is...not a problem. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jan 28, 2021 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ @mark had me laughing pretty hard at that $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2021 at 5:11

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