Hikes With Llamas Offer a Breath of Fresh Air
Hikes With Llamas Offer a Breath of Fresh Air
Hikes With Llamas Offer a Breath of Fresh Air
These social, friendly animals help hikers safely enjoy the great outdoors
By Adam Rosen
Photography by Aaron Dahlstrom
You may not know it (yet), but llamas are having a moment.
While the social camelids have been beloved residents on American farms and homesteads for decades, their popularity has gone mainstream in recent years. Children’s toys, social media, novelty T-shirts—llamas seem to be everywhere.

In April, the trend for all things llama even made headlines in the New York Times, which declared “kitschy catchphrases like ‘Save the drama for your llama,’ ‘No prob-llama,’ ‘Alpaca my bags’ and the holiday-themed ‘Fa la la la llama’” to be “pervasive across fashion.”

topiary garden decoration
A hiker snaps a selfie with P Diddy Peaches the llama.
For Mark English, owner of Llama Caddy, who works in conjunction with English Mountain Llama Treks when doing wilderness therapy, in Brevard, North Carolina, llamas’ current moment in the spotlight couldn’t be more well deserved.

Mark leads llama tours through some of Western North Carolina’s most beautiful scenery. In his view, llamas are ideal hiking partners. For one, they can carry up to 85 pounds of gear. But more important, they’re calm and collected. “They’re cool,” Mark says. “They’re called ‘the silent companion.’ They’re there to cruise along and help you out.”

For Heidi Hayden, a Sapphire, North Carolina, resident who enjoyed a group hike with English Mountain Llama Treks so much that she started volunteering for Mark, llamas are much more than just a quirky fad. “They’re inquisitive, they’re soft, they’re lovable,” she says.

Cub Cadet Advertisement
Cub Cadet Advertisement
Love For Llamas
Mark has been fascinated with llamas since childhood and acquired his first six in 2007. In 2009, Mark left his career in building and maintaining golf courses to become a full-time “llama dude,” helping people enjoy these friendly farm animals through various experiences. In addition to serving as unique hiking companions, members of Mark’s herd have worked as golf caddies, party guests, summer camp visitors, wilderness therapy animals, models, and more.

In just the last two years, Lightening, one of Mark’s 13-year-old llamas, has been the ring bearer at 22 weddings. And in 2019, Lightening became the face of Asheville Brewing Company’s ginger beer, appropriately named Ginger the Llama. There’s also Peaches, aka the king of selfies.

Since founding Llama Caddy, Mark’s llama crew has grown to 16. And with four pregnant females in the bunch, it’s about to get even bigger.

From left to right: Vision, Little D the Rescue Llama, Legend, You-Da-Man, Rockstar, and P Diddy Peaches
Six of Mark’s llamas. From left to right: Vision, Little D the Rescue Llama, Legend, You-Da-Man, Rockstar, and P Diddy Peaches
Socially Distancing Llamas Equals No Drama
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark—like so many other livestock owners who regularly share their animals with the public—has been forced to adjust. Since the spring, he has limited his operations to small group, social distance-safe llama nature walks on the 76-acre grounds of Earthshine Lodge, a rustic lodge and outdoor activity center in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina.

On one of these excursions in late July, Mark took out a group of six women celebrating a 40th birthday. Each participant was issued a llama and given a crash course on wrangling the not-so-fearsome beasts. They were advised to keep their animals in the middle of the trail and away from rhododendron, a plant that’s toxic to them. As for human safety: When you’re holding lead ropes of a llama while walking single file, you can’t help but stay more than 6 feet apart from one another.

Mark and his llamas leading the group
a group of hikers through the Earthshine Lodge property on a rainy day in July
Mark and his llamas lead a group of hikers through the Earthshine Lodge property on a rainy day in July.
Despite some rain, everyone’s spirits remained high as they completed a 1-mile loop through a forest and over a grassy ridge boasting spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Parkway, part of the Appalachian Mountains. The llamas strolled peacefully by each hiker’s side, providing silent, yet comforting, furry companionship.
“This was amazing. A 40th birthday I’ll never forget,” says birthday girl Stacey Quaranta from Raleigh, North Carolina. “For my 41st, I’m going to tell my husband that I want a llama.”
In some ways, Mark is fortunate. Hikes are some of the least risky activities during the COVID-19 era, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to provide safe, fun experiences for people mostly stuck indoors.

“COVID has really created a shift in people’s mindsets, for better for worse, […] causing people to maybe slow down a little bit,” says Earthshine Lodge co-owner Anna Bracco. “I think Mark’s hikes fit in well with that. People get to be one-on-one with the llamas, who are super calming and fun to be with. And when you’re on a hike or outside, you have to socially distance.”

Still, Mark can’t wait to resume his previous gigs, especially wilderness therapy trips. Given current events, though, it’s not clear when Mark and his llamas will return to their regularly scheduled programming.

But whatever the future holds, Mark knows he’ll be in good company. “This is a special bunch,” he says of his llama crew. “They’re my best friends.”

topiary garden decoration
Vision the llama poses for the camera.
Fast Llama Facts
mountains illustration
Natives of South America, llamas have been used as pack animals for millennia.
heart illustration
The typical lifespan of a llama is 20 to 25 years.
llamas illustration
Female llamas are pregnant for 11 ½ months and give birth to a single baby, called a cria.
badge illustration
Llamas can make excellent guard animals to protect small livestock.
question mark illustration
Llamas and alpacas are often confused for one another, but llamas are typically bigger, have coarser fur, and have longer faces, among other differences.
Sources: Modern Farmer, Oregon State University, Mark English
To learn more about Llama Caddy and English Mountain Llama Treks, visit Mark’s website.
About the Writer
Adam Rosen is a writer and book editor in Asheville, North Carolina.

Get in Touch with Out Here

Your ideas and opinions are important to us. If you’d like to recommend a story, submit a recipe, share an event for Here & There, or tell us what you think of the digital magazine, please reach out.

Send us a message
at OutHere@TractorSupply.com

Send mail to:
Out Here magazine
c/o The Motion Agency
325 N. LaSalle Dr., Suite 550
Chicago, IL 60654

Tractor Supply Co.

Download Our App

Google Play
App Store