Five years ago, when I lived in Estes for two summers, I rode many different trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. One of my riding buddies was the co-owner of the liveries, and she knew all the trails! My clear favorite at that time was the Bierstadt Lake trail to Bear Lake and back around to Sprague Lake. The feature photo was taken of me on Kadeen 5 years ago. At that time, I parked at the livery located by Sprague Lake and rode out from there.
Although Alan and I have lived here since mid-May, we just recently made it into the park to ride. Part of the hold-up was the fact that reservations are required to enter the park. (Apparently that is in theory only… more info to come on that!) They are operating at 60% capacity, to facilitate social distancing. Part of the problem was a trailer in the shop. Lastly, we have spent a great deal of time working on our new home. But finally, I had a chance to take Alan on my favorite trail!
Bierstadt Lake Switchbacks
The trail up to Bierstadt Lake winds through switchbacks that take you higher and higher. The views are breathtaking. Five years ago, my young trainer, her parents, and her friend came to spend a few days with me. Erin (the trainer) brought a 2-year-old mare! Brandi, her friend, rode a 3-year-old. I told them about this trail, and I was very clear…
The trail is rocky but straightforward except for the 15 minutes of switchbacks that might be a bit unnerving the first time. The trail is 12-18 inches wide and there are drop-offs!
They seemed to understand me… That is until we got to the switchbacks and they were freaking out! I said, “What part of ’15 minutes of switchbacks’ did you not understand?!” At one point, Erin’s mare saw horses above her on the switchback and decided she was supposed to be up there… so she just climbed the cliff!
In addition to the switchbacks, there are some awesome bridges over loud, rushing water. Often, a few hikers lined up on the rail add to the thrill of crossing wooden bridges.
Like many (or all) lakes in RMNP, Bierstadt is beautiful.
After getting through the switchbacks, you ride through beautiful woods. You continue to climb intermittently. My usual route is to take the trail to Bear Lake, and then on to Sprague Lake. The trail is rocky, and there are many places where there are “rock steps.” The horses do great going up those, but going down is a bit more challenging.
Our ride totaled 10 miles. The weather could not have been more perfect.
RMNP and Social Distancing
We had three minor glitches in our RMNP ride. The first was where to park. It is kind of a weird deal… You must have reservations to enter the park. You are given a 2-hour window. Our window was 6-8 AM. Along the way, signs tell you that you may not enter the park before your 6 AM time slot.
We arrived at the Bear Lake lot at 7:25 AM. Five years ago, that was sufficient to snag a spot large enough to accommodate truck and trailer. However, that day the lot was completely full at that time. The rangers looked at us as if we were crazy to think we could park there! Apparently, the lot is full before 6 AM. I guess that means the gates are open and many folks ignore the entire reservation process. I am assuming if they enter the park before 6 AM, they are not counted in the quota.
We were rerouted to the Park and Ride spot, which was fine. There was plenty of room for us there. We found the trail to Bierstadt heading out of the parking lot. However, I didn’t know how to navigate on horseback from Sprague Lake (where I was accustomed to parking) back to the Park and Ride spot. I am sure there is a trail, but alas, I didn’t know where it was! No problem though… we just rode along the road, up in the trees above the road. It was only about 10 minutes of bushwhacking. My previous track on my GPS is hard to read in the sunlight and without glasses!
The third minor snafu was a wrong turn on the trail. It sort of seemed right, only when we ended up where we shouldn’t be, I realized why. I made the same mistake when riding with Erin and her family. It was a minor retracing of our steps.
Two days before our RMNP ride, we took the horses to Commanche Peak wilderness, a “no reservations required” location. We rode the North Fork Big Thompson River trail. Sadie is an awesome trail horse, but Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore! She was a bit overwhelmed with the climbing, the rocks, the river, and the bridges. Very early on in our ride, Alan and I swapped horses. I knew Kadeen would take great care of him, and I would be more equipped to get some tougher trail miles on Sadie. When she’s distressed, her head is in constant motion. She rocked and rolled for most of the ride.
At one point, she opted out of a bridge and we found ourselves on some pretty rough ground. Another time, she opted out of the mud and nearly climbed on Kadeen’s back. Never a dull moment!
For the Bierstadt ride, we just planned on me riding her. She did so much better than our first ride. For a while, she was the lead horse. We plan to do another of my favorite rides, Lion Gulch to Homestead Meadows, with me riding her yet again. Assuming she does as well as she did at Bierstadt, I will go back to Kadeen and Alan will ride Sadie.
We have a lesson this week with Harrison Burnett, and I will be working on half-halts. More to come about that! Also, watch for a Sizzling Summer Special featuring FREE SHIPPING on ID MyHorse Emergency Medical and Identification Tags!
Enjoy the photos of God’s beautiful mountains!