Riding the switchbacks to Bierstadt Lake has to be one of my favorite trails. Our park pass on this crisp morning required us to be in the park by 7 AM! That meant getting up at 5 AM, after riding 11 miles the day before. There was no ranger checking passes at the usual entrance gate. Because the Bear Lake Corridor is THE spot to go, the rangers check your pass on Bear Lake Road.
While driving Bear Lake Road towards our parking spot, we spotted this finger of fire damage on the mountainside.
I have written about this trail before. We rode it last summer, and I rode it several times during the summers of ’13 and ’14. When I rode it 7 years ago, I parked at the livery adjacent to Sprague Lake and wound my way to the Bierstadt trailhead from there. That is no longer an option. Also in years past, we were able to park horse trailers at the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot. The rangers simply laugh at you now if you show up there with a horse trailer. All larger vehicles must park at the Park and Ride.
However, there are a few holes in the planning. There is a trail that leaves from the Park and Ride that takes you to the Bierstadt trailhead. The trouble is, it isn’t approved for horses. However, there is no other way to get to the trailhead without either bushwhacking or riding on Bear Lake Road, neither of which are good options. Because we went ahead and rode this trail, I can attest to the fact that it is horse-friendly if not horse-legal. It is only a mile or two that it isn’t technically a stock trail. Ironically, this is the only segment of our ride where we didn’t encounter any hikers!
After following this clandestine route, you reach the Bierstadt trailhead. There is a pit toilet there, and busses dropping off hikers who parked where we did, at the Park and Ride. While I was visiting the potty, Alan and the horses had a (thankfully) uneventful encounter with an elk mama. It is calving season, and these mamas can be fierce!
Once on the trail, you immediately start up the switchbacks. It was still early in the morning… earlier than I have ever been on this trail.
We encountered a little bit of snow around Bierstadt Lake. There is a hitching post available, allowing equestrians to walk the brief distance to the lake. Hikers can walk all the way around the lake. Horses are not allowed past the hitching rail.
After leaving Bierstadt, we wound our way on the Flattop Mountain trail towards Bear Lake. From there, you follow the signs to Glacier Gorge, and then Sprague Lake. It is near Sprague Lake that you pick up the trail not labeled for horses.
As we had done in the past, we followed the stock trail that goes north of the Bear Lake parking lot. Unfortunately, it was impassable. The rangers told us that the late snow melt has hampered their ability to clean up the trails. We were forced to backtrack and ride towards the heavily populated human trailhead. A ranger unhooked a rope and allowed us to mingle with the innumerable hikers as we headed towards Glacier Gorge.
We did encounter a fair amount of snow after leaving Bierstadt Lake. As I have mentioned in the past, Sadie’s approach to any kind of challenge or obstacle is to plow through as fast as possible. Thinking about it is not part of her plan. Kadeen, on the other hand, is a thinking guy. He wants to know exactly where to put his feet. Consequently, snow presents a real problem for him.
There were several areas where the snow was deep enough that he was totally not interested in crossing it. His goal becomes, “No feet shall touch the ground at all!” Nevertheless, we survived…
Our total distance on this day was 10 miles, although about 1.5 miles was backtracking and figuring things out. This ride was in mid-June, and all the snow had melted within a week of this ride.
New tags arriving SOON!
Our next-generation tags are on schedule to be in our hands by the end of July! We will begin taking advanced orders on July 15th. All pre-orders will receive 20% off any number of new tags. Our previous version tags remain on sale at 50% off. These new tags are perfect for both horse and rider safety! Are you and your horse protected in the event of an emergency?