On May 1st, I bought RMNP passes for one ride a week during the month of June. Our first scheduled day was June 1st but we didn’t go, as the temperature was in the 40s and new snow would make the trails more challenging. Our second pass rolled around on a day that was a bit more hospitable, so we decided to ride to Hollowell Park.
Horse friendly, sort of…
Apparently, not many people haul horses into the park to ride. Most of the trail use is from the liveries. When I rode in the park nine years ago, I was allowed to park at the Bear Lake parking lot and ride from there. Boy, has that changed. The Bear Lake parking lot is no longer accessible for any oversized vehicle, not to mention that it fills up by 6 or 7 AM!
Passes for entry into RMNP are in 2-hour intervals throughout the day. After you wait in line for 10-15 minutes, you reach the first ranger who checks your pass to confirm that you are entering at the proper time. If you are going to the “Bear Lake Corridor”, you must pass through a second entry point. At that checkpoint, they confirmed with us that we planned to park at the Park & Ride… as that was the only place that we were allowed to park.
If you look at the above image, you will see the Park & Ride where we are required to park. You will also see all of the horse-friendly trails in RMNP in that area. What you won’t see is any green trail that leads from the parking area to access any of the horse trails!
We encountered this problem last year. When we ride to Bierstadt Lake, one of our favorite trails, we take that lower trail to Storm Pass. It says “No horses” but it is not technical for horses at all. No one stopped us either…
This time, we wanted to ride north to Hollowell Park. We decided our best course of action was to ride across Bear Lake Road, through the Glacier Basin campground, and access the trails behind the campground. However, the nice lady ranger manning the station at the entrance to the campground stopped us with the cry of, “We can’t have horses in the campground!”
I jokingly suggested that our horses were not Pegasus!
I showed her my COTREX map, and told her that we had faced this dilemma before. We shared that we had been specifically reminded to park at the Park & Ride. I jokingly suggested that our horses were not Pegasus and we had few options for accessing the trails! She let us pass on through and promised to research this problem and get back to me. As of a week later when I am writing this post, I have not heard from her.
It took very little time to pass through the campground and we experienced no issues doing so. In fact, we brightened the day of a few campers! We found a service road that took us directly to the trail we wanted. It was a beautiful, slightly cool day to enjoy riding in one of the most gorgeous places in the world.
The distance to Hollowell Park was not far so we opted to head over to Moraine Park first. It was in that area that we spotted the elk mama and calf, and not long after that a doe. The elk are calving and they can be spotted all over the national park, in our yard in Drake, and even in downtown Estes Park!
Shortly after we began our ride, we rode through the YMCA Livery area. We were quickly greeted by a wrangler who was intent on making sure our horses did not approach their horses. We expected that and had no interactions whatsoever with their horses or guests. Although I had my COTREX app running, the wrangler provided verbal directions to Hollowell Park from the livery. Although he was trying to be helpful, I think his directions messed me up more than they helped. As it turns out, I was better off following COTREX only…
A wrong turn
We were only a few minutes past the livery when the trail split. Both options were well-defined trails and one had an orange trail marker prominently visible in a tree. The wrangler had mentioned something about “riding along the ridge” so we took the orange trail. We hadn’t gone far when suddenly, Sadie was desperately flailing in super-soft mud. I was busy trying to figure out what was going on, while Alan was watching helplessly…
After 10 seconds of bronc riding that seemed more like 10 minutes, Sadie suddenly stopped struggling. She sunk in the mud up to her chest, listed slightly to the left, and stopped moving. I scrambled off, and had both feet on the ground when I realized I had not unhooked my Hit-Air vest. It wasn’t a problem though, because the bottom of my vest was even with the seat of my saddle and no tension had been applied to the cord.
As soon as I disengaged myself, I moved forward on the trail and signaled for Sadie to get up. She did so with little difficulty. I turned her around and stopped for a moment to contemplate the logistics of getting back over the muddy area. There weren’t many options, so I stayed on her left as best I could and hustled us both back across. She was puffing pretty hard from the exertion and the stress. However, I was super proud of her for the way she handled the entire ordeal. When she realized she was stuck, she simply waited for me to fix the problem!
She was muddy up to her knees and hocks, and had a few scratches on her rear legs, especially the inside right rear. But she suffered no major injuries and was sound and stable for the rest of the ride. We went back to where the trail split and took the correct route.
We continued on to Moraine Park, which is an absolutely beautiful area. We made a small loop at one end of Moraine Park before backtracking a short distance and taking the turn towards Hollowell Park. The trail to Hollowell Park follows Bear Lake Road for most of the distance. I can remember riding that trail years ago, by myself. Kadeen suddenly spooked slightly and I couldn’t figure out what bothered him. Eventually, I realized he spotted a storm drain way below us on Bear Lake Road! He notices absolutely everything that he thinks doesn’t belong in nature.
Hollowell Park is pretty but not as beautiful as Moraine. (To be honest, the feature photo was taken at Moraine Park.) There are a couple of nice picnic areas at Hollowell. The trail to the parking area goes quite a distance west of the parking area before doubling back. At that western end, it connects with the Mill Creek Basin trail. I have ridden that before but I don’t think Alan has… that is one to get on our to-do list.
We stopped at a picnic area for a snack, and then headed 100 yards directly up the hill by the picnic table to intersect with the trail heading back east. We covered 10.7 miles in about 4 hours on a high-50s, low-60s day.
We crossed one wooden bridge over a rushing mountain stream. Many of the trails in the park require crossing multiple bridges. (Check out Ouzal Lake!) The water is often very loud, so the horses must get accustomed to that as well. Join Sadie and me as we cross the bridge…
Alan and I realize we are extremely fortunate to be able to enjoy this beautiful park on a weekly basis. If or when I hear back from park rangers about how to get from the Park & Ride to the trails, I will let you know! Stay tuned for more trail adventures!
A preview of a series to come…
Alan and I just returned from an epic adventure rafting down the Grand Canyon. I will be writing a blog series about our trip… watch for it in a few weeks.