Although we spend our summers in one of the most beautiful places in the country, we haven’t ridden as much as we’d like lately. Partly that is because of travel. I just completed 6 posts about our amazing rafting trip down the Grand Canyon. Check them out if that is on your bucket list! Recently, we managed to get back on the horses…
We decided we would ride to Bluebird Lake, a destination we hadn’t tried in the past. Bluebird Lake is located in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Wild Basin is southeast of Estes Park. It is one of the areas of the park that only requires an entrance pass between 9 AM and 3 PM. If you arrive before or after those times, you don’t need a pass.
Researching our next ride
I use both the AllTrails app and COTREX to decide what trails are suitable for equine traffic. Honestly, if you plan to use any trails in Colorado you should use COTREX. I just learned about it this summer! You can specify hiking, horseback riding, biking, snowshoeing, and several other activities. According to the ranger that told me about it initially, COTREX is more up-to-date for Colorado than AllTrails would be.
Unfortunately, COTREX doesn’t have much in the way of personal reviews. I rely on AllTrails to read the reviews. However, hikers don’t leave reviews that describe the trails in terms of riding a horse on them. I do the best research that I can and off we go…
Heading to Bluebird Lake
We had ridden the majority of the trail to Bluebird when we rode last summer to Ouzel Lake. Ouzel Lake is one of my two favorite destinations in RMNP. (The other one is Bierstadt Lake.) About a half-mile from Ouzel Lake, the trail splits and heads to Bluebird Lake. The second lake is 1.4 miles farther after the split.
As we turned right and headed towards Bluebird Lake, the trail immediately became more technical. The Rocky Mountains were not given that name by accident! All of the trails that we ride here are rocky, but some are worse than others. The trail that led to Bluebird immediately narrowed and was essentially one rocky obstacle after another.
I was riding Sadie, and she reacted immediately to the increased difficulty of the trail. There were places that we needed to traverse a narrow space between large boulders, while making a 90-degree turn, and going up a steep incline.
We made it about a half-mile to just north of Ouzel Lake, and we could see the lake on our left. It was at that point that we encountered a rock slide. Large boulders covered the trail for perhaps 30 feet. It would not be terribly problematic for a hiker to traverse those boulders. However, I had no interest in risking breaking a horse’s leg if it happened to fall between the rocks. That was the end of our attempt to reach Bluebird Lake.
Kadeen and Sadie were more than happy to turn around and head in the “right” direction! Those Arabians are smart. After we travel about 6-7 miles, they start ruminating about the fact that they have that same distance to cover to get back to that trailer!
Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls are great “consolation” prizes
Even though we didn’t make it all the way to our intended destination, it was still an absolutely incredible ride. The trail to Ouzel Lake first passes Upper and Lower Copeland Falls, and the Calypso Cascades. Check out my blog from last year about Ouzel Lake and watch the video that is a compilation of the beautiful waterfalls and wooden bridges that you will encounter. Here is a brief sample of what I mean…
The trail to Ouzel Lake is not wide, flat dirt, but it isn’t terribly technical either. The elevation gain is slightly over 1600 feet. It is a fairly popular trail, so you can expect to encounter a constant flow of hikers. After the initial climb, there is a fairly flat area through aspen and pine groves that provides a gorgeous view of the mountains.
As we exited the trail at the end of our 12.6 mile ride, there were a couple of rangers at the trailhead. We mentioned the trail we planned to ride next, and one of the rangers had an interesting response:
I have done 3 rescue operations on that trail, and all of them involved people who got into trouble with horses!
Next week, I will tell you about that trail and why the ranger said what he did. It was incredibly technical while also including a steep incline. We didn’t want to come down the same way we went up, so we came down by way of Calypso Cascades. It is never a bad choice to experience the beauty of the waterfalls.
Where to park and how to get there
As mentioned previously, these trails are located in the Wild Basin area of RMNP. This portion of the park is accessed off of Highway 7 near the community of Allenspark. There is a horse trailer parking area about a mile away from the hiking trailhead for Ouzel Lake and Calypso Cascades. An access trail follows the road, providing safe passage for horseback riders as well as hikers that are forced to park in outlying parking areas. Over the several times that we have ridden these trails, we have only seen one other horseback riding group and that was the day we tried to ride to Bluebird. There are very few people who trailer private horses into the park.
At the official trailhead for Ouzel Lake and other trails, there is a ranger station and a pit toilet. It is a busy parking area and the lot is full well before 9 AM. There are picnic tables available at the trailhead.
Alan and I are very aware of the fact that we are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to regularly ride in Rocky Mountain National Park. I hope you enjoy the trails vicariously through my blogs! See you next week when I describe our crazy ascent to Finch Lake!