Trail Riding in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Riding in Rocky Mountain National Park was fantastic. I'd selected a place called Winding River Resort for my base. Winding River is literally on the Colorado River, near its beginning on the Continental Divide. The facilities are some of the best I've ev
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I serve as a director to our local rural electric cooperative. In that capacity, I attend two special conferences each year. Last year, they were both scheduled for June in Colorado, with a lull of more than a week in-between.

Could I mix business with pleasure and go riding in the Rocky Mountains in that interval? I enjoy riding in the West on my horse, Buddy, but I knew that the logistics of attending two conferences while traveling with a horse would be a challenge.

My top concern was finding a short-term boarding facility where Buddy would be safe and receive good care while I attended the conferences. I’d also need a good layover facility while hauling him to Colorado.

Although I’ve never had a bad experience with any of the "horse motels" that I’ve used in my travel, I know others who can’t make such a claim. However, this trip, I was exceedingly lucky!

Here, I’ll tell you about the overnight/short-term facilities I used, then I’ll tell you about riding and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Horse Motels

My layover both on the way to Colorado and on the way home was the Flying H Horse Motel, located just outside of Topeka, Kansas. It’s a fantastic facility!

If you ever need a layover in this part of the country, you must stay at the Flying H. The owner’s principle business is a limestone quarry, so all of his buildings, barn, cabin, and even the stomp shed are built from limestone.

You’ll have a choice of using the barn or using the shed with a run. You’ll also have the opportunity to stay in the cabin, which is what I did.

When I say "cabin," understand that it’s a small limestone house with a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bath. The living room and both bedrooms are equipped with flat-panel TVs, and the cabin has central air-conditioning.

The limestone barn has four-foot wagon-wheel chandeliers in the feedway.

In Colorado Springs (the site of the first conference), I found a place called H2 Stables about 20 miles from the city. Operated by a wonderful retired couple, it’s a clean, very nice facility with a spectacular view of Pike’s Peak.

Since they do long-term boarding, feeding Buddy for three days was no problem. I left Buddy behind and never worried about him for one second.

In fact, while attending the second conference in Denver, I hauled Buddy 60 miles to H2 Stables instead of locating another motel.

River Camping

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Riding in Rocky Mountain National Park was fantastic. I’d selected a place called Winding River Resort for my base. Winding River is literally on the Colorado River, near its beginning on the Continental Divide. The facilities are some of the best I’ve ever experienced.

Each campsite has a two-horse corral. The sites are spacious and not far from the showers and restrooms. The sites are equipped with water and electricity, as well. I stayed at Winding River for eight days. On several evenings, there were
as many as 30 elk grazing behind my campsite.

Winding River also has cabins and lodge rooms.

Mountain Riding

The riding was just as good! Winding River isn’t on park property. However, if you ride out the entrance, turn right, and cross the river, you’ll be at the Sun Valley Trailhead. There are three trails that start at this trailhead. These trails connect with other trails, so it’s easy to combine various rides so that you don’t always ride the same trail each time.

Long Meadow is a great ride, as is Onahu and Tohahutu. I enjoyed them all, but my favorite was the ride to Cascade Falls. This is about a six-hour ride roundtrip from the campground through some gorgeous scenery. If you ride this country, be sure to include Cascade Falls in your itinerary!

Trapped!

Before I bring this story to a conclusion, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a not-so-pleasant part of my trip with you.

You may’ve heard the phrase, "I may know better, I just don’t always do better." I’m the poster boy for this statement! I’ve been riding the western backcountry for five years, and for a flatlander from Indiana, I do pretty well. Or maybe I’ve just been damned lucky.

In the backcountry, there are important rules everyone should follow without exception. Things like having a map and compass. Let people know where you’re headed. And be prepared for the unexpected, because sooner or later, it’ll happen.

Being prepared means have an axe or saw with you. This is the rule that I’ve consistently violated but will never again!

On my second day of riding, I rode to Long Meadow to the Onahu trail. I intended to loop back to the Green Mountain Trailhead, then back to camp. I was above the snow line on a narrow trail when I came to a blow down.

It didn’t look too bad to me. I felt that Buddy, a seasoned trail horse, could step over the tree with little effort. He crossed it, but the effort was more than I’d estimated.

About 300 yards down the trail, I came to another blow down. This one offered no chance to cross, so an about-face was mandatory. However, Buddy wasn’t about to cross the blow down we had crossed a few minutes earlier. No coaxing, spurring, or leading would change his mind. He was just not going to do it again.

The tree was still sitting on its stump. On either side, it was much too steep to ride. I was trapped!

After considering the few options I had, a hiker came along and was willing to help. We managed to get the tree off its stump, but that did little. Unbelievably, another hiker came from the opposite direction. He, too, was willing to help. Two hours after I’d become trapped, I was free and able to ride back to camp.

I now have a small camp axe in a scabbard and a collapsible saw. I made my mistake when I urged Buddy to cross the blow down. He knew better and didn’t want to, but did it because I asked him.

Some of you may be thinking that riding the backcountry alone was also a big mistake, and I would have a hard time arguing with you. I like riding alone, and I probably won’t change that habit.

In conclusion, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to ride some beautiful country. My favorite line comes from Gus McCray in Lonesome Dove, "There’s nothing better than riding a sound mount through new country." I’ve adopted this line as my motto.

If you also believe in this motto, then include Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park in your bucket list of things to do.

For more information on the Flying H Horse Motel, call (785) 862-1942, or visit www.flyinghhorsemotel.com; for more on H2 Stables, call (719) 495-2338, or visit www.h2stables.com; for more on the Winding River Resort, call (970) 627-3215, or visit www.windingriverresort.com. To contact the author, send an e-mail to tiggertivio2001@yahoo.com.

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