Know Before You Go:
- Trailhead: Jackson County Road 41 (8.5 miles from the entrance of State Forest State Park)
- Length: ~5.5 miles one way from North Fork Canadian Yurt
- Closest Town: Walden
- Green Horse Friendly: No
- Senior Horse Friendly: Yes, depending on fitness
- Barefoot Friendly: No
- Beer Friendly: Yes (though there are times you’ll wish you had a cup holder)
- Firearm Friendly: Yes
- Dog Friendly: Yes (summer)
- Obstacles: Gates, water, bridges, rocks, narrow trails, wildlife, dogs, hikers, bikers, livestock, hunters (depending on the season)
- Parking: Circle drive, designated trailer parking (~6 spots)
The Nitty Gritty:
This ride took place a bit before the creation of Backcountry Horseman so forgive me that there’s not more exact mileage and notes!
August 2013: We, on a mid-week whim way back in 2013, decided to take a camping trip with the horses. Where to go? Well, we decided to make the trek across the divide through Cameron Pass to the severely underutilized State Forest State Park. This park is part of the Colorado State Park system and located just outside of the sprawling metropolis of Walden, CO. The drive itself is pretty darn awesome. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll head up the Poudre Canyon via CO Highway 14. Though there are several places to visit and get some grub on the way up the canyon, there are no gas stations to speak of so top off the tank prior to hitting the canyon.
This place is one of the few public places in Colorado that offers yurts and huts for its visitors to stay in. The yurts are subcontracted through a company called Never Summer Nordic and they handle all the reservations. They recently went through a change of ownership but when we went, horses were allowed at one yurt – the North Fork Canadian. Dogs are allowed at the yurts only during the summer months. In the winter, the snow around the yurt is utilized for water since the river is frozen and they do their best to limit the “yellow snow” element. There is a buck and rail fence surrounding the yurt with a gate and its about 100 yards from the North Fork Canadian River making for more than reasonable horse accomodations. The yurt itself is a little over a mile from the parking area so packing in supplies is totally doable if you’re staying a few days. There are horse pens and camping areas at the trailhead if you’d rather stay there (cheaper) and those reservations are through the Colorado State Parks website. The yurt is essentially a dry cabin. There are basic amenities like a wood stove (even in August, we were VERY glad we had this), pots, pans, utensils, bunk beds, wood and a small propane cooking stove. For you ladies who are like me, you don’t mind going in the woods but if you don’t have to, so much the better. Well, have no fear, there’s an outhouse (and a fairly nice one at that)!
There are several trails you can access from the yurt but we chose to head to Kelly Lake. If I remember correctly, it was about 5.5 miles one-way from the yurt and had an elevation gain of about 2000 feet. There are amazing aspen groves along the way, plenty of water and, when we went, the wildflowers were in no short supply. There was one half mile stretch of some very sketchy rock scrambling where we dismounted and led the horses (ours did fine but likely not green horse friendly). The lake itself is above treeline and in a bit of a craggy area but is quite picturesque. We saw multiple moose on this ride so be prepared! Also, be prepared for rain as our entire ride back to the yurt was spent in a deluge.
This was a fairly short visit for us so we didn’t get the chance to explore the other, numerous trails around the yurt. I have yet to find a good map that focus solely on the State Forest State Park trails but most of the commercially available maps of the area have both the trails within the park and the yurts well documented. I would suggest having one of those handy as the trails, in general, weren’t terribly well marked and there were many spur trails (likely from the free range cattle). We highly recommend this combo though as it makes for a great, animal friendly weekend adventure.