Trail Report: Red Mountain Open Space

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Red Mountain
  • Website: Red Mountain Open Space
  • Trail Map: Red Mountain Open Space/Soapstone Prairie
  • Length: 11.8 (our route, round-trip)
  • Closest Town: Wellington
  • Green Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Beer Friendly: Debatable…3.2% only (Regulations)
  • Firearm Friendly: No (Regulations)
  • Dog Friendly: No, this is a dog free open space (Regulations)
  • Obstacles: Gates (5 on our route), water, switchbacks, wildlife, bikers and hikers
  • Parking: Separate lot for horse trailers with 7 designated spaces
  • Water: None at trailhead, several stock tanks along the way and seasonal creek

The Nitty Gritty:

An unseasonably warm March day allowed for a chance to ride the trails at Red Mountain Open Space with a few good friends.  This ride had been on my radar for quite a while but during the prime riding months my attention is generally pointed toward the remote mountains.  Boy, am I glad we made it here!  This is a prime, start of season, conditioning ride with varying terrain and fantastic views.  Though its managed by Larimer County Open Space, it is far enough away from major hubs that use is sparse, making for a quiet day on the trail.  The trailhead is well marked along the way in, has bathrooms, picnic areas and there are trail maps available.  There are two separate parking areas – one for cars and one for horse trailers with seven designated (and very large) parking spaces.  No water was available at the trailhead that we could find, though there were several stock tanks and seasonal streams along the way.

Our route was a large loop around the whole open space area which left from a gate on the north end of the horse trailer lot along the Rising Sun Trail.  This trail merges with the Sinking Sun Trail which then takes you to a dry creek bed called the Big Hole Wash Trail.  While there are metal trail markers at most junctions directing you to the trail of your choice and maps at regular intervals along the way, your route once in the “wash” trails (all dry or mostly dry creek beds) are marked by encased rock columns (basically large cairns).  Keep your eye out for these as they will be your main directional beacons.  We turned Northeast once in the Big Hole Wash and followed this to the next junction at the Salt Lick Trail.  If you were on a bit of a time crunch or wanted to make your ride a bit shorter, you could follow the Salt Lick Trail to cut a bit off your loop, though we opted to stay on the Big Wash Trail and head to the Cheyenne Rim Trail.  This part of the Big Wash Trail turns into a narrow two-track road leading to a gate which denotes the transition to the Cheyenne Rim Trail.  From here, the trail begins to climb along the ridge, offering some amazing views and photo opportunities of the Mummy and Never Summer Ranges.  There are several more gates once you get to the top of the ridge and you’ll pass through some seasonal cattle leases as you cross over into Wyoming.  As you head back down the Cheyenne Rim Trail, you’ll enter a set of narrow switchbacks which can get a bit hairy if heights aren’t your thing.  The descent continues into a breathtaking red stone canyon where the trail meets the Ruby Wash Trail and heads South.  This trail weaves its way through a steep walled canyon that will make you think you’ve entered a 1950s western movie and John Wayne will surely be right around the corner.  The first junction you’ll come to once on the Ruby Wash Trail is the K-Lynn Cameron Trail which heads to the west and would make a nice additional loop to your ride if you had the time.  We did not so we kept moving south to meet up with the Big Hole Wash Trail again which heads to the East.  At this junction, there was a fair bit of water present in the washes and would make for some excellent water crossing practice if your horse was in need.  A little under a mile along the Big Hole Wash Trail and you’ll come to the junction of the Sinking Sun Trail on your right hand side which will take you up a small hill and head back south toward the parking areas.  The Rising Sun Trail (the one you started on) will split off to the left and this can be followed back to the trailer parking lot.  We opted to stay on the Sinking Sun Trail to the car parking lot since we needed a pit stop.

All in all, this trail exceeded my expectations.  You truly get a little bit of everything; rolling hills, beautiful vistas and Southwestern canyons.  A good portion of this trail is spent in sandy, dry creek bottoms and along flat, non-rocky terrain that allows plenty of opportunities for long trotting and loping (even a little bit of 4th gear if you’re into it).  Because of this, I’ve rated it as a barefoot friendly trail though there are some rocky areas that may worry the tender-footed horse owner.  Our route was just under 12 miles and we only passed 2 bikers and a handful of hikers along the way.  There was one other small group of riders on the trail but our paths never crossed once leaving the parking lot.  Keep in mind this trail is on the far, Northern border of Colorado and Wyoming and you spend a good deal of time exposed.  Wind is inevitable…bring layers.  This is an Open Space area and, therefore, has strict regulations on firearms and alcohol (among other things) so I encourage you to read the regulations for more info.  There are several trails at Red Mountain that are only open to hikers so take care when reading your map to make sure you don’t end up on a restricted trail.  The Red Mountain trails link into the Soapstone Prairie trails which is where the bison were released last fall.  You could easily make this into an all day ride and ride both areas.

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