Trail Report: Montgomery Pass

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Zimmerman Lake (parking), Montgomery Pass (trailhead)
  • Website: Montgomery Pass
  • Trail Map: State Forest State Park
  • Additional Info: Poudre Wilderness Volunteers
  • Length: 3.6 (round-trip)
  • Closest Town: Rustic
  • Green Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Beer Friendly: Yes
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes
  • Dog Friendly: Yes
  • Obstacles: Wildlife, bikers, hikers and small water crossings
  • Parking: Large semi-circle lot at Zimmerman Lake trailhead, lightly used and plenty of horse trailer parking
  • Water: Parking lot is next to Joe Wright Reservoir and Joe Wright Creek, several small stream crossings along trail

The Nitty Gritty:

To get to the Montgomery Pass Trailhead, you’ll head west on highway 14 for about 57 miles past Ted’s Place to the Zimmerman Lake parking area which will be on your left.  The paved parking area just past Joe Wright Reservoir (also on your left) has vault bathrooms available and ample room for cars though use is fairly light throughout the year.   The actual Montgomery Pass trailhead is across the road from the parking area and is pretty darn hard to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  For reference, from the bathrooms, look across highway 14 and slightly east and you’ll see a small wooden sign denoting the trailhead.

This trail is absolutely spectacular for wildflowers.  This time of year, the asters were in full swing along with the columbine, balsamroot and, my favorite, Indian paintbrush.  Immediately past the trailhead sign, you find yourself in a dense pine forest surrounded by a blanket of wildflowers that extends almost the entire trip to treeline.  The sound of Joe Wright Creek flowing down the mountain is faint in the background until you see it come into view about ¼ mile up the trail.  It’s a world fit for Disney.

The trail itself is a great one for beginners and, I imagine, a fantastic horse and snowshoe or cross country ski trail in the winter.  The wide, two-track trail is actually an old Jeep trail left over from the numerous mining camps in the area way back when.  In fact, there are actually several old mine cavings and cabin reminisces when you reach treeline.  In general, the trail is easy to navigate to treeline with minimal toe-stubbing or ankle-rolling probability.

The trail travels through the thick, stately pines for about 1 ¾ mile until you reach a fork.  A wooden sign will point you in the direction of the “Bowls” or the “Pass” and from there it’s up to you to make your decision.  We chose the bowls but I’m definitely heading back to hit the pass.

The ¼ mile to the bowls is not for the faint of heart.  From the sign at the fork, the trail hits an almost 90 degree angle and scrambling a bit is to be expected.  The trail fades out a bit toward the top of the initial hill but there are fairly well-marked cairns that mark the path of least resistance.

Then, the best thing happens.  The ground levels and you find yourself in a spectacular alpine meadow right on the edge of treeline and you half expect Julie Andrews to be running over the hill belting out a tune.  There’s no trail after this so you’re on your own to explore how you wish and explore we did!  We checked out a few old mine cavings, what was left of an old cabin, a creek down the hill a ways and the plethora of moose tracks.  There was a gnarly set of pines grouped together on the south side of the meadow that had obviously been shaped by the seasonal snowpack.

We found a lovely spot to eat lunch while looking out at the Nokhu Crags in the distance and the dogs ran around happily.  Though we did this trail on foot, I fully intend to come back with the horses as it appears to have great access to the rest of the State Forest State Park trail system for some longer, backcountry rides.  It has it all; forests, flowers, creeks, snow, above treeline, expansive views, wildlife traces and historical significance.

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Trail Report: North Fork Canadian Yurt & Kelly Lake

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Jackson County Road 41 (8.5 miles from the entrance of State Forest State Park)
  • Websites:
  • 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.

Trail Report: Mount Margaret

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Know Before You Go:

  • Trailhead: Mount Margaret
  • Website: Mount Margaret Trailhead
  • Length: 6.5 miles (our route, round-trip)
  • Closest Town: Red Feather Lakes, CO
  • Green Horse Friendly: Yes (if they’re ok with water crossings)
  • Senior Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Barefoot Horse Friendly: Yes
  • Beer Friendly: Yes
  • Firearm Friendly: Yes
  • Dog Friendly: Yes
  • Obstacles: water, gates, wildlife, dogs, hikers and bikers
  • Parking: 5 designated trailer parking spaces with circle drive

The Nitty Gritty:

6/9/2015:  While I’m undeniably happy that our state is receiving much needed rainfall, this also means many of the trails on my radar are still under several feet of snow. That said, we decided to try out the Mount Margaret Trail with some hesitation. Being fairly close to Ft. Collins, that it was free fishing weekend and that it was not raining for the first time in weeks, I expected this trail to be jam packed with outdoor enthusiasts. I am pleased to announce this was not the case! While on the trail, we passed only a handful of people (a few with dogs) and no other horses. A few of the trails allowed bikes though we did not see any.

This is by far the nicest trailer parking at any trailhead I’ve been to yet. There are 5 designated, pull-through spots with a circle drive which makes for an easy exit. Side note – don’t park where we did. The “no parking” signs were down on the ground so we didn’t see them right off and we made the adjustment after the pic was taken. There are clean, vault toilet at the trailhead along with two hitching racks. I did not see any water at the parking lot but there is a creek along the trail.

This is a well maintained, easy riding trail that would be good for riders of most levels. Green horses should do ok so long as they aren’t opposed to water. Lone Pine Creek is running pretty darn high currently and we both got our feet wet going through it (see pictures). No bridges that we came across but there are a fair number of gates to deal with (great option if you want to practice your gate skills so long as you don’t get lapped by hikers like we did while trying to win an argument with your horse…). We saw LOTS of fresh moose tracks so just a reminder that it’s calving season and they’re not the friendliest of creatures. Also, in the several hours we were on the trail, we had sun, rain and hail so come prepared!

From the parking lot, you’ll start by going through a portion of burned forest and come to Lone Pine Creek about 0.7 miles in. As I mentioned, it’s much larger than normal currently and gets unexpectedly deep in the middle so take it slow. It’s 1.4 miles to the first gate. After going through this gate, you’ll have the option to continue on the main trail (979) or turn left onto a spur that leads you to a T for 503 or East Dowdy Lake trail. We took this spur to he left and then another left onto East Dowdy Lake trail (503). From here you’ll follow a relatively wide trail to another gate. If you continue through the gate, at 2 miles (from the parking lot) you’ll see a small trail heading to he right which takes you to Dowdy Lake. We made it to the lake just to check it out and then turned around. Once back through the gate, we kept straight on 503 (this is a good area to let your horse stretch their legs a bit) and at 3 miles you’ll note some cool rock formations on your right. Go another half mile and you’ll come to a large intersection. From here you can go to the left (9 o’clock) to check out the frog pond (503.1), straight (1 o’clock) to Mount Margaret or right (5 o’clock) to the main trail (979). There is another right (3 o’clock) that was originally the Loop A (503c) you see on the maps. We did take this but it appears the forest service is making attempts to restore this area so we didn’t continue. All in all the route we took was about 6.5 miles.