People are always asking my husband and I "where is the prettiest place that you have ever ridden?" That is such a hard question to answer since we have ridden in so many beautiful places in this country. After riding in 49 states, I can honestly say that Wyoming has some of the most beautiful trails that we have found anywhere.
We had heard that the Wind River Mountain Range was a beautiful place to ride if you wanted a real taste of the Rockies. With all the forest fires in the Western states we decided that our first stop would be the Pinedale Ranger District office. It is always best to check with the district office on trail closings, road conditions, camping and other pertinent information before making the drive back into the forest. After talking to one of the rangers in the office we decided to start our adventure at the Elkhart Trailhead, which has trails into the Bridger Wilderness. National forest wilderness areas are one of our favorite places to ride since only horses and hikers are allowed to use the trails.
This is a beautiful place to ride with its forest of pine and its trails of rocks! Therefore, you want to remember to bring a camera and don’t forget to have your horses shod. The majestic mountains, which seem to be a close kin to the Grand Tetons, are absolutely breathtaking. Because this is a very popular trail and is heavily used you want to be aware of the hikers that may not be familiar with horses.
On our second day, we decided to ride the trail to Seneca Lake. Although the trails are rocky, once we rode past Pole Creek Lake, the trail started to get extremely tough and there was no letting up. The trail was as rough as they get. Along the trail, I found a horseshoe wedged between two rocks on a vertical drop of about two and a half feet. Thank goodness it wasn’t from one of our horses.
In addition to the rocky trails, there were some tight squeezes around some very large boulders. As we proceeded down the trail we met an outfitter who was bringing out a group of folks who had Llamas with them. We moved off the trail as much as we could to let them by. I guess the calmness of our horses affected the llamas as they quickly scurried by us in a chaotic manner. Jim, my husband, apologized to the people for our horses inadvertently spooking their llamas. They said that it was the first time that horses had unraveled them it was usually the other way around. We all had a chuckle about it and then we continued picking our way up the trail.
After stopping at the very scenic Senica Lake for lunch we headed back down the trail to the trailhead. That evening while we were eating dinner in our motorhome, we observed a local outfitter coming back from his day of work. Unfortunately, on of his horses was definitely lame, perhaps this was the horse that had lost the shoe in the rocks that we saw earlier in the day. These trails are definitely not for green riders or horses.
After riding for several days out of this trailhead we decided that it was time to move on before the weekend crowd arrived. We returned to the Pinedale Ranger District office to get directions and information about the next trailhead on our list of stops and to make sure that the area was open and free from fires. Then up the road we went. This area was still in the Bridger-Teton National Forest but the trails led to the Gros-Venture Wilderness. We continued northwest on U.S. highway 191 towards Jackson for about twenty-five miles. The road that we wanted to turn on was a little hard to find, we had to watch closely for a gravel road to the right, located about five miles south of the little town of Bondurant This road had a National Forest sign right inside the gate of a barbed wire fence. We proceeded up the gravel road about 1 mile from the highway. There were several nice places for dispersed camping and the gravel road was in very good shape. We camped under a grove of pine trees. There was a lot of space to camp and plenty of open areas for the horses.
The next day we rode our horses across country instead of the gravel road to the trailhead. We found that most of the smaller creeks were dry this year however; water was available in the large stream, which runs through the valley. The views from the trail got even more beautiful the further up the trail we rode. Soon, the beautiful views turned to spectular ones. After having lunch under a quacking aspen we headed back to camp. We choose a trail that followed the creek back down the valley. After we followed the willow covered area for about a mile we spotted something lying in the willows. It was a big black furry object with what appeared to have a brown nose. Was it cow? Was it a big black bear? Was it a moose? The closer we got to it the bigger it seemed. Then it was perfectly clear, it was a MOOSE.!!!! We watched her for a while (keeping a safe distance) then crossed the creek and rode up the hill to get back to our camp. At the top of the hill we looked back to see the moose and her baby, which was lying in the willows not far from momma. We continued on the trail back to camp as we conversed about our moose sighting.
Although the riding was great here we were anxious to travel on and to do some riding in the Grand Tetons National Park. We have been in the Tetons several times but have never gotten to ride our horses. The first year that we were there, it had been an extremely dry summer and there had been a few grizzly bear attacks. Since, we didn’t want to be a grizzly’s next meal, we decided not to chance it. Our second try was in the spring after they had had an heavy winter. When we arrived at the parking lot we found it snow covered. Well, there is always a next time. We have always heard that the third time was the charm, and that it was.
The Grand Teton National Park does not offer horse camping, with the exception for those who are going to pack into the backcountry. If you fall into this category then you are allowed one night, either before or after your trip, near the Death Canyon Trailhead. Always check at the visitor’s center before venturing out into the backcountry. Therefore, knowing that we cannot camp inside the park, we stay at the Snyder Ranch/ Horse Motel, located on route 21 just outside of Jackson. Since the ranch is up for sale, we may not have this option the next time we are in the area. They offer stalls, pasture and trailer parking. Pat is an avid rider and if she is available, is always happy to take us out on some of her favorite trails inside and outside the park. This would prove to be a real treat for us.
Most trails within the park are open to horses with restrictions on part of the Jenny Lake trail. These restricts are posted and offer a by-pass trail for horse people. Again, you will want to stop at the visitor’s office, located in Moose, Wyoming, for maps and information on any trail closings. Especially those trails that are closed because of bear sightings.
We spent all the time we could riding the trails inside the park. The trailheads inside the popular sections of the park are paved parking lots. Therefore, care should be taken when unloading your horses on the pavement. There are also a lot of people in these areas however, the further you ride away from these areas the fewer people you encounter. The trails are easy to follow and well marked. Trailheads outside of the popular area are the usual gravel parking areas and have fewer visitors.
Riding out of several trailheads, over a period of ten days, our excursions took us to Jenny Lake, to both sides of Bradley Lake, the Phelps Lake Overlook and to Taggart Lake. The beautiful trails were well maintained and the scenery was unsurpassed. There is just not much that you will not find here. There are stretches of flat trails that give way to rocky trails; some elevation gains can give your horse quite a workout and some of the most picturesque and rugged land in the country. One trail ride of note was when Pat took us by an old ranch (one of the oldest, if not the oldest in Wyoming.) As we rode past the log buildings, you could almost feel its past, see its history and hear the enchantment of days gone by.
However, one cannot travel through this beautiful park without seeing the abundance of its living beauty. Where else can you see herds of buffalo, elk, a moose and bear, all from horseback and all in the same day? The unforgettable backdrop of the Grand Teton Mountains only enhanced the experience.
If your trail riding plans include a trip to the Rocky Mountains, you will want to add Wyoming to your list. For the rugged experience this is a must.
Seeing the country from the back of your horse.
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Bridger-Teton National Forest
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340 N Cache, PO Box 1888
Jackson, Wyoming 83001
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Bridger-Teton National Forest
Pinedale Ranger District
29 East Fremont Lake Road
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John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Memorial Parkway
P.O. Drawer 170
Moose, Wyoming 83012