Riding the Black Canyon Trail
When hiking to Gem Lake this summer, I noticed that there is a designated spot for horse trailers at the Lumpy Ridge trailhead just out of Estes Park. This inspired me to come back on horseback. Looking at the map, it looked like there is an 8 mile loop that we could do on horseback as a day ride. Two of us and our horses were dropped off at the McGraw Ranch trailhead, and we planned to meet our driver and trailer back at Gem Lake.
It’s pretty tight turning a gooseneck horse trailer around at McGraw Ranch, but fortunately I wasn’t driving! Then it’s a lovely ride up the valley from McGraw Ranch, and we followed the trail toward Bridal Veil Falls. After that trail branches off, the track is narrower and less used, and climbs fairly steeply to a saddle where we joined the Black Canyon Trail out of McGregor Ranch. There are spectacular old growth aspens along the creek, and we both noted that this would be a beautiful fall ride!
From the saddle, the trail was downhill to the beautiful mountain park that is McGregor Ranch. We passed McGregor Mountain, then great views of Lumpy Ridge above us opened up. We couldn’t resist a canter as the trail wound along the side of the meadow, with Longs Peak in the background.
The hardest part of the ride was when the horses thought they were done for the day, and we still needed to climb out of the valley, join the Gem Lake trail, and navigate down steps to the Gem Lake trailhead.
Passing through two historic ranches, we couldn’t help but think of the many “dudes” who rode those trails before us, and were grateful to be able to experience the Park on horseback, just as it was in the “old days”.