One day and counting until our school year ends and we are officially out on the trail for the summer. We have a lot of fun planned for this summer and thought with it being such a beautiful day today that we would take the horses out for a ride. We went to Stinking Springs, which is a trail not far from where we live in Idaho. It is a great trail to get the horses muscled up for the long hard rides we will soon be doing. The elevation on this ride is also lower putting us at about 6,800 feet when we reach the top, which means we won’t run into any snow packs. Right now that is the one thing keeping us from those high mountain rides. The snow in the higher elevations won’t melt until mid to late June. This restricts our riding a bit, however we won’t let it stop us.
The Stinking Springs trail is located on the way to Kelly Canyon Ski Resort near Ririe, Idaho. We went on an 8 mile ride today, however the trail offers options to make this a shorter or longer ride depending on your needs. This trail is heavily populated by motorbikes and four wheelers. Since it was Memorial Day weekend there were a lot of these motorized vehicles out and about which can get in the way of riding especially when you are having to pull off the trail every so often to let them by.
The parking lot for Stinking Springs is a nice size, that makes it easy for parking a trailer. From the parking lot, cross the road where you will find a cattle guard and gate. Once through the gate there is one main trail that takes you to the top, or you can take a trail to the right. We will do a write-up on that trail on another post. There are also several cow trails, since cattle often roam the area. Sometimes we go off and explore these trails, however today we stuck to the main one. The main trail we took this day is a two-track trail all the way. It is basically a steady incline to the top getting steeper the higher you go. Also towards the top you will find a lot of rocky switchbacks. There were also spots where the trail was rutty and washed away. We have seen, snakes here a few times including Rattle Snakes, so if you ride this trail, just beware.
Once at the top of the switch backs, you get a pretty good view of the town of Ririe Idaho, beautiful farm land and the Snake River. You can see quite a ways off into the distance. The weather at the top can also change fairly quickly. It was warm and tank top weather on the journey up, then once we reached the top the wind kicked in and we threw on some coats. The weather in this area in general can change in an instance. We have done this trail numerous times and have started out with perfect weather only for it to change in an instant. We have gotten caught in some pretty bad rainstorms here.
After you take the time to enjoy the view here, there is still some more climb up on a very rocky trail.
Once at the top of this trail, carry on for a moment and you will come to an intersection with basically two different options. You can either go to the left or the right. There is a trail in the middle but it joins up with the trail to the right in a short while. Here is a chance for you to have some fun and explore. You can’t go wrong either way!
We chose the trail to the right. It takes you through a forest, Aspen filled area. Eventually you will come to a barbwire gate. This gate was tight and was quite difficult to get closed. However we persevered and between the two of us got it closed. There are cattle up there and so it is very important to get those gates closed. Once through the gate the trail splits again and we ventured to the right for a bit before turning around and making our way back down.
How to Get to Stinking Springs
From Idaho Falls, ID: Head east on US-26 for 19 miles. Then turn left onto N 160 E. You should see signs on the highway pointing you to Kelly Canyon Ski resort. Follow this road for about 1.3 miles then turn right onto E 100 N/Heise Rd. Then take slight left onto N 5050 E and then turn right onto E. Heise Road. Continue driving on this road for about 2.3 miles. You will see a split in the road and you will want to veer to the right to continue onto E. Heise Road. Follow this for about 2 miles where you will come to a parking lot on the right with a big red ramp. This is where we park.
The free roaming mustang population is managed and protected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) There is a lot of controversy surrounding the methods the federal government uses to manage the wild population numbers. We recently watched the powerful movie titled “Unbranded”. It really is an eye-opening movie and addresses the fact that while the Mustang population is increasing there isn’t enough resources and land to support them. There are people who will argue that point. The BLM has put many of the wild horses up for adoption to help compensate for the land shortage. However, many horses are now living in temporary holding areas awaiting adoption. As we continue to get this blog up and running we would really like to begin doing some fundraisers for the wild horses. Wild horses have been a passion of Maggie’s since she was a small child!
Riding with the wild horses was an amazing experience. We rode on BLM land near Challis, Idaho.
Wild horses generally gather in groups of 3 to 20 animals. A stallion leads the group which consists of mares and young foals. When the young males become colts they are driven away by the stallions. The colts then roam with the other young males until they can gather their own group of females. Searching for these herds while on horseback is quite the adventure. All of our pictures are taken with the Olympus Tough camera. We also have some videos on our Facebook page using the Go Pro.
Challis is about a two and a half hour drive from where we live. To make the most out of our experience we camp at the trailhead and spend two days searching for and riding with the wild horses. Since this area is all owned by the BLM there aren’t actual trail signs or a specific plan we have for riding. We saddle up and just ride. We have been fortunate enough to visit this area a few times. However, our very first visit to this place was the most memorable.
You know its going to be a good ride when you see herds of wild horses on the drive in to the trailhead. We arrived later in the evening and after setting up camp we took a short evening ride. We saw several small herds of wild horses out grazing. Most of them were off in the distance. However there was one herd that ran out right in front of us on the trail and we rode along side them for a short while. It was so cool to get that close to a herd. The next day we did a lot more exploring and rode up high. The scenery here is beautiful as you get an overlook of the land. We saw herds of horses in the distance and also some deer and lots of antelope. There was one part of this adventure that will be forever branded into our memories.
As we were riding along, we noticed a dark mass off in the far distance. It was way up high and really stood out. We decided to ride towards it to figure out what it was. It was a climb! We stopped at one point and pulled out the binoculars. Through the binoculars we could tell it was a black horse standing alone. We thought this was odd since horses usually travel in groups. He was standing there very still, so we decided we needed to continue to investigate. As we approached the black mustang, we quickly discovered why he was alone and why he was standing so still. The poor horse had gotten his leg caught in the fence wire. He had obviously been there for a while because his ribs were showing and there was definite signs of dehydration with his sides being sucked in. It really was a devastating site. While it’s amazing to ride with horses that are solely on their own, taking care of themselves, and living a free life, it is sad when you come to a horse that is in this condition. We knew we couldn’t leave him in this state. One of the riders we were with jumped off his horse with a pair of wire cutters and attempted to approach the black mustang. Since this was a wild horse, this was a very difficult task. He immediately started rearing up, bearing his teeth and striking which was only getting him more tangled and hurt in the wire. After several attempts, the rider we were with, got close enough to cut the wire. He only went in for a quick cut before the mustang started to rear and strike again. Unfortunately the wire cut wasn’t enough to free the horse, so he had to go back in for another cut. He couldn’t get to the other side of the T-post to cut the wire there because the horse was crazy with fear . He did manage to free the horse, however the wire, with a t-post still connected to his front left foot, was dragging about 10 feet or more behind this horse. The horse took off with the t-post in tote. He stopped to graze and off he went! It was heartbreaking to know he still had that wire and T-post on his foot, but at least he could get to water and food. As soon as we got home from this trip we contacted the BLM and let them know about the situation, hoping that they would be able to find this poor horse before he got stuck again or something worse happened. It has haunted us since! We never did hear back from the BLM about this stallion. Praying that the BLM went to help this horse!
Getting to the Trailhead
From Arco, Idaho: Travel North on Hwy 93 for approximately 60 miles. Turn left onto Spar Canyon Road and travel for approximately 15 miles to E. Fork Road. Turn left and travel about 3 miles. Make another left on Road Creek Rd. and travel 6 miles to Horse Basin Creek.
From Challis, Idaho: Travel approximately 18 miles on Hwy 75 and turn left on E. Fork Road. Travel about 6 miles and turn left onto Road Creek Rd. Follow this road for 6 miles to Horse Basin Creek.
Massacre Rocks is a state park located in American Falls, Idaho. It is a state park with a lot of history. Massacre Rocks is a famous spot along the Oregon Trail. Wagons in route of the Oregon Trail travelled over twelve-hundred miles from Missouri. It is said that many considered their trek through the Idaho desert as one of the most difficult parts of the journey. Unfortunately today, the interstate cuts through part of the Massacre Rocks State Park. Massacre Rocks was given its names because there are large boulders in the area that created narrow passage ways through the rocks. Emigrants feared a possible ambush by Native Americans through these passageways because only one wagon could fit through at a time. These passageways were termed “Gate of Death” or “Devil’s Gate”. In 1862, five wagons clashed with Native Americans and ten emigrants died in the fight. If you want more of a historical background on Massacre Rocks State Park you may visit Pathways of Pioneers or Legends of America.
Given the historical significance of the area and the fact that we were looking for a new area to get our horses in shape for the riding season, we decided that riding Massacre Rocks State Park would be an interesting adventure. We did our research, found a park map that outlined the trails that were “horse accessible”, and we mapped out a route using the Suunto Watch. We traveled the hour and a half to the state park, paid our visitor fee and parked the horse trailer at a boat ramp. Yes it was a weird spot to park a horse trailer and the freeway was buzzing to our left. It wasn’t quite what we had in mind and definitely was too populated for our taste. We decided to make the best of it, saddled up and carried on our way. At about a mile into our trek we were stopped by a park ranger who told us that Massacre Rocks State Park does not allow horses in the park. There were no signs stating horses weren’t allowed. We pleaded our case, stating we found a state park map that reinforced we had every right to ride these trails. The park ranger reiterated that horses have been banned from the area for some time because they ruin the trails. We reluctantly obliged, turned around and headed back to the truck. It was our first time ever being kicked of a trail. We ate lunch at the boat ramp, knowing we needed to squeeze in a ride that day.
Maggie had fortunately ridden the area a while back and we ended up finding the place she had ridden. It was located on the other side of the Snake River that runs through Massacre Rocks State Park. It was a section of land not owned by the state park. This area offered many trails and services horses and unfortunately dirt bikes. We got back on our horses and picked a trail and just rode. There are many trails that wind through the desert and it is a sandy, hilly area. Be careful though because there are large sections of the land that are fenced in. Even though our day hadn’t gone as planned it was still an adventure and we got to do some exploring which is always fun. We actually went back to this spot the next weekend and explored even further. With the sand and hill climbing it is a good spot to get your horses in shape and surprisingly we didn’t come across any dirt bikers while we were on the trail. We only met them in the parking lot.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Directions to Massacre Rocks State Park (NO HORSES ALLOWED)
From Idaho Falls head south on I-15 towards Pocatello, follow I-15 for about 45 miles. Take exit 72 for I-86 west toward Twin Falls. Continue on I-86 W for 33 miles. Take exit 28 towards Massacre Rocks State Park. Turn right toward Park Ln. There is visitor station when you enter the park and the park fee is $5.
Directions to Horse Approved Riding Area
From Idaho Falls head south on I-15 towards Pocatello, follow I-15 for about 45 miles. Take exit 72 for I-86 west toward Twin Falls. Continue on I-86 W for 22 miles. Take exit 40 for ID-39 toward American Falls/Aberdeen. Turn right onto ID-39 N stay on this road for about 3 miles. Then turn left onto W Lamb Weston Road, turn left onto Borah Rd, then turn left onto S. Lake Channel Rd. Follow this road for about 3 miles you will see two big turn outs on either side of the road. In these turnouts you will see some dirt bike trailers. We parked on the turnout to the left of the road and explored the trails on that side.
The weather throughout our whole summer in Idaho and Wyoming can often be very unpredictable. We can start out a riding day being very sunny with blue skies and in a flash the weather can change to a downpour thunderstorm. We have been caught in many rainstorms, but we don’t let them keep us from riding. Rain or shine, we are out on the trail searching for those amazing views.
We’ve even been known to saddle up right in the middle of big rainstorms.
One of our most memorable downpours was a ride through Yellowstone Park. We were taking an out-of-town friend on a tour of our trails when the storm hit. As we were sitting having our lunch, we had a flash flood actually carry our food away. The storm hit so hard and fast we didn’t have time to take cover or grab our things. We got pelted with hail and some serious downpour all the way back to the truck for 9 miles.
With our friend Jimmy
Soggy food alright.
Smiling through the HAIL.
So how do we keep dry during these downpours? One of the major lifesavers is our Outback Rain Slickers. This is a full length waterproof, unisex duster. It has a detachable cape, rear saddle gusset, adjustable leg straps, dual snap closure, and an adjustable drawstring waistband. Because of these features it keeps us and our saddle dry. The only downside to this coat is that it is a larger coat and can take up room in your saddlebag. Even on the bluest of days we always pack this coat along for the ride. The Outback Rain Slicker has the slick oil exterior and after going through many downpours this tends to wear off. You can buy a Duck Back Dressing through Outback and follow the instructions to help keep your rain slicker waterproof.
If you are looking for more of a lightweight portable duster, we also pack the Outback Park-A-Roo Duster. It is a very convenient duster that has the ability to roll into its own built-in pack. This coat will protect you from the cooler temperatures, wind, and light rain showers. They come in short and long and a variety of colors.
There are also a few other items you may want to consider packing along for the ride in case you get caught in a storm. These are a hat cover, cowboy hats can often get ruined in the rain or lose their shape, waterproof pants, or rain ponchos. No matter what the weather is like, Maggie is always taking pictures. The Olympus Tough Camera is waterproof and has gone through many of our torrential downpours and is still taking its amazing photos. This camera really does stand up to its “Tough” name. In some of our rain pictures, you will see water spots from the rain, which would ruin most cameras. The Tough camera keeps on kicking and after drying out it’s like brand new.
Scratches has been a chronic problem for Maggie’s horse Gracie. Scratches can also go by the name of pastern dermatitis, mud fever, or greasy heal. It is a problem that is a bacterial or fungal infection that is found on the horse’s lower limbs. Scratches is more commonly found on lighter colored horses. It is caused by a constant moisture penetrating delicate skin. In Gracie’s case, she often gets scratches when she has a cut on her lower leg. Moisture and bacteria then penetrates the wound. Our weather in Idaho usually leads to a lot of rain during the early summer months which can turn parts of her corral to mud. The mud contains the bacteria or fungus, which is a factor in your horse contracting scratches. Scratches can also be extremely contagious so if another one of your horses has an open wound you might end up with more than one horse having scratches at a time.
Scratches can be very painful for your horse. As the condition progresses, hair is lost, the area becomes thickened and crusted over, and scabs of a yellow watery serum form. This condition is painful to the touch and can often result in it being difficult to treat your horse as your horse may try to kick. So exactly how do you treat your horse if they develop scratches? Like we mentioned Gracie has been a repeated offender of scratches. We have tried many methods to rid her of this skin condition when it arises. Some of the methods were reasonably priced while others can be quite spendy. People have tried many kinds of remedies to get rid of this such as cellophane encased with sauerkraut or athletes foot cream. Even veterinarians have their own concoction of medications they use. If any of you would like to share what methods you find most helpful please do.
One of the main things to keep in mind when treating a horse with scratches is to keep the area as clean and dry as possible. Any added moisture can result in keeping the area from healing. One of the first things we tried when Gracie would get scratches was cleaning the affected area first with Povidone-Iodine Surgical Scrub and patting the area dry. We would then cover the area in Shapley’s M-T-G and follow up by covering it with Corona. Sometimes this process would be affective in curing the scratches, but it took a lot of dedication. One of the problems with this method was the Corona, because it is a major dirt collector. The more dirt drawn to this area the harder it is to cure. Also getting the area clear of the scabs is a big step in curing this condition. By using these products it didn’t soften the scabs enough, which caused us to do a lot of picking which can make the infection worse. We have also tried using just Vetericyn on the area which can soften the scabs but still wasn’t getting rid of them like we had hoped.
While the two methods above can get rid of the scratches with little cost on your end, Gracie ended up getting a case of scratches at one point that we could not get rid of with the above methods. So Maggie tried the more expensive route since it seemed like the condition was getting out of hand. Maggie decided it was time for her to take a trip to the vet. Gracie ended up spending two weeks at the vet. During this time they shaved the hair surrounding the infected area. She got intravenous steroids, was scrubbed and cleaned daily, and then vet wrapped to keep any dirt or moisture out. While this was an extreme case, it was also a very expensive solution costing over a thousand dollars.
Since then Gracie suffered from scratches again. We took all the things we have learned over her past cases and found a new product that worked really well and was also way less expensive then a trip to the vet. The product is called Fungasol, which is made with tea tree oil. It comes in three different products, a shampoo, ointment, and spray. We have only tried the shampoo and ointment, but have had such success with those two products we are sure the spray wouldn’t disappoint. Fungasol can also be known to treat other skin conditions such as rain rot, girth itch, or ringworm. When treating scratches, shaving the affected area is something that isn’t a must but it really can help in speeding up the healing. The first thing we did with this product was clean the area with the Fungasol Shampoo. We let that sit and soak into the area for about 5-10 minutes before we washed it off. We then patted the area dry or let it air dry before slathering it with the Fungasol Ointment. This ointment is better than Corona in the fact that it doesn’t attract as much dirt and it really helps to soften the scabs which makes for a less painful and much easier removal. We repeated this process once a day. After cleaning the area we found that this was the best time to remove any of the scabs that are now not attached after being treated with the ointment. After removing any of the scabs that we no longer attached we again covered her in the ointment. We repeated this process until she was cured. I believe it took Gracie about a week to completely heal.
Whether we are riding for a few hours or riding for a full day, being prepared is our top priority.We have been known to put quite a few miles on our horses. During the summer months we ride anywhere from 50-100 miles a week. With this high amount of mileage, mishaps out on the trail can happen that could ruin our wilderness journey. Unfortunately riding on horseback always poses a certain amount of risk and although serious accidents on a trail are rare they can and have happened to us.
We are often questioned as to what we put in our saddlebag and sometimes even ridiculed for putting such large packs on our horses for a day ride. There are so many factors that can turn a pleasurable ride into a miserable one if not prepared. Things such as a change in weather, faulty tack, or pesky insects are just some of the few minor things that can happen. What about the more major things such as meeting unexpected wildlife, getting injured, or getting lost? While none of us really want to think about any of these things happening, the reality is they can and most probably will happen if you are spending as much time in the saddle as we are.
We recently read an article in EQQUS magazine that said you should create a “kit” that reflects the kind of riding you do. Our “kit” is definitely made for the more adventurous, rugged backcountry rider. From our personal experience things can happen on even the shortest of rides, so we always just pack our saddlebag and leave them that way throughout the season.
Here is a combined list of everything we carry between the two of us. We know some of your are interested in the different brands of things we carry so some of the things on our list also have a link included that will take you to the option of buying if you are interested.
Cellphone: While most of the rides we go on are very remote, we take it as a precaution. When we get up in elevation, we sometimes can get a signal. We would love to look into getting a satellite phone.
Flashlight & Headlamp: We carry both and each have our own set. We seem to end up riding out in the dark quite often and you never know when one of your devices will die. It’s always good to have a back up.
Wire Cutters: Some of the trails we ride have a lot of down fencing and while we watch for wire sometimes we miss it.
Saw: Sometimes the trail takes us in places that are just too overgrown with trees. We have had to cut branches more than once to make it through.
Gun: We once ran across some ladies on the trail who mentioned they carry the bear spray for protection against animals and the gun they carried was for protection against humans because you will never know who you will run into when out in the wilderness. 🙂
Gloves: We carry riding gloves and warmer winter gloves just in case we were to get stranded on a cold night.
Extra Clothing: sweatshirts, extra jackets, riding vests.
Once you get your gear together finding packs that are big enough to carry it all can be a challenge. We each have our own brands that we like. While red is Maggie’s signature color her saddlebags were made by the Amish and given to her as a gift. Amy uses the TrailMax brand for both the hornbag and the saddlebag. Both are quite roomy and we are able to fit all of our gear and then some. Also, Maggie wears a fanny pack which holds her cellphone, Chapstick, camera and Go Pro. Always make a plan and plan for the unexpected. You never know where the day will take you.
The Buffalo Horn trail was supposed to be an easy ride into Ramshorn Lake. We planned to eat lunch at the lake, then explore a bit beyond there, and then turn around and take the same trail back out. Sounds easy right? This was one of our first attempts at exploring a brand new trail in an area we weren’t completely familiar with and the first trail we tried using the Suunto Watch. Let’s just say things didn’t go as according to plan on this journey. It all started with finding the trailhead. This was probably our first clue that we were in for an adventure. The Buffalo Horn Trailhead is located within the Montana 320 Guest Ranch. When looking at the map and planning this ride, we didn’t realize we had to drive all the way through the guest ranch before accessing the trail. As we were traveling down the Gallatin Gateway, we saw a sign pointing to Buffalo Horn trail and it was pointing into the guest ranch. We argued for a moment, one of us certain that the trailhead couldn’t be within the ranch. We pulled in, looked around, and there were no signs pointing to the trailhead. We turned around, went back to the main highway and searched around a little more. After aimlessly driving around we decided to give the guest ranch one more shot before giving up all together and picking some other trailhead along the highway. This time we pulled into the Guest Ranch and parked. We went to the front desk for help in locating the Buffalo Horn Trail. The kind lady at the front desk pulled out a map and circled the trailhead. Apparently they get many people coming through getting lost and asking the same question. You’d think they would put up a sign poining you in the right direction.
Once we finally found the trailhead and tacked up, we were off to a late start. This ride does offer some amazing views as you meander through meadows and forests. Once you reach Ramshorn Lake, the view is stunning and a great spot for lunch. Remember to always stick to your plan 🙂 After lunch we explored a bit but heard from some people we met on the trail that there was a loop option. Don’t deviate from your plan! We did and we didn’t end up getting off this trail until midnight. This was also a 2 1/2 hour drive from home, so we didn’t get home until around 3 o’clock in the morning. Yikes! It was a beautiful ride though and after getting home we realized our mistake and would do this trail again.
Finding the Buffalo Horn Trailhead
From West Yellowstone: Take Hwy 191/87 north out of West Yellowstone. Stay on 191 as it winds through the corner of Yellowstone Park. You will be on this road for about 36 miles before you see signs for the 320 Ranch on your right and the Buffalo Horn Trailhead. Turn into the 320 Guest Ranch, drive left past the dining facilities and continue left and up the drainage. You will pass several guest cabins and eventually park at a loop in the road at the Upper Buffalo Horn Trailhead at about 6650 feet. If you click the park map above it will take you to the 320 Guest Ranch page. You will see that the Buffalo Horn Trailhead is all the way at the top of the map.
Buffalo Horn Trailhead Description
The Buffalo Horn Trail to Ramshorn Lake and a little beyond is about an 18 mile in and out trail. From the start, the trail has several splits, some are signed and some are not. Make sure you use some sort of GPS on this trail or download the map we provided at the bottom of this post. The trail that takes you in to the lake is a relatively easy trail that meanders through the forest and meadows with the Buffalo Horn Creek to your right. As you go along on your ride you will see Ramshorn Peak in the distance. There are some bridges that bring you across the creek and also some big mud holes that we went though. The elevation gain is steady all the way to the lake. Make sure you look back as you climb up higher, you will get a good view of the Gallatin Range.
Keep a look out for signs on this trail. There were two posted to the trees pointing you to Ramshorn Lake. When we hit the sign that said we were about 4 1/2 miles from the lake that is when we ran into these dirt bikers that mentioned there was a possible loop in the trail that would lead you back out to Buffalo Horn. Of course they weren’t all that detailed, just said follow the trail to Porcupine Creek after you hit Ramshorn Lake. We gave this some thought because doing a loop is so much more fun than going out the same way we came in.
After chatting with the bikers, we made the final trek to the lake where we ran into some other horseback riders. They asked if we had been here before and when we answered no, they told us that we were in for a special treat, because the view at the lake is amazing. They were right! Ramshorn Lake is pretty. The lake is that greenish turquoise color surrounded by a rugged, jagged mountain. The lake was jumping with fish, and there was a couple large camping spots at the lake. At the time we talked about how it would be neat to pack in and stay at the lake in a future visit, little did we know that we were almost going to spend the night here. Later as you follow the trail to the left you will see large corrals for horses.
When we were finished with lunch we jumped back on our horses and continued on the trail to the left that heads up the mountain. The trail follows along Fortress Mountain. It is a neat jagged mountain and there were lots of loose rock and boulders lying on the ground that we posed by. After this section the trail starts to gain some elevation and does some steap climbs up the mountain. However the views are amazing as you get a complete overlook of the range. We stopped when we came to a view and explored a bit before deciding that we better turn around before it gets dark, as we still have about 9 miles until we return to the trailhead.
We were about a mile from Ramshorn Lake when we noticed a sign lying in the grass that poined to a trail to the right that said Porcupine Creek. This is the trail the dirtbike guys said we should take to make a loop. So we decided why not, let’s give it try. Afterall how lost can we get right?
As we turned onto the Porcupine trail, it went into a forest where we lost some elevation with switchbacks. It was also quite muddy through the forest and we went through quite a few deep mudholes. The trail was easy to follow, however there weren’t many signs. I think we came across one that pointed to Eagle Mountain which we knew was in the opposite direction we wanted to head. We started keeping track on the Suunto Watch with how many miles we were traveling while on this section of trail. We also marked the trailhead as our starting point, so the watch did have an arrow that told us which direction we were parked at and how many miles we were from the truck. The sun started to set and the watch kept telling us we were getting further and further from the truck. We understood that in a loop you must first get farther away from your starting point before the trail starts to turn back and go in the right direction. However we were basically traveling this trail blind. At about 5 miles into Porcupine trail, we still hadn’t seen a sign that told us we were on the right track. So we made the decision to turn around and retrace our steps. At the time this was the better decision for us, however when we got home and looked on the map we realized that had we continued on this trail it would have looped back into our starting trail in just a few more miles.
Taking this diversion caused us to put an extra 10 miles on our poor horses. We contemplated spending the night at the lake even though we weren’t competely prepared for that. However, we do carry fire starter in our packs as well as a thin emergency blanket and we always have extra layers so we probably would have made it just fine. Instead we decided to gear up with our headlamps and hoof it back to the truck. We turned an 18 mile ride into a 30 mile plus ride and returned to the truck at midnight. With the drive, we got home at around three in the morning. None the less, it was a wilderness adventure and the trail did offer some amazing views.
We now have the loop properly mapped out and would love to go back and do it again some day. Maybe this time in reverse so that we are traveling the part of the trail we didn’t finish during the early hours.
Where to Camp?
There is camping available at the trailhead. We also found a helpful article through Trail Rider Magazine. It describes a few other horse camping locations along the Gallatin Gateway. There is also the option of staying at the 320 Guest Ranch if you are coming from a distance and don’t want to haul your own horses. They offer trailrides and other activities.
The map you see below includes the loop option that we did not get to finish.
We did the Alaska Basin to Buck Mt. Pass in early October last year, because of it’s high elevation it is recommended that you don’t attempt this trail until July. The day we did this trail, was extremely windy and cold. It often can be when you reach the pass so make sure you pack yourself some extra layers. We always go prepared because we never know how the weather may change. Almost everytime we have gone to Alaska Basin we have experienced weather of some sort. Once you reach Buck Mt. Pass you will be at an elevation of about 10,500 feet. The route we took was an in and out, 21 mile ride. This is a very impressive ride with views of Battleship Mtn, Buck Mtn, limestone cliffs, giant colorful slabs of granite that were smoothed by the glaciers, and high moutain lakes. All of this makes this an amazing pick for our fourth favorite ride of the 2015 season. At the end of this post you will find a map that was created by the Suunto Ambit2 watch. We have some amazing photos of this ride that really capture the beauty of Buck Mtn and the beautiful granite slabs that you find as you enter into Alaska Basin. Remember all these photos are taken with Maggie’s “Tough” camera. We have ridden Alaska Basin several times, but this was our first time visiting Buck Mtn Pass.
Finding the Alaska Basin Trailhead
At the stoplight in downtown Driggs, turn east off Idaho Hwy 33 onto Ski Hill Road toward Grand Targhee Ski Resort. Follow Ski Hill Road for about 6.5 miles where you will come to a sign that points to Teton Canyon on the right. Continue down Teton Canyon road for about 4.5 miles until you come to a giant turn around where you will find the Teton Canyon Campground and the N. Teton Creek Trail that services Table Mtn and Beard’s Wheatfield. We park our truck and trailer here even though the S. Teton Creek trail that services Alaska Basin and Buck Mtn Pass is about .1 miles down the road. The parking lot by the Alaska Basin trailhead isn’t the best for trailers and most of the hikers park here.
Alaska Basin-Buck Mtn Pass Trailhead Description
The Alaska Basin trail is a starting point that will lead you to many different trail options such as Hurricane Pass, Buck Mtn Pass, or Mount Meek Pass. All three options will bring you to the Grand Teton National Park Boundary where riders can descend through the park to reach the valley floor of Jackson Hole. In this post we will be taking you to Buck Mtn pass, however if you are new to this area we highly recommend also trying to take a trip up Hurricane Pass as it will give you an amazing view of the Grand, Middle, and South Teton.
Once you are geared up, ride on down the road about .1 miles where you will cross a bridge and find the trailhead sign for South Teton Trail (027). This is a tough and rugged, rocky ride. The trail however is well marked and easy to follow. It starts out as a wider trail that takes you through a forested area, crossing creeks before the terrain opens up to reveal the canyon floor, wildflowers in July, and the amazing limestone cliff bands. In about 2.7 miles you will come to a sign that points to Devil’s Staircase to the right. This trail is not recommended for horses and there is actually a sign at the start of that trail stating not for stock use. Continue straight to reach Alaska Basin.
The next five miles takes you through some amazing territory as you approach Alaska Basin. You will be going through some forested terrain and crossing the creek. You will see tributarties cutting through the forest and some small waterfalls. The trail will start to gain elevation as you do a series of rocky stair stepper switch backs. As you get closer to Alaska Basin you will come to the large marbled granite slabs. The colors in this rock are absolutely gorgeous and we have taken many amazing photos here. We ride our horses barefoot, so if your horse is shod be careful as this rock can often be slippery. When you reach the granite slabs the trail can become a little more difficult as you are climbing over and up the rock slabs to reach the trail on the other side. Shortly after you will find yourself at Alaska Basin where the view opens up. You will be able to see Buck Mtn in the distance and there will be many boulders and tributaries from Sunset Lake.
The trail will come to a junction that will leave you with a few options. One of the trails takes you to the Teton Crest Trail to the right that will bring you to Mount Meek Pass. There is also the Alaska Basin Trail to the left that will take you to Hurricane Pass. From this point there are two ways that you can get to Buck Mtn. Pass. One would be heading towards Hurricane Pass. On that trail their will be a cutoff sign that will point you to a trail that will take you to Buck Mtn. The second way would be the way we went which is heading on the Alaska Basin trail to the right that will take you past Mirror Lakes.
On your way to Mirror Lakes you will pass many small lakes before coming to the big Mirror Lake. Here your view is amazing as the trail winds around Mirror Lake with Buck Mtn revealing itself in the background. The trail starts to gain elevation as it climbs up around Mirror Lake. There will be a few creek crossings as the trail makes its way to the base of the pass. Just before the pass the trail will level out with a cliff band to your right and small boulders surrounding the trail. You will start to see the final rocky switch back that will take you to top where you will get an incredible view. The final climb is a hard one on the horses as you are making the final push that will bring you to about 10,500 feet in elevation. The trail is composed of tight gravel switchbacks and you will be crossing over small loose boulders.
When you reach the top you will have an amazing view. Here you will be at the border of Grand Teton National Park. You will see Buck Mountain straight in front of you. You be looking down on some high mountain lakes as you look down into Death Canyon. We explored a little past here beause the view is breathtaking and unlike any other. It is definately worth the climb. Take your time, breathe in the beauty, and take your fair share of photographs before you turn around and begin your journey home.
Where to Camp?
Before you reach the main parking lot there will be a horse camp on the left side of Teton Canyon Road with horse corrals and a place to park your trailer. There are only a couple camp sites at this location. There are also places to camp along the trail with your horses. You don’t need a permit for this area. This is a highly populated trail and you will encounter many hikers so the campsites are first come first serve.
Gracie and Tux got themselves a brand new salt block. Just like us humans it is important for horses to have salt in their diet. But just how important is it you ask? Well we did a little research for you and found five important facts that you may or may not know about salt and your horses. We hope you find it helpful. If you want to learn more about your horse’s nutrition check out Understanding Horse Nutrition.
5 Important Facts About Salt & Horses
Horses need about about 1-2 ounces of salt per day. However, that needs to double in hot and humid weather or when you are working them hard. The more they sweat the more the salt is leaving their body.
A plain white salt block will suffice. You may want to consider adding a mineral salt block if you aren’t giving your horses a vitamin/mineral supplement. If you give a mineral salt block make sure you also provide a plain white salt block as well because sometimes the bitter taste of the minerals discourages your horses from licking it. Sometimes horses will develop sores on their tongues from licking the salt blocks. This will cause them to stop licking the salt. You can always add loose salt to their hay or feed.
As your horses takes in more salt their water intake also increases which will result in a decrease risk for colic.
Sodium is the main electrolyte found in the blood and the fluid surrounding cells. If sodium levels are low, the blood won’t hold enough water. This tells the kidneys not to let any sodium leave the body. When the kidneys hold on to sodium, they excrete potassium in its place, creating an imbalance. Imbalances can cause conditions such as tying up, rapid heart rate, founder, laminitis, allergies, cushings, hypothyroidism, lameness, or joint problems.
If your horses shows the following behaviors it might mean they have a lack of sodium in their diet; chewing on rails, licking your hand, loss of appetite, having absolutely ‘no go’, excessive yawning, sweating with little exertion, wobbly especially in the hind-quaters, difficulty backing up, or difficulty walking downhill.
We have traveled and seen some amazing places from the back of our horses. This last summer we did a lot of new rides and we shared two of them with you as our top two picks for the 2015 season. We thought for our third pick, we would choose an oldie but goodie. The Green Lakes-Granite Basin ride is one that we try to do at least once a year if not more. This is a trail that is close to home and although we see so many different places this ranks high up on our list of favorite places to ride. This is about a 17 mile loop that you can do in either direction. When we do the loop we usually head toward Green Lakes first and then ride over into Granite Basin. There is a hairy spot in this loop and we prefer to make the climb up it as opposed to going down it. You will get to see why as we take you through this trail.
This ride has many amazing features to it including, high mountain lakes, high canyon views, creek crossings, rock formations, and of course an amazing view of the Tetons. The wild flowers are spectacular in July but you can still have snow then too. The view of the Tetons on this ride is incredible and we will show you the best place to get that iconic cover shot. It also features two mountains that are named after Maggie’s family, Beard’s Wheatfield and Beard’s Mountain. This ride is near and dear to Maggie’s heart. Her grandparents and father were raised near here and her family still lives here. The Beard’s have a rich heritage in this area and Maggie takes great pride in that. Beard Mountain and Beard’s Wheatfield; were named after the family because they moved up there in 1906 and camped and ran the Sawmill at its base.
Finding the Green Lakes-Granite Basin Trailhead
From the traffic light in downtown Driggs travel north on Idaho Hwy, 33. At 5.7 miles you will cross a bridge that brings you over South Leigh Creek. You will see a sign that will point you to the national forest access. If you were to continue on the highway it would take you into Tetonia. As you leave the highway and take the road to the right that heads into the national forest, you will come to a stop sign. Turn right at the stop sign and drive east towards the Tetons. Turn left at 2.6 miles onto signed North Leigh Canyon Road. You will drive approximately 6 more miles on this road until you come to a large open meadow with a turnaround for trailers. This is where we park. This road can be washboard and rough but they do keep it up pretty well.
Green Lakes-Granite Basin Trail Descrition
As you get yourself ready to hit the trail, keep in mind that this is a 17 mile loop where you will be hitting an elevation high of 10,000 feet and you will be coming across some very rocky terrain. Sometimes we add a few miles to this ride when we go off trail and visit our “secret” spots.
When you and your riding buddies take off, you will head on down the road a bit where you will come to another parking lot where the hikers usually park. Find and cross the creek and you will see a trail marker sign (FS 019).
As you connect with the trail, you will start an immediate climb up through the forest. You will continue to meander through the forest for about 1 mile until you come to a sign that will point you to the Green Mtn Trail or the Tin Cup Trail.
Here is where your loop begins and where you have to decide which direction to go. We always head up toward Green Mtn first, for two reasons. One being we like to eat lunch at the first and largest of the Green Lakes. The second being, if you head straight for Tin Cup trail now you will be going down a rocky step that is on a steep side hill. For us it seems a lot easier to go up that rocky step.
So if you decide to continue along with us, we will be headed to the left up towards Green Mtn. As you continue on this trail you will start to gain some elevation. You will hit an open hill side and if you come during early summer it will be full of beautiful wildflowers. The trail will begin to switch back up this hill side and as you look back you will begin to see an amazing view of the Teton range.
As you climb to the top of this hillside, you will round a corner and come to an amazing high canyon view. You will be looking out among the Crows Nest, Dry Ridge, and Green Lakes Mountain. We often stop here for pictures. It is a prime photo spot!
The trail levels out here for a moment before it turns a hard left and starts to switch back down. Here you will find large boulder slabs and some rocky terrain. We often take this opportunity to take some of those cool switch back photos. As you are coming down the switch backs the view of the mountain range really starts to open up.
As you hit the bottom of this decent you will be about 4.5 miles into your journey. You will also come to a pond that is nestled underneath Green Mountain. This is the mountain that eventually you will be making a loop around. We often stop at this pond to let our horses get a drink, especially after all the work they have been doing. Guys this ride is absolutely gorgeous in every direction! So also take this time to breathe in the beauty.
Once your horses have had a chance to catch their breath and hydrate, continue on down the trail and pull over onto the big boulders you will be passing.
You will love the shot of your horse with the mountains and lake in the background. In a bit you come to a junction in the trail. Here you will see a sign that will point to Granite Basin to the right and Green Lakes to the left. Eventually you will be heading to the right towards Granite Basin, however for now head towards the lakes and come back to catch this trail after lunch. You will climb through some wooded, rocky terrain as you go around this beautiful high mountain lake. We often pull over here, tie our horses to a tree and take a break for lunch. It really is a perfect, serene spot. Here you will often see fish jumping in the lake and we always tease how we should be bringing along a fishing pole so we can catch our lunch and live off the land 🙂
After lunch we back track the trail a little bit and cross a creek. From here we go off trail and cut up the hillside that is directly ahead, until we find the trail. However, if you feel more comfortable you may go back to that sign that pointed towards Granite Basin and follow the trail that way. There is also another way that you can hit Granite Basin from your lunch spot. You can do this by continuing on around the lakes until you hit a sign pointing you to Granite Basin. This way is a little more complicated as the trail does disappear some and turns into a little bit of rock climbing. It is beautiful that way though.
Once you are back on track, the trail takes you through some very rocky terrain. It is very cool though, as you climb through some rocky boulders. Before long you will come to a sign that will point you to Granite Basin in 1.4 mile to the right. You will also notice on this sign an arrow pointing to the left towards Green Lakes. This is where you would have connected to the trail had you gone around the lakes after lunch instead of back tracking onto the trail you are currently on.
Continuing on towards Granite Basin, the trail will be making its way around that Green Mountain that we talked about earlier. You will be seeing ponds left and right created by tributaries. The trail will lead you through Granite Basin, where the rocky terrain continues. You will also be going into a forested section and crossing a creek before the trail opens back up. As the trail opens, you will begin to see the side hill that we talked about at the beginning of this post. This side hill is part of the Andy Stone Trail. As you approach it, make sure you leave adequate space between you and your riding buddies. There is a rock step near the top of the Andy Stone Trail that our horses go over perfectly. However, we know sometimes horses can become spooked or not want to budge when going over this step. Leaving room between you and the rider in front of you will make it so you all arrive to the top safely.
Once at the top of Andy Stone, the trail turns slightly to the right. Stop here! Turn around! You will see the most amazing view of the Tetons.
This is where you will get the perfect covershot of you and your horse that will leave others jealous and envious of where you are. It is a spot that is hard to leave. If you are making good time on your trip you can afford to spend a little time here, as you will only have about 3 miles left to your ride. So really stop and enjoy, especially if you are from out of town because this is a sight unlike any other. You will feel like you are in a painting.
When you have gotten that perfect shot, continue up the trail and shortly you will come to a junction. The sign will point to a trail that goes to the left bringing you down into South Leigh. The sign will also point you straight to the Tin Cup Trail and North Leigh Road.
Continue straight and in about 3 miles you will be back to your truck. The trail from here on out is pretty easy. You will be losing some elevation as the trail brings you down into a forested area. The trail will also go through some open meadows. In about 2 miles you will come to a split in the trail. This is the split you saw at the beginning of your journey. Continue straight as you have just completed your loop and you are on your final trek back to the truck.
Where to camp?
Like we mentioned this is a day ride for us and it only takes us about an hour and a half to get to this trailhead. However if you wish to camp you may do so at your truck. The parking area for here is a big open meadow with lots of room for camping. There aren’t any hook ups or facilities so it will be a true camping experience.
Map of Green Lakes-Granite Basin Loop
Below is a map that we created on the Suunto Ambit2 watch. Unlike our previous two maps we posted, this map was done while we were riding. The watch has a tracking feature that will track your ride as you are going. Then when Amy gets home she pulls up the map on the computer and saves it for future rides. Since this is a true map it has every place our horses brought us that day, including our secret spot and an extra place we ventured. We tend to go off trail a lot as this map will show, so for your sake just follow the trail.