Wilderness Journeys

Top Rides of 2015… #3 Green Lakes-Granite Basin

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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.

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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.

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July 2nd
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September 28, 2015

 

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It is beautiful that way though.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wilderness Journeys

Choosing our second favorite ride of the 2015 season seemed easy because it was another one of our favorites from our explorations of the northwest region of Yellowstone National Park. Specimen Creek was a beautiful ride in Montana. This ride seemed to have everything that you could possible ask for in a trail ride. This is a 22 mile loop that had lush green forests, along with huge burnt sections of forest, from the 2007 Owl Fire that burned more than 2000 acres in the northwest corner of the park. You will also ride through pretty meadows with the creek running through it. You will climb up to 9600 feet to a spectacular view of mountains and cliffs in all directions. There are numerous lakes along the way and beautiful canyon views. This was one amazing ride for the books!

Finding the Specimen Creek Trailhead

From West Yellowstone: From the center of town drive north on U.S. 191 towards the town of Bozeman for approximately 26.6 miles. The trailhead will be on the right just past the bridge that crosses Specimen Creek. This is a nice sized parking lot with a loop around parking system just off the highway.

Specimen Creek Trail Description

You will find a map at the bottom of this post that we created using the Suunto Ambit 2 watch app. This was a rough outline of the trail we took and it has us going up to Shelf Lake, but we cut that out due to time constraints.

Opening Trail Sign
Opening Trail Sign

This will be the first trail sign you will come across as you begin your adventure. If you will take notice, on this sign there is access to Bighorn Peak which is where we took you to in our last trail ride, the Black Butte. During all the research we did for these two trails, we found that there is almost an infinate trail system in this area. All the trails seem to connect in some way or another making for a lot of different loop options or even in and outs. As for this trail, you will be visiting Cresent Lake and High Lake.

For the first two miles of this trail you will be meandering though a forest that borders Specimen Creek. At the 2 mile mark you will come to a junction with the option of either continuing on to the left, making for a clockwise loop, or going onto the Sportsman Lake Trail and making a counterclockwise loop. It really can be done in any way you choose, however we decided to take a right here and go onto the Sportsman Lake Trail.

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Sportsman Lake Trail Junction

As you continue onto the Sportsman Lake trail there is a drastic change in the scenery as you start to see the affects of the Owl Fire. This section of the trail is about 4.5 miles long and takes you through a few foot bridges that cross over the North Fork of Specimen Creek.

You will also start to gain some elevation during this section as the trail starts a semi steep, switchback climb, through burnt trees. There is some slight side hill here and as you gain elevation you will be able to look down on the North Fork of Specimen Creek. We did this ride in late August when the fall colors were just starting to take effect. You will see some of these pretty colors in our pictures during this section of the trail.

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High Lake

As you come to the end of the Sportsman Lake trail, you will come to a junction head left towards High lake you will have about 2.9 miles before you reach your next sign. If you continue straight at this sign the trail will take you to Mill Creek. We took a left here which took us to High Lake. This was our first of three lake visits during the trip. We decided to tie up the horses and make this our stop for lunch.

As you get ready to leave High Lake, you will notice a few trails going in a couple different directions. That is because there are a few campsites located at the lake. We took the trail that went around the right side of the lake.

This next section of the trail has got to be one of the prettiest parts of the ride. It is a longer section that goes about 6.5 miles and you start to do some serious climbing once you leave High Lake. After going through a lush meadow that leads you around the lake, you go back into a forest for a climb that brings you to a rugged scenic overlook that is about 9600 feet in elevation. However as you are climbing through the forest you will begin to catch a glimps of the view that is waiting for you at the top. As you begin to get to know us, you will find that we become very excited when we can feel a view coming on. So once again, we parked our horses and took a short hike through the trees to the ridge of Yellowstone’s rugged northwestern border. We enjoyed this view for a moment before we climbed back on our horses and continued up to along the ridge where the trail opened up and we really got an amazing view of the Gallatin Range. Be sure to stop here and get those pefect shots as we did 🙂 It is always amazing to come across these spectacular views while out on the trail and we never take them for granted and always soak up the view as much as we can.

As you continue on down the trail be careful, as the trail becomes a bit harder to follow as the elevation gives way to rockier terrain. Be on the look out for the orange blazes and the other obvious marks that will lead you in the correct direction.

The trail will then decend and you will start to lose elevation. The trail will lead you through some water crossings, rocky terrain, a small lake and forest. Before long you will see another small lake to your right. This lake is called Sedge Lake.11947578_10207466629962562_3688167362294739339_n

Continue on the trail a little further and you will come to one of the most beautiful high mountain lakes we have ever seen called Crescent Lake. It is surrounded by thick forests and tall jagged peaks. The water had that cool almost greenish color to it. Unfortunately we weren’t the only ones here at this time. It was actually a kind of populated spot as there are numerous camp spots located right on the lake. We still took this time to enjoy the tranquility of the lake and all its beauty. It really was a sight and it just added to the perfection of this ride.

Reluctantly, we had to leave Crescent Lake. There wasn’t much left to this section of the trail after leaving the lake. The trail takes you down into some switchbacks through the forest until you come to another junction in the trail.

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Specimen Creek Trail

When you get to this junction you will have the option to either take a right and head up towards Shelf Lake or take a left and head back on Specimen Creek. Originally we were going to go up to Shelf Lake and then turn around and come back. However, with Shelf Lake being another 2 miles there and two miles back, we decided not to put that extra mileage on our poor horses that had already done so much work. So unfortunately, we headed back on Specimen Creek trail. Even when the trail is long, it is always a sad time when we realize that we are headed back to the the truck. Even though we still had roughly six miles to go, we knew that would go by in an instant and another perfect ride would come to an end.

 

The last six miles is relatively easy terrain and takes you through many stream crossings where your horses can get plenty to drink after a hard days work. You will also be going through another section of burnt trees. After traveling about 4 miles you will merge back into the trail you started on at the beginning of your journey. Remember to always be prepared with rain slickers and coats. In the last few miles of this trail the weather turned and we got slightly downpoured on. However we were on such a high from the views we experienced that day that the rain was almost refreshing.

Where to Camp? 

A lot of people ask us where to camp on our rides. We live about 2 1/2 hours from this trailhead. We just get up early and head for the hills and drive back the same night. There is a camp sight located at the end of the Sportsmans Lake Trail that is for stock parties only. It is located 0.2 miles from the main trail and you have to cross the East Fork of Specimen Creek to reach the campsite. Reminder anyone interested in spending a night with  your horses in Yellowstone Park must contact the West Yellowstone Visitor Center at (307) 344-2876 to obtain any necessary back country permits.

Wilderness Journeys

 

We have so many fabulous rides that we have enjoyed over the years, that it is difficult to decide which ones we want to share with you first. Those of you that follow us on Facebook will attest to that 🙂 So we decided let’s choose just our top five rides of our 2015 summer. While that still proves to be difficult, we are going to give it a shot anyway. So the ride that we decided ranks #1 is the Black Butte to Daly Creek ride.

Last summer we decided we wanted to explore new trails. We love the Tetons and for us that will always be a place we call home. However, we became curious about some trails in the northwest region of Yellowstone National Park. We did some research, found some descriptions and pictures of trails that we thought sounded interesting, and created a map that we could download to our Suunto Ambit2 watch.

Finding the Black Butte Trailhead

From West Yellowstone: From the center of town drive north on route 191 towards Bozeman for approximately 28.8 miles. After entering the Park you’ll pass the following trailheads: Bighorn Pass, Fawn Pass and Specimen Creek. The Black Butte trailhead parking lot is on the left a few miles past the Specimen Creek trailhead.

Black Butte Trailhead Description

Although Google Maps calculated this to be about a 14 mile loop, it is definitely closer to an 18 mile loop. This is a tough trail that leaves you riding on a ridge at 10,000 feet elevation for roughly five miles. The views however are spectacular and you have a 360 degrees of pure bliss at the top.

The parking lot for the Black Butte Trailhead is actually located across Hwy 191, so be prepared to do a little sprint across the highway with your horses. Good news is the highway isn’t too heavily populated so it really isn’t that big of a deal. As you are tacking your horse remember to be ready for any kind of weather, it can change awefully quick. The day we did this trail we went from being hot and wearing tank tops, to putting on a long sleeve shirt, to adding our rain slickers because it got cold and windy when we hit 10,000 feet. Once you are ready to hit the trail you will see a little trailhead marker across the highway labled Black Butte, aim for that and you will be on your way to an incredible ride before you know it.

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Black Butte Trailhead

The trail starts out with a steady, yet easy climb through a small meadow and sections of pine forest. You will hear the Black Butte Creek trickling to the right of the trail and periodically you will catch a glimpse of it. At approximately 1.9 miles into your trek you will come to a junction with the Daly Creek cutoff sign. With any luck this is the spot you will loop back into at the end of your journey.

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1st Junction

 

Continue on towards Bighorn Peak. You will be traveling about 3 miles before you hit your next junction. During this section you will be gaining almost 2,000 feet in elevation. Most of this section will be spent meandering through the forest. Make sure you stop and let your horses drink often because once you are out of this section there won’t be any water up on the ridge and your horses will be doing lots of climbing. As you start gaining your elevation in the forest you will be seeing some pretty awesome views of the Taylor Hilgards/Madison Range to the west and Lone Peak and Big Sky further to the north and west. The massive summit of Sphinx Mountain in the Madison Range will first appear as you reach this section of the trail.

The trail will start to open up and that is where we picked for our lunch spot. The view was extrodinarily breathtaking and it literally did take our breath away. We thought man it can’t get any better than this. We spent a lot of time at this lunch spot taking in the views and of course taking our fair share of pictures. It was hard to leave it and was a place that felt almost sacred. However, we knew we still had a long ways to go.

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As we left our lunch spot the trail did an immediate climb up a hill. The trail disappears here for a moment, so head in a straight line towards the ridge. You will notice the rock cairns that will guide you up the remaining incline to Sky Rim Junction. Here you will nearly be at 10,000 feet. Once at the top it will be a flat wide overlook with signs welcoming you to Yellowstone National park and another sign that tells you which directions to head. If you want to continue on, follow the Sky Rim Trail that goes in the opposite direction of Bighorn Peak.

However, we parked the horses and hiked a little ways up the Bighorn Peak trail. The Bighorn Peak trail is not the best trail to ride a horse on, because this trail gives the true meaning to sidehill. It is rocky and a sheer drop off on a narrow trail with a lot of loose rock.

After we finished exploring the Bighorn Peak trail, we got back on our horses and continued on toward the Sky Rim Trail. The trail headed down a very steep hill. It was a wide open field with trail markers, but a very deceivingly steep trail. We got off our horses at this point and walked down in a zig-zag pattern. From here the trail continued on for about five miles on an up and down rollercoaster type terrain. It makes you feel like you are literally in the sky, so for it to be called Sky Rim trail is very fitting. The views here are 360 degrees of beauty. No matter what direction you look it is absolutely stunning. However the weather did start to get iffy, with thunder and lightening and high winds. This was a little intimidating when you are up in the sky at 10,000 feet.

This is looking back at where we came. We were on top of that peak.
This is looking back at where we came. We were on top of that peak.
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On top of the world!

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Eventually you will come to a sign that says you can either continue on with the Sky Rim trail or take a left and start switchbacking down into Daly Creek Trail. You want to head towards Daly Creek. The trail for this section is about 3 miles. The trail here starts off with narrow switchbacks down the hillside into a forest with pretty rock walls. Once out of the switchbacks you continue through forests and meadows before you come to the cutoff trail that joins you back in with the Black Butte Trail.

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The cutoff trail is about 2.2 miles and it takes you past a patrol cabin before you connect back in with the Black Butte trail that you started on. There are lots of streams for the horses to drink at this point. We hit this section of the trail just as the sun was starting to go down. Riding during this time of night is so tranquil and the sunset was absolutely beautiful. It was a perfect ending to an amazing ride.

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At the end of the cutoff trail you will see a sign that will point you back to the Black Butte trailhead. Congratulations! You didn’t get lost and made it back to that sign that you saw at the beginning of your trek. Take a right and you will be on the final stretch to your truck and trailer.

Where to Camp?

If you are looking for a campsite to pack in to. There is a campsite located within the first 2 miles of the Black Butte Trail and livestock is permitted. You can contact the West Yellowstone Visitor Center to obtain more information on this site as well as what permits you will be needing to camp in the backcountry of the park. You may contact them at (307) 344-2876.

While there are lots of campsites around the area, most of them don’t allow livestock. However you might want to check out Taylor Fork Road. It is open all year and located approximately 5 miles north of the Bighorn Peak Trailhead on US 191. Campsites are free. There are no facilities. The first few sites are located about a mile from US 191. Forest service road (FSR 134) follows Taylor Creek west and extends deep into the Madison Range/Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area. Because this campsite is located on a service road it may allow livestock, but you would have to do some further checking to be certain.

 

Wilderness Journeys

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Be patient with us and check back often as we are working on getting some of our rides posted on here. Complete with descrition, pictures, and maps. If you have any requests or know of any rides that we do that are your favorite let us know. We will try and prioritize those rides so you can get ready for riding season.