Wilderness Journeys

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

320 ranch map

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.

This is fun to see when it is getting dark!  They were all over.

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.

Trail Maps

The map you see below includes the loop option that we did not get to finish.

Products We Use

Our last two rides featured trails out of the northwest region of Yellowstone Park. We mentioned that these were just two loop trails among an infinate amount of trails within that region. We thought it might be helpful for you all, to include a map that we found necessary in planning these routes. Not only will this map cover all of Yellowstone National Park, but it will also cover areas in Bozeman/Big Sky/Gallatin Range/Madison Range and West Yellowstone.

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.

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.

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.

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.