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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.