Take a ride – on horseback – into the backcountry

Courtesy of Celia Boyd

Celia Boyd rides into the Lizard Head Wilderness from the intersection of the Burro Bridge and Groundhog Stock Driveway trails. A ride on the Burro Bridge Trail leads to spectacular views of El Diente and Mount Wilson; Dolores Peak stands out on the Groundhog Stock Driveway.

By Celia Boyd

San Juan Mountains Association

Autumn is a great time to enjoy our public lands. The trees and shrubs are showing off their fall color. With cooler weather on the horizon, it’s time to get out and ride.

Although horses have the right of way, being aware of other users on the trail always is a good idea; many trails are multiuse. Before leaving home, check with the local Public Lands Office for current trail and road conditions.

Always make sure a friend or family member knows your itinerary for the backcountry. Even if it’s a short ride, someone should know where you will be. It is recommended to wear orange clothing, as it is hunting season. Bring proper rain gear and clothing; weather changes quickly in Southwest Colorado. Don’t forget to bring a good map, matches and a first-aid kit.

Make sure your horses recently were shod and are acclimated to the area. Take only certified weed-free hay into public lands. The spread of noxious weeds is a serious problem.

Also, be bear aware. This is the time of year when bears are foraging actively in preparation for hibernation.

Remember to use low-impact camping and horse-tethering methods. Do not tie horses to trees for long periods; instead, use hobbles or high lines. Help protect the land by using a high line, temporary fence, hobble or picket to restrain your stock, and always use tree-saver straps.

These are a few of my favorite trails on the Dolores Ranger District. For more information on these and other trails, visit a local Public Lands Office.

Chicken Creek Trail – This trail begins at the Transfer campground, 11 miles north of Mancos, where there is a newly constructed trailhead. The trail takes you into the Chicken Creek drainage, where it follows the bottom and, at one point, the east side of the canyon.

The upper portion of the Chicken Creek Trail is motorized down to the junction with the Rim Trail, about 1.5 miles. From that point on, it becomes a nonmotorized trail until you reach the lower end at Mancos State Park.

It is 7.8 miles from the Chicken Creek Trailhead to Mancos State Park. If you prefer, there are shorter loops that will bring you back to the trailhead.

Dolores River from the Pump Station to Slick Rock – This is a great trail in the fall because the water is low and easy to cross. It is not recommended to take this route during the spring and summer months.

This trail is about 26 miles long. An overnight trip is recommended with a vehicle picking you up near Slick Rock. It begins at the Dolores Pump Station, where there is parking for trailers.

The trail is an old road that follows the Dolores River. The road changes into a trail along the way and back to an old road again. It is billed as a “near Grand Canyon experience.” The top of the canyon walls are three-quarters of a mile above the trail.

The next two trails take you into the Lizard Head Wilderness, which offers only primitive forms of travel (hiking and stock animals).

Burro Bridge Trail – This trail is two miles east of Dunton on Forest Road 535. If you are camping, there are two side-by-side corrals adjacent to Burro Bridge campground available on a first-come, first-served basis.

The trail has many switchbacks and makes a steady climb through spruce and aspen forests. Once it levels out a bit, it heads north through open meadows into the Lizard Head Wilderness and offers spectacular views of El Diente and Mount Wilson peaks, both Fourteeners.

This trail is not recommended for beginners.

Groundhog Stock Driveway – This trail connects with Burro Bridge Trail. At the junction of the Groundhog Stock Driveway and Burro Bridge trails, you will take a left turn and continue southwesterly. Watch for cairns (rock piles and posts that mark the trail). The trail continues through large open parks and spruce/aspen forests at a gradual downhill grade.

This is a great ride to see outstanding views of Dolores Peak. The trail ends at Black Mesa Road (Forest Service Road 611), about 3 miles north of Dunton.

Enjoy your time riding on San Juan Public Lands with friends.

Celia Boyd is a resource assistant with the U.S. Forest Service and a volunteer with San Juan Mountains Association.

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