Yes, going on every trail and reaching every destination Elk River Guest Ranch offers would take quite a bit of time and horseback stamina. The diversity of trails we have to ride, from long to short, steep to mellow, and advanced to beginner, offers a little bit for everyone, and there's no need to feel like you have to fit it all in in one week--just gives you even more reason to come back to visit us!
For most guests, we suggest fitting in at least one of these epics into your vacation. However, if you're only with us for a three or four night stay, it may be worth saving these for your longer vacation trip to the ranch as there are lots of other adventurous activities worth partaking in in addition to horseback riding.
1. The Pearl Lake Round Trip
A total of approximately six to seven hours of saddle time, this is the king of epic rides. The route up behind the ranch gives you a vertical climb of approximately 700 feet all within 45 minutes of your departure from the ranch. The climb is not difficult, but does offer some exposure. Once you reach the junction of the Overlook Trail, you get views of Willow Creek Pass as you find your way through the wooded single track. A switchback descent takes you through a forest that feels like the scene from Lord of the Rings where the hobbits hide from the Ringwraith under a hollowed out tree. That trail spits you out into a ravine that rises again, more gently, this time. Before you reach the Pearl Lake trail junction, you step right into a scene of Jurassic Park (which I've never seen but can imagine) with a fern forest as tall as your horses. Keep your eyes out for the T-Rex!
About three hours into your horseback ride, you descend into Pearl Lake State Park where the stunning blue of the waters catch you by surprise. Lunch at the lake is well-deserved, and the loop home is just as beautiful with big meadows, small seasonal creeks to cross, and a logging road to ease the duration of the journey home.
2. The Long Coulton Advanced Ride
While it is possible to take this route as an out-and-back for those not interested in trotting and loping, to do the full loop in a three hour time, the ride has to have confident, more experienced riders who are willing to trot and lope. Otherwise, we can offer it as a lunch ride.
The trail ride begins either at the Coulton Creek trailhead or at the ranch, and spans a long portion of a logging road. A mid-ride break is perfect at Little Aspen Hill with stunning views of the Zirkel Wilderness area and, for most of the summer, snow capped mountains. After break, the logging road brings you to the Coulton Creek trail, and this portion leads you through forests, meadows, winding trails, over springs, and eventually back to the logging road where you ride home to the ranch or trailer. Many guests who have ridden this trail have described it as having a "raw" or "way-out-there" feel as you often don't see others and the Coulton Trail itself is a great portrayal of remoteness.
3. Big Creek Canyon Mine Ride
Personally, this is my favorite. The newest of the three with plenty more exploring left to be done in the area, we can chop this ride into segments or do the entire thing in one ride. The duration depends on the rider group, but usually can run from as quick as a four hour lunch ride to longer than five hours. What makes this ride unique is that unless it's hunting season, the only other creatures you're likely to see are our friend's cows who free range on the national forest lands. That isn't to say you won't see elk, bear, deer or other wild animals.
The Big Creek ride involves more mellow terrain than the Pearl Lake and Coulton loops. We drive up about 20 minutes to a drop-off point with the horse trailer, and then horseback ride up a forest service road that quickly transitions from drive-able to ATV caliber to horse and human traffic only. There are opportunities to trot and lope along the way. Relaxing even for more easy-going riders, this loop offers a wide track for riding, deep forest, then open views of Burn Ridge and Big Creek Canyon. A quick ascent up an old mine road and a short hike before lunch takes you to a hidden secret on the side of a mountain.
After lunch, the way back to the trailer is easy to traverse as you head down through another wide trail in the forest with glimpsing views of Hahn's Peak, Farwell Mountain, and the mountains home.