Winding River Resort Trip - Cascade Falls
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
Summer vacation August 2021: Grand Lake, Colorado
This morning we weren’t in quite so much of a hurry to get onto the trails. We had a 9:00 am entry permit to Rocky Mountain National Park which meant we could hit the trail any time between 9 and 11 am. We rented a stock trailer from Winding River Resort again which by the way, is the best thing ever. We have camp set up in such a way that it would take us quite a while to get our trailer road ready again. To have the ability to saddle the horses at camp and throw them in a stock trailer and go is the best.
Cascade Falls Trail Head
Sedona was a little leery about getting into a trailer saddled and having to stand tied with no dividers. But by today, this being the third time she has been hauled this way, she is getting much more comfortable with the whole deal. The first trail we hit was the Cascade Falls Trail which runs from the north side of the outskirts of Grand Lake, which is a cute little town we plan to go check out tomorrow. There is absolutely no room for parking a trailer at the trail head (North Inlet). Absolutely, under no circumstances take a trailer up there. Fortunately a park ranger told us to park along West Portal Road and ride the gravel road up to the trail head. This required us to ride a little bit of blacktop but the horses did fine and traffic was fairly slow.
We immediately crossed a bridge with rushing water underneath. Both horses did fantastic! As we wound our way up the gravel road we began to see more of the damage from the forest fire that roared through this part of the park last year. The trail head was gated allowing for only horses and hikers to get through. About 1/4 of the way down the trail we saw our first moose while on horseback! I immediately jumped off of Sedona to gauge her reaction before we rode past. Tim had to whistle quite a bit actually just to get it off the trail. It was a mama and calf to boot so we wanted to give them plenty of room! They meandered off the trail unconcernedly as we approached. We managed to keep a distance of about 50 yards or so as they grazed on a hillside. Pretty neat! After realizing neither of our horses had any concern about the moose we hopped back on and continued our ride. This trail was very basic for the first three miles or so. Lush open meadows following North Inlet Creek were in stark contrast to the charred forest. Wildflowers cropped up plentifully along the blackened ground. Tim and I joked that it looked like the road to Mordor from Lord of the Rings. Parts of the trail were silent, eerie, not a glimpse of wildlife.
The ride was very easy for about the first third of the way. After that, the trail started to narrow and more boulders cropped out of the hillside as the terrain became increasingly rocky. Some of the footing was technical, like trust your horse not to fall on his face on fixed and loose rock combinations, technical. But after having Jake in Oklahoma with Susan, I felt he was well prepared. Sedona, being young and agile, figured out the rock situation pretty fast. As we neared the falls, we had flashbacks of our first ride up East Inlet trail on day one. Have you noticed some of these trails sound the same?! So watch yourself if you decide to come out here. There is a large separation between the easy trails and the hard ones. Tim used to be a whitewater rafting guide right after college and there is a term they use to separate the classes of rapids. He explained to me that it’s not the size of the rapids necessarily that determine the class, it’s the level of consequence when you make a mistake that determines how they class the rapid. Keeping this in mind, we could use a similar rating system on the trails. While some of the trails are more technical footing-wise the level of consequence is low if your horse stumbles. In other places, like when we headed up the last leg of the falls and especially when we took the loop back down, the trail was mostly a slope with moderate footing but the level of consequence would have been falling off a cliff if something went wrong. Yikes.
There was a shorter (by comparison to others we have seen) staircase with small steps right before we reached the turnoff to the falls. We watched Jake closely for any signs of discomfort or lameness but he trucked right along and looked great!
We made it to the hitching rails, which were awesome, about two hours into the ride and there we stopped for lunch. Horses are not allowed to graze in the park so we made sure they had all the hay they wanted overnight and in the trailer before we headed out. There were several creeks along the way as well to let them drink so they were good to hang out and nap at the hitching rail while we lunched and hiked around the falls.
As I mentioned before, the ride back down next to the falls was on the tricky side. Sheer rock face on our right and the cliff down to the falls on our left. The horses did great. Sedona even scraped her saddle bag SUPER LOUDLY on a boulder while we were on this ledge of a trail and she had no reaction whatsoever. WHEW! As much as I have enjoyed all of this I will be super glad when she is broke and I don’t have to wonder how things are going to go. The ride up to Cascade Falls was 7.78 miles out and back. We gained 1300 ft of elevation (one way) and the ride took us a total of 3 hrs and 16 min. It was a beautiful day and a really nice ride despite the burn area. It had it's own sort of interests and beauty. The area by the falls was untouched by the fires and was quite scenic.
The river just above Cascade Falls
The ride back to the trailer was uneventful. Jake goes about twice as fast on the way home as he does on the way out. This is some of the last remnants of his barn sour behavior. Sedona and I got a lot of practice on jog to walk transitions all the way back. There was one great, slight incline that Jake really got into his gait on and Tim was having a grand old time leaving me in the dust! The great thing is Sedona really could care less at this point. She would prefer to walk. We passed maybe a dozen groups of hikers on the way out and back. Everyone yielded to us, as per the park rules and the horses figured out that backpacks aren’t predators in disguise. They really handled the foot traffic well. Much better than I ever would have expected.
At the trailer they got a hay and water break and we drove to our second trail of the day. This was a great way to do it instead of staying out on one trail all day with no feed.