By Suzanne Webel
Having looked for some time for a campground designed for horses in the Roosevelt National Forest, I was rewarded to find a great one up north: Jacks Gulch. There are five clean camp-sites in the horse loop, each with a pull-through to park your trailer, a picnic table, a flat space for your tent, and four pipe corrals for your horses. Water and clean restrooms are nearby. The cost is $31 per equestrian site at the time of this writing — per night, reservations accepted for two equestrian sites www.recreation.gov, 1-877-444-6777, additional fees and discounts may apply, after that it’s first-come, first-served. We went during the week and had no problem getting a site; weekends might be a challenge. The campground is open from approximately May 26-November 6. Only certified weed-free hay is allowed (a list of certified hay producers is available from the CO Department of Agriculture). Dispersed camping with horses is also possible.
From Longmont plan on taking two hours to reach the campground. Travel 10 miles northwest of Ft. Collins on US Highway 287 to the junction of CO 14, at Ted’s Place. Proceed west 26 miles to the Pingree Park Rd (CR63E). Turn left and proceed another 6 miles (in first gear in many places) to the turnoff to Jacks Gulch. The horse-camping loop will be on your right, with other campgrounds to your left.
After setting up camp, you can ride some old 4WD roads east of 63E, with lots of camp sites for, and heavy use by, four wheelers. The Forest Service is trying to discourage use of non-maintained roads and trails in the entire Jacks Gulch area, of which there are quite a few in all directions — so the network of existing roads and trails may change in the next few years.
The second day will be a full one riding on the Beaver Park loop. The Little Beaver Creek Trail took 2.5 hours and was moderately difficult but beautiful, as it goes parallel to and occasionally crosses a nice creek. The top of Beaver Park offers a beautiful view of the Mummy Range to the west, and is a great place to have lunch. Return to camp on the Old Flowers Road. This road was in quite rocky in some places, but offers more nice views, meadows, and an old homestead located at the colorfully-named Bedspring Spring.
The last day we rode the Fish Creek Trail to a nice meadow for lunch. Note: immediately after crossing Fish Creek, be sure to turn right, uphill; if instead you go left at this poorly-marked intersection you will end up bushwhacking across private property and will find yourself at the main road. Great water, flowery meadows, and lots of pine trees.
Since this trail is partially in the National Forest, you might need to check on hunting season dates before committing yourself to this excursion in the fall. And since this trail is partially in the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area, groups are restricted to “12 heartbeats” – that means no more than six horse/rider combinations on the trail at any given time.
Total Distance: Beaver Park Loop approx. 11 miles roundtrip; Fish Creek Trail approx. 5 miles one way.
Total Time: Approx. 5 hours each
Dogs: Not recommended
Jurisdiction: Roosevelt National Forest, Comanche Peak Wilderness Area, Canyon Lakes
Ranger District, 970-295-6700.
Maps: USGS topos Pingree Park, Rustic, Big Narrows, Crystal Mountain;
Nat’l Geographic Trails Illustrated #112.