Deep in the heart of Colorado lies the Winding River Resort. Located outside the historic mountain town of Grand Lake, this scenic haven sits along the North Fork of the Colorado River, and borders Rocky Mountain National Park and Arapahoe National Forest.
Owned by Wes and Marcia House, the resort has 150 spacious recreational-vehicle sites, 24 corrals for guest horses, lodge rooms, tent sites, and cabins.
We pulled our living-quarters trailer into an RV site with two corrals. Nate and Cowboy, our 5-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter geldings, were very pleased at the size of their accommodations. Showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities are also on site.
From the flower-filled entryway to the modern bathhouse, Winding River is immaculately maintained by eight work-camp couples. Our stay here was a comfortable, happy experience.
Here’s a photo gallery from our trip to Winding River Resort. For more on our trip, see Postcard From ? Colorado, The Trail Rider, September/October 2012.
Into the Forest
Ride in any direction from Winding River, and you’ll find gorgeous country to explore. First, pick up a complimentary map from the resort’s gift shop.
We did three different rides from camp. Our first ride was a small exploratory loop ride of a few miles into Arapaho National Forest, which borders the resort.
To do this loop, go past the snowmobile rental shed, through a gate, and take the immediate first right. The trail winds uphill and passes by numerous slash piles. Sadly, portions of this area have been hard hit by beetle kill.
This loop will take you to long-distance viewing points. It then intersects with the incoming trail, and you head back the way you came in. Depending on the time of year, you may see lots of sweet, wild raspberries.
If you want to continue riding on this side of camp, continue following the different all-terrain-vehicle trails that head up the hill and branch off in various directions. You can do large loop rides and figure-eight loops.
Ride the Park
For our second adventure, we did the Big Meadows loop ride in Rocky Mountain National Park.
To get to this trailhead, exit the Winding River campground, turn right at the Rocky Mountain National Park sign, and cross the bridge. At the three-way split, stay to the right, and look for the Kawuneeche Visitor Center.
Stay to the right of the visitor center, and ride past it. Within a half mile or so, you’ll come to an intersection. Go left to get to Big Meadows. If you turn right, you’ll head down to Grand Lake.
Nate and Cowboy thought this was a pleasant, easy trail. The 700-foot elevation gain to the meadows was a gradual incline on a mostly soft, shaded trail.
Arriving at Big Meadows, we saw where the word “big” came from. The meadows are huge! They’re about two miles long and one mile wide, much like an expansive, emerald sea hidden in the mountains.
Lush, green grass swayed in the wind. In the distance, Nakai Peak, at 12,216 feet above sea level, stretched skyward.
After Big Meadows, five miles remain on the loop back to Winding River. We left the meadows on the Green Mountain trail, traveling mostly downhill.
At the bottom, cross the highway, go about a half-mile to a junction, and veer right. Instead of a roadside trail, this trail follows the Colorado River and will lead back to the resort.
On our last ride into the park, we rode seven miles to Cascade Falls. Begin this ride as though you were going to Big Meadows. However, instead of turning left at the intersection after the visitor center, turn right.
This will take you to the Tonahutu/North Inlet Trailheads. There will be two parking lots separated by a bridge. Turn left at the first parking lot. This puts you on the North Inlet trail; Cascade Falls is approximately five miles up.
Pastoral landscapes line the first mile or so of an old trail/road that winds through private property. A wooden rail fence encloses a matched pair of gorgeous, dappled-gray Percherons. A small cabin marked the end of private land. The trail began to wind and climb up along a mountainside. Cliffs were festooned with greenery and boulders of golden hues.
Beware! Before the falls, the trail narrows, and there are sheer drop-offs. Not a place to meet backpackers!
A low, rumbling growl signals the falls are nearby. An intersection with a stock trail to the left loops back to the falls. Friends had advised us to go no farther, so we walked from there to admire the falls tumbling down over the rocks.
Seasoned trail riders and equine photojournalists Kent and Charlene Krone enjoy sharing their riding adventures in the United States and Canada.