Horsethief Trail begins north of Ouray and climbs at an easy but steady grade into the alpine country east of Ouray. Views of the Sneffels range, Red Mountain, and of the rugged Difficulty Creek drainage are particularly spectacular.
Few suitable campsites exist on the northern portion of the trail. The best camp locations may be found in the Cascade and Difficulty Creek drainage's. Adequate horse feed is available in both locations. Drinking water is limited, especially in late summer.
Due to high elevations, horses should by rested frequently. Both approaches to the Bridge of Heaven are steep and narrow. Inexperienced riders should lead their horses in this area.
The starting point for the Horsethief Trail is just beyond the Wedge Mine at the end of the Dexter Creek Road. Due to mining activity and heavy ore truck traffic, the last mile of road may be closed to vehicle use. If the road is closed, park at the Bachelor Mine. Trucks with horse trailers should park at the mine at all times due to limited turnaround space on the road above.
Travel is limited to foot and horse traffic only. Motorized vehicles are prohibited o the Horsethief Trail. Recent reconstruction and signing defines the route making travel easy. Rock cairns and markers are utilized above timberline.
By horse, travel time takes a full day from Dexter Creek to Engineer Mountain. Travel from Dexter Creek into the Difficulty Creek basin and back may be made in a single day, but is a long hard trip.
From Engineer Mountain, hikers frequently return to Highway 550 via the Bear Creek Trail to make a three day loop around Ouray. By taking the old trail down the north fork of Bear Creek, a few miles may be saved.
A particularly scenic section of trail is the Bridge of Heaven between Cascade and Bridal Veil Creeks. For a short section the trail follows a ridge top with steep drop-offs on either side. Elevation of the "Bridge" is 12,308 feet. Spectacular mountain panoramas surround travelers at this point.
Bighorn sheep are frequently seen along high open ridges. Areas to be watchful for their activity include the Bridge of Heaven and Wildhorse Peak.
Directions: From Ouray, Access #1:Take U.S. 550 north two miles to Cutler-Dexter Creek Road turnoff. Follow the road to junction past Lake Lenore. Keep right on Dexter Creek Road and continue to the end of the road to trail sign.Access #2:Take U.S. 550 south about three and a half miles to Engineer Mountain Road # 878. Take four wheel drive road to summit of Engineer Pass. Unmarked trails just east of the pass, tie into the National Forest section of Horsethief Trail on the pass below Wildhorse Peak.
Elevation: 9,240 feet
Ending Elevation: 12,800 feet
Elevation Gain: 3,560 feet
Distance: 12 miles
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Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Colorado
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