Skinned Horse

Round Trip Distance: 8k/5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
XC Skill level:
Elevation: 9,968 - 10,278 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 3 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Ward Creek Reservoir
Fee: none
Attractions: Groomed and Ungroomed trails

Skinned Horse Reservoir is nestled in the forest about a quarter mile south of Ward Lake on the Grand Mesa. The ungroomed Skinned Horse Nordic trail is about 2.3 miles in length and stretches from Ward Lake down to the  vicinity east of Ward Creek Reservoir. The lower end of the Skinned Horse trail connects with the groomed Ward trail. For this outing I used the Ward trail to form a loop with the Skinned Horse trail around Deep Slough Reservoir and Deep Ward Lake to the upper trailhead where I began. There are opportunities to form shorter loops by incorporating the ungroomed Finney Reservoir, Sheep Lake and East Ward trails. The elevation change on this route is just over 300 feet. Except for a few short rises the ungroomed trails are all downhill which leaves all of the climbing for the nicely groomed Ward trail.

There is only enough room for 4 or 5 vehicles to park at the trailhead but this area doesn't see too many people so it is probably usually adequate. I traveled 4.5 miles before I saw anyone else and two of them had come up from the trailhead at Ward Creek Reservoir. An alternative place to park could possibly be around Spruce Lodge which is open year round. There isn't a restroom at the trailhead but the nice heated flush toilet restrooms at the Visitors Center are normally opened 24 hours year round.

The Skinned Horse trail branches off to the left within about 50 feet of the trailhead. The is a blue diamond marker on a tree that marks the beginning of the trail.

The trail descends the slope above Ward Lake and comes out at a day use area at the east end of the lake. The trail then follows a forest service road that crosses the dam between Ward Lake and Alexander Lake. The snow was deep enough to travel right over top of the gate with no trouble at all.

There are several cabins between Ward Lake and Skinned Horse Reservoir. The map shows a ranger station along the road. Since all the cabins are painted Forest Service brown it might be that some of them are quarters for Forest Service personnel during the summer months.

There is a snowmobile trail that crosses the side of Skinned Horse Reservoir opposite of the Nordic trail. I could see where several machines had buzzed across the snow covered ice to the Nordic side but they were nice enough to stay off the Nordic trail. I don't imagine that snow machines and pedestrians would be a good mix.

The trail disappears back into the trees at the tail end of the reservoir. I followed along beside a set of ski tracks that were marking the way.

I came to the junction of the Finney Reservoir trail about 1.7 miles from the trailhead and the Sheep Lake trail about a half mile after that. At some future date I will probably return and give each of those routes a go. All of the trails were well enough marked that I didn't have any trouble staying of the Skinned Horse trail even with tracks heading off in all directions.

Just over 2 miles from the trailhead the trail opens up onto a bit of a knoll. There were a lot of tracks that went off to the left and over the side of the hill. The Skinned Horse trail actually bends to the right at this spot and the other tracks are all following a shortcut that leads to the Ward trail and the lower trailhead at Ward Creek Reservoir. If you happen to follow that route you will have to do a lot of extra climbing to get back to the upper trailhead.

Just down the hill to the right from the last point that I mentioned I came to the nicely groomed Ward trail which I commenced to follow back up towards the upper trailhead. I had gone about 2.5 miles overall up to that point.

The Ward trail bends around the west side of Deep Slough Reservoir. The trail gains back the elevation lost on the Skinned Horse trail at a fairly gentle pace. Once the trail gets around Deep Slough and breaks out into the open you can pretty much count on anything from a bit of a breeze to a pretty stiff wind. It could be a tough place to get caught under bad conditions.

Most of the elevation gain on the return trip is between Deep Slough Reservoir and Ward Lake. There is a shortcut that goes over one big hump where the trail rises a good hundred feet. I would have gone the long way around but since the trail was groomed in both directions I opted for the shortcut. The last stretch of climbing was from Ward Lake back up the slope to where I began. That section of trail gains about another 100 feet but it is stretched out over a half mile so it wasn't too bad at all.

The Skinned Horse trail made for a pretty nice outing. There were plenty of blue diamond trail markers on the ungroomed trail and I think I would have had no trouble following them if there wouldn't have been any other tracks. I normally don't fully trust someone else's tracks to be going where I am headed so I was paying close attention to the blue diamonds. The Skinned Horse trail is a good place to get away from all the crowds around Skyway and the County Line.  If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.