Respect the private property on either side of the road leading up to the trailhead.
Much of this route travels above treeline, so plan to be up and down by noon before the afternoon thunderstorms have a chance to roll in. And reaching altitudes of over 12,000 feet, altitude sickness can be a real problem along this trail for those not acclimated.
The first 3/4ths of a mile winds along a high shelf perched above Lake Lenore. Sheltered under mature pockets of coniferous pines and stands of aspen, a feathered undergrowth of hearty grasses and broadleaf ferns carpets the forest wall to wall, fringing in on the trail. At points, the woods thin, laying bare wide views to Whitehouse Mountain on Ouray’s eastern flank, and Ridgway to the north.
500 vertical feet up the mountainside, the trail tops out on a grassy knoll at the eastern terminus of the old Horsethief Trail. A sign cautions travel on the fading trail, which takes a much steeper approach from the northern end of Ouray.
Over the next 2 miles, a steady incline along the ridge pulls the route above treeline to find another 1,500 feet of climbing before the final oxygen-deprived push. In another series of tight switchbacks, the trail meets with the 12,000 foot Bridge of Heaven.
From here, the route loses about 600 feet as it descends into a bowl. Briefly finding treeline, the trail crosses Cascade Creek, then climbs back into the alpine zone to seek out easier grades in the unforgiving terrain. Easing up near the creek's headwaters, the trail reaches its high point at 12,600 feet, where a well-deserved 300 foot descent brings you to the convergence of the Bear Creek National Recreation Trail #241
and the Ridge Stock Driveway Trail #233. Treading south, the Horsethief Trail finally ends at the Alpine Loop Road.
Deer, mountain goat and bighorn, and the occasional mountain lion or bear can be sighted along any of the Ouray-area trails. Above treeline, wildflowers blanket the high-alpine meadows. With the snowmelt in early spring, this is a great trail for viewing waterfalls.