Is it hot in here or is it just me?
No, that’s not Lake DeSmet forming at my feet as I sweat buckets standing on the street this Rodeo Week!
But with the temperature touching triple digits, I reckon I ain’t the only one who’s turning their clothes a deeper shade of soaked. Thankfully, I only must make it to my wheels so I can escape to a place where the air is far less…let’s say, equatorial.
Once I make that breath-taking drive up Red Grade Road, I’ll be able to beat the heat in Mother Nature’s AC at Red Grade Trails!
No, I’m not talking about the Prairie Loop or Drifter, both of which you can access from Base Trailhead. I mean all the way up! I’ll cross that cattle guard into the Bighorn National Forest, where, awaiting me, are two new trailheads with more than seven new trail miles to explore!
Best of all, you can do a full loop, see it all and be back at your car in a couple of hours. Or you can pack your own picnic, stop to smell the flowers and take in all the majesty of the mountain.
How do I get there? Easy!
Once you’ve crossed into the Bighorn National Forest (you’ll know you’re there because of the sign), turn onto Forest Service Road 318 (FS 318). It’ll bend around and up the hill; however, just around the corner you’ll see a brand-new parking area. There’s parking for up to 16 vehicles at Poverty Flat Trailhead and Bighorn National Forest has helped make access even easier by grading and smoothing FS 318 up to the parking lot.
As SCLT Trail Program Manager Will Dutcher says, “It’s smooth enough you can drive in with a sedan.”
The Bear Gulch East Trailhead, which is west of Poverty Flat Trailhead, is directly visible from Red Grade Road. With parking for 10 and trailer pull-through, it’s also designed to keep vehicles off the vegetation that’s often muddy and eroding. You can’t miss it!
From Poverty Flat Trailhead, you can hop on several trails, two of which for a loop to Bear Gulch East Trailhead. We’re calling the north trail The Brink and the south trail Bear Knuckle. Combined, these trails account for about six miles. Dutcher described this stretch as an “appointment loop” the kind of place you can drive up for a morning or afternoon, especially if you’re on a mountain bike. Likewise, he these trails can comprise an “all day adventure.”
If you visited the area last summer, you may be familiar with much of Bear Knuckle, as crews captained by the skilled builders at Gumption Trail Works have carved out a masterpiece of a kind wholly new to our mountains.
Open to hiking and biking (and any other people-powered permutation thereof), Bear Knuckle provides stunning views looking deep into the Cloud Peak Wilderness, out to Little Goose Canyon and Moncreiffe Ridge as well as access across some of the forest’s most gorgeous wildflower meadows. And there’s some slick geologic formations that are sure to stun rockhounds and regular folk alike.
Like Bear Knuckle, The Brink is open to hiking and biking, and, in a first for Red Grade Trails, it is also open to equestrians. This section will really get you out on the face of the mountains, where you can experience some truly stunning views of the Goose Valley looking down to Big Horn and Sheridan out across our eastern sage sea. In 2023, this trail will join with another to create the first equestrian route up Red Grade from The Base to all the way to Bear Gulch!
Moreover, as these sections approach Bear Gulch East Trailhead, Dutcher says visitors can get a “back country experience” within a short hike of the trailhead. “From Bear Gulch East Trailhead, you have super quick access to trails that make you feel like you’re somewhere else, especially up higher where you’ll feel like you’re in the back country,” he explained.
As summer progresses, visitors will begin to notice even more trail open. Also accessible from Poverty Flat will be the Little Bear Loop, its name an homage to the Little Bear Ski Hill that was once located nearby. Another hiking/biking trail will tie into what, in 2023, will be the Aspens Trailhead and parking lot. If you’ve been up Red Grade Road, you’ll know this area – it’s where the pull off at the aspen grove is. A crew is also hand-building a connector between The Brink and Bear Knuckle for a shorter loop that’s perfect for a quick outing.
With trail work ongoing, please remember to mind the folks working hard to create your stoke and stay off trails that are marked with “Trail under construction, do not enter” signs.
When you go, Dutcher says it’s important to remember that trail etiquette still applies. He reminded visitors that whenever you are on a shared-use trail, pedestrians yield to equestrians and bikes yield to everyone. After that, downhill traffic yields to uphill traffic – just like on narrow forest roads. Dutcher also said to check the forecast and watch for storms coming across the mountain. They often pop up in the afternoon, and mosquitoes can bug you a bit in the mornings and at dusk. You also may bump into moose, deer and all sorts of forest wildlife. As you are in predator country, carrying bear spray is always advisable. You may also encounter cattle during parts of the season. Importantly, pets are welcome, both on-leash and off; but you must keep your pet under voice control – do not allow them to chase people, wildlife or other pets!
Even more importantly, none of this work would be possible without community support. Many people have generously shared their time, talent and treasure to help create an essential place for people to explore, experience, and enjoy the outdoors close to home. For that, SCLT is grateful.
So, if you’re like me and are sweating buckets standing in the street, don’t wait – beat the heat in Mother Nature’s AC at Red Grade Trails!
View & print trail maps at https://sheridanclt.org/recreation/maps/.