Bear Basin Packtrips, LLC
473 County Road 271
Westcliffe, CO 81252
719-783-2519 (phone)
866-244-4691 (fax)
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Details Sand Dunes Packtrip

Bear Basin Pack Trips LLC

An incredible journey over the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range into the Great Sand Dunes National Park.
For fit,experienced or confident riders.


“A memorable wilderness journey through some of the most remote and spectacular mountains in North America…with comfortable camps, world class guides and Colorado’s best mountain trained horses!”

Far from the crowded trials and backpacking hoards, this five-day ultimate horseback vacation takes you through forgotten valleys of Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Wilderness. We designed these trips many years ago for the horse enthusiast and high country lover who want to disappear completely into a
lost mountain world.

This adventure is for fit, experienced or confident riders only. We cross 12,000-ft high passes, riding up to six or seven hours almost every day.  Some traveling is along rough, unmaintained trails that may require moving rockslides or chopping a fallen tree blocking passage. We sometimes cross between valleys over old herder’s tracks above timberline where it is necessary to dismount and lead our horses over rugged terrain.

The Sand Dunes Ultimate route begins at Day 1 at Music Pass and then over the top of the range into the wilds of the Sand Creek drainage Day 2. We work our way down Sand Creek to a little known route at the base to join a trail heading to the Sand Dunes. We’ll camp close to the Sand Dunes and enjoy a day riding on sand mountains. Then we exit out Madano Pass to our trail head once again on the eastern side of the Sangres. The group works as a team. Everyone participates in saddling, care of horses and in setting-up/breaking-down camp. The staff cook, clean up, and pack horses. This is an expedition, lightweight and mobile, utilizing all hands towards the ultimate goal of reaching the next pass, or catching sight of the moving forest of elk. Doing it simply. Responding to the call.


DAY 1: We meet in Colorado Springs or at Bear Basin Ranch and travel to the trailhead. This route takes you from the eastern plains below Pikes Peak, traveling back into western history up Hardscrabble Pass through the Wet Mountains, across the Wet Mountain Valley, to the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. These locations are aptly named. Hardscrabble is just that — a narrow, steep, twisting canyon found and used by the white man for less than, maybe, 200 years. Over 12 feet of snow fell on much of the Wet Mountains this winter, and rain, hail, and snow can find riders in the Wet Mountains every summer. You will get the opportunity to learn how the Sangre de Cristo range gets its name (in English, the “Blood of Christ”) if you see the morning sun strike the mountains and, for just a few moments, the snow-covered peaks turn the pink of snow brushed with blood. If you need to buy a fishing license, remember to ask your guide to stop before we pass through the town of Westcliffe. You will arrive at the trailhead mid-morning, where we begin with a detailed lesson on riding, saddling and care of your mount, then we pack up and head out. Quiet riders will discover the joys of meandering through age-old aspen, pine, and spruce to round a blind corner and discover mule deer, a porcupine, a wild turkey, cottontail rabbits, or maybe a snowshoe hare. We will ride about four hours up and over Music Pass. Here you may hear strange whistling sounds warning others we’re coming — we’re the invaders here. If you look closely, you may see this whistler — a rotund, waddling funny-looking fellow known as a yellow-bellied or mountain marmot. He’s a friendly fellow who lives in the rocks, subsists entirely on the greens of summer, and then hibernates through the harsh winter. That’s “marmot,” not “varmint.”) It’s an incredible first day of riding over a 12,500′ pass to our first glimpse of the vastness of the San Luis Valley framed by each peak and ridgeline descending sharply below us. We set up tents, picket horses, and soon the scents of a mouth-watering feast mingled with woodsmoke entice us to gather round the fire for drinks and dinner.

DAY 2: After a delectable breakfast with a bracing cup of cowboy coffee, we saddle up, load the packhorses, and visit the spectacular Upper Sand Lake before descending down Sand Creek to our beautiful meadow camp above the Little Sand intersection. We hope to see the larger cousins of the mule deer we spotted earlier. Unlike mule deer, who are more territorial, the elk are nomadic – constantly searching for food and a warm thicket to bed down in during the day. A bull elk, who stands about one and a-half feet taller than a mule deer, can run up to 35 mph, and during the rutting season you may hear them “bugling” as they call to their potential mates and warn off other bulls. Where there are so many small forest critters as well as deer and elk, there are predators, and deep in the mountains we cross live both cougars and black bears. Like the marmots, the black bears have a very short season to store enough fat to feed them all winter while they snooze in some dark den, so they munch all summer on whatever they can find. It’s not unusual to see tracks or scat of these fat, lumbering old fellows where they have stepped in some mud near a creek for a drink. If we’re very, very lucky, we may see one from a distance casually crossing our trail on a path of his own. The cougar, or puma, are even more reclusive, and few guides in these mountains have yet to see more than sign that one of these big cats have passed our way — but, you never know. . . . The smaller predators, such as bobcats or coyotes, are more often seen and heard, and the coyotes have been known to gives us a thrill when they howl as we tell tales around the campfire after delighting in a delicious classic packtrip dinner. We ride down and establish camp alongside Sand Creek for a well-earned restful evening, another gourmet feast around the campfire, and a peaceful night. We may poke our fishing poles in the notorious Sand Creek holes. If you choose to fish, in these high waters it is a true delight. There are indigenous trout, but the Dept. of Wildlife also stocks many of these alpine lakes and streams with Pikes Peak Native fingerlings, a hybridization of Greenback and Yellowstone or Colorado River, and purebred Greenbacks. You may also find Brookies or a Rainbow in some of the creeks and beaver ponds. These waters are not specially restricted, so pack your favorite gear: flies, lures, or hooks for bait, and come prepared to enjoy and share your catch for dinner if there’s enough!

DAY 3: Morning breaks and while easing a few stiff muscles we work as a team to break camp after enjoying a traditional packtrip breakfast and lots of cowboy coffee. Today we’re riding totally on the West Side of the range. It will be a long day- perhaps as much as 18 miles. We take a little known route down Sand Creek to the base of the mountains in the San Luis Valley. Here we intersect with a trail that heads south to the Sand Dunes. Big skies and the gradually emerging dunes dominant the day. These breath-taking, lofty views are perfect locations to watch for some of our air-borne predators: large, swift, powerful hawks and eagles who swoop to dine from the skies. You may see Swainson’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, and, most majestic of all, golden eagles.  Imagine what it is like to look down from your perch on high to see a golden eagle soaring with a wing span of over seven feet, or to see him perched standing 3 feet tall! Deeper in the trees you may see a sharp-shinned hawk, a Cooper’s hawk, or the northern goshawk. We camp at the foot of the Dunes.

DAY 4: We lay over for the day to allow us time for a day of fun on the dunes. We’ll play with horses, hike, fish or just relax in the beauty of camp.  That night, after a sumptuous dinner, as the fire dies down and you drift off to sleep, you may hear the calls, hoots, and flight sounds of some of our spectacular nocturnal birds of prey: great horned owls, screech owls, and night hawks.

DAY 5: After breakfast we break camp and head up to Madano Pass. As we approach the high country again, there are an amazing variety of wildflowers, especially at the peak of their seasons if there’s been sufficient water. In addition to the ever-present small yellow composites, you may find larkspur, elk thistle, monk’s hood, mountain bluebells, scarlet gilia, Colorado blue columbine, Parry primrose, wild roses, wild geranium, and harebells, or if you’re truly fortunate, a Calypso orchid, also sometimes called a fairyslipper, Venus slipper, or lady’s slipper. Look closely at the paintbrush. Something unequaled at lower elevations happens here; often the paintbrush bloom in startling shades of fuscia or even a delicate off-white.  We descend to the trailhead arriving by 4-6pm.  We’re at the trailhead too soon. We drive you back to Colorado Springs in time for late evening flights or for a restful evening in a hotel.

Due to factors beyond our control, we occasionally find it necessary to change the order or the route of these activities.

** THIS IS A SAMPLE ITINERARY. Based upon guests’ needs and experience, we have designed custom programs to offer more intensive instruction, additional days, more difficult routes, etc. We have designed programs for many groups and organizations and would be happy to work with yours.(PLEASE SEE CUSTOM TRIPS).

* Due to factors beyond our control, we occasionally find it necessary to change the order or the route of these activities. We have many options available for different valleys, camps and passes to use within the range of our Forest Service special use permit for the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness Area and Great Sand Dunes National Park. The route that we select will follow the above itinerary as closely as possible. However, we make our pre-trip decision based upon weather, trail conditions and other varying factors. Travel and climbing in high mountain terrain is always contingent to favorable weather conditions.

At the end of your trip you will be brought back to the hotel sometime between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. We recommend making prior lodging reservations if you plan to spend the night. If you must fly out that evening, please do not schedule a flight before 8:30 p.m., to make certain you can make your flight.

Five-Day Great Sand Dunes Adventure – $1250 ($200 per person surcharge if only 3 people are signed up by launch date)
Includes horses, guides, meals, tents, & instruction.
A 3% Forest Service Use fee will be added to the cost.

Start Dates:  July 3rd through September 18th. Depending on availability. Other dates may be available upon request.

Phone: 719.783.2519
Fax: 866.244.4691

Items listed on the equipment list, alcoholic beverages, and tips are excluded. Tipping is at your discretion, of course. Please direct your tip to the lead guide. Standard in the industry is 10-15% of the trip cost. We now require all guests to leave their pets at home for their safety and the safety of other guests.


    Time: 7:30 am on the first morning of the trip
    Radisson Inn, Colorado Springs Airport – 1645 N. Newport Rd., Colorado Springs, CO 80916
    Please meet in the lobby with your duffel bag, and with your day pack or saddlebags packed.
    Transportation to the Ranch: Travel to and from the Ranch in our van
    Time: 9:00 am on the first morning of the trip
    Bear Basin Ranch; 473 County Road 271; Westcliffe, CO 81252
    Please meet at the ranch with your duffel bag, and with your day pack or saddlebags packed.
    Transportation to the Ranch: Drive to the Ranch in your car


Hotel: We recommend the Radisson Inn – Colorado Springs Airport on 1645 N. Newport Rd. in Colorado Springs.
Phone: 719.597.7000 or 800.333.3333

Or, if you would like to stay somewhere locally in Westcliffe, we recommend the Westcliffe Inn
Phone: 719.783.9275
(or there are several other hotels and Inns if you go looking!) Westcliffe is 11 miles west on Hwy 96 from the Ranch.

Air: Most major airlines serve Colorado Springs daily.

Car: You can drive to the Radisson Inn – Colorado Springs Airport and, with prior notice, leave your car in the parking lot while on the trip. Arrangements can also be made to drive to Bear Basin Ranch outside of Westcliffe, CO. Let us know and we will send you details and a map.

Directions: Bear Basin Ranch is approximately 65 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.
Head south on Interstate 25 to the Tejon/Canon City Exit in Colorado Springs.
urn left from the exit over to Nevada Avenue (Hwy 115) and then right on Nevada heading south to Florence (about 35 miles).
In Florence turn left at the light (Carl’s Jr.) onto Hwy 67 again heading south to Wetmore.
At Wetmore turn right at the T-intersection onto Hwy 96 heading west.
Watch the mile markers. Our turn is at the 11 mile marker, turn right (north) onto County Rd 271.
Go one quarter mile to Bear Basin Ranch on the left. Check in to the office (first log cabin on the right).

** Map to Bear Basin Ranch.

Bus: Greyhound serves Colorado Springs on a daily scheduled basis.
Phone: 719.292.6111

TRAVEL INSURANCE: We highly recommend purchasing travel insurance when you book a trip. This can reimburse you if you need to cancel last minute due to sickness or other trip emergencies.

In order to best acclimate to our higher altitude, we recommend that you begin increasing your water intake to 8 or more glasses of water per day at least 24 hours before you are due to arrive — this will help your body to adapt to the higher altitude.

___ 2pr. long
___ 2pr. short
___ Underwear
___ Long underwear bottoms or biker shorts (to combat saddle sores)
___ 1 heavy long sleeve (cotton is cold when wet) sweater (wool or synthetic)
___ 1 lightweight long sleeve
___ 1 short sleeve
___ 3 T-shirts or tank tops
___ Boots, medium-weight with stiff sole
___ Boots, lightweight trail hiking boots or shoes
___ Tennis shoes or tevas (for around camp)
___ Socks — 4 or 5 pairs of heavy wool, liners also help prevent chaffing
___ Bandana
___ Gaiters to keep out snow, rain etc.
___ Warm parka or jacket, windproof and waterproof
___ Windproof outer jacket/shell (optional)
___ Two piece rain suit (slicker with rain pants) NO PONCHOS PLEASE (essential!)
___ Fleece, polartec, or other brand pullover or jacket, or heavyweight sweater
___ Gloves (for warmth)

___ Hat with brim (for sun, hail, and snow protection – (must have some form of stampede string if wearing while riding)
___ Wool hat (for warmth)
___ Large daypack (to carry things during the day)
___ Warm sleeping bag (good at least to 30° F. – we can rent bags and thinsolite pads if they are reserved in advance)
___ Light foam pad or air mattress
___ Sunglasses – quality dark or glacier-type glasses
___ Pocketknife – Swiss army type
___ Flashlights – mini-maglite flashlight with headband or headlamp with extra AA batteries
___ 1 or 2 lightweight water bottles
___ Towel & washcloth
___ Biodegradable soap
___ Toothbrush and toothpaste
___ Sun screen – heavy duty sun block
___ Lip balm – with sunscreen
___ Mirror
___ Comb
___ Hand lotion
___ Shaving kit
___ Personal medication
___ Personal first-aid kit with Band-Aids and moleskin
___ Insect repellent
___ Ice ax or trekking pole
___ Fishing rod and gear, collapsible (a temporary Colorado license can be purchased here)
___ Candy, gum or tobacco items (we will have ample meals and high-energy trail snacks)
___ Light camera and extra film (you may wish to include a disposable waterproof camera for wet days)
___ Note pad, field guides & light field glasses
___ Cocktail liquor (place in unbreakable containers); please, no beer, it’s too heavy for packing
___ Cash for incidentals, fishing license, tips, alcohol, etc.

Pack your gear into your duffel bag and daypack. The maximum weight allowable for your duffel bag is 40 pounds (for the sake of the packhorses.) Your duffel bag will not be available during the day. Your daypack or saddlebags should hold rain gear, water bottle, gloves and other items you will want during the day. Your guide will show you how to best strap it to your saddle. Line the duffel and day bag with a garbage bag or ziplock. The weather is unpredictable; it can snow even in August, so be prepared for anything. Use the layer system of clothing, where items can be added or taken off with changes in temperature. On May, June or September trips snow and hail are common. The most important thing to bring is your cheerful acceptance of whatever surprises the wilderness may hold in store!

** A 3% National Forest User Fee will be assessed to each participant.