We had a quest that day; we were going to hike Bridge of Heaven — come Hell or high water. Summiting the narrow track of Bridge of Heaven was on my husband’s bucket list; and for good reason, views from this above timberline prominence include the Coxcomb-Cimarrons to the East, the Grand Mesa to the North, the Uncompahgre Range to the West and hints of the Red Mountain Complex to the South. Timing is everything to complete this trail — too early in the season and this snow covered, 12230 foot elevation, natural wonder is inaccessible — too late, and the lightning strikes of the summer monsoons may threaten your safety. This year was dry, the distant Grand Mesa was on fire; hazed but enthused, we made it!
We started this adventure by parking at the New Horsethief Trailhead. Unless you want to add 2 miles (one way) from Dexter Creek, bring a high-clearance All/4WD vehicle and take County Road 14, through the Horsethief Bluff acreage, to the National Forest parking lot. Caution: there is no public parking on private land.
The hike begins with a series of well-engineered switchbacks through spruce and aspen forests. The trail may seem daunting with 4 miles/3000 feet; however, the design of the trail is specific to hiking and easier than sightline mule trails.
There is a meadow at 1.7 miles that merges with Old Horsethief (a grueling 2.8 mile/3000 feet) trail out of Ouray. This meadow is a great place to stop, rest, chug some water and snap a few photos of the Ouray overlook. Two years ago, to fulfill my husband’s dream, we unsuccessfully attempted the hike. Snow prevented us from continuing beyond this point; the rest of the trail was a postholing nightmare. This year, despite the irritating smoke from the Grand Junction area, we continued to our destination.
The trail may seem daunting with 4 miles/3,000 feet; however, the design of the trail is specific to hiking and easier than sightline mule trails.
From the far end of the meadow, a bighorn sheep ambled west. We headed east toward Cascade Mountain and crossed several gullies that feed Bridalveil Falls. The well-designed trail continues, as steep as our first-half, only with fewer trees and more high alpine flora: blue columbine, red paintbrush, yellow parsley, and white yarrow. We crested several false promises until finally the stony white ridge invited us to the best panoramic view this side of Mt. Sneffels.
The odd thing about bucket list items, the list never seems to get shorter; after checking one box, my husband inevitably adds another or two. From Bridge of Heaven, you can hike to several other iconic locations: Cascade Mountain, Yellow Jacket Mine, Bear Creek, or even Engineer Pass. I suppose next year, since the views were ashy, we should try it again, go further and pack camping gear.