Had a mountain biking colleague from Sweden in town and wanted to take him someplace where he could get a sample of our backcountry riding without having to drive for 3-4 hours or camp over night. Esmeralda fit the bill. I last rode this loop in 2012 and I agree with an earlier ride report that the trail feels a little more chunky and loose than I remembered. There is quite a bit of horse activity out there - we ran into two groups of kids coming out of the private horse camp next to the De Roux camp - so the trails do see a lot of horse activity.
With that said, this is still a great loop. We parked at De Roux (NW Forest Pass required) and started climbing the trail that parallels the road. Gave up after a quarter mile, it's just too horse-churned, and pushed our bikes cross-country to the road. Up the road to the trailhead and then rode and pushed our bikes up the the Esmeralda Basin trail to the saddle where we dropped our bikes and hiked up to the little knob for a quick bite to eat. Nice Views! Down the switchbacks and up the Jeep Road from Hell to Galagher Head Lake. We took a quick dip in the lake and then enjoyed a really fun descent on the De Roux trail back to the car.
The loop took us four hours but we stopped a lot for photos and at the lake. The ride is only 12 miles but it rides bigger than that.