long lake in indian peaks wilderness colorado clouds and blue sky with jagged moutnains, evergreen trees and lake

Long Lake Loop in Indian Peaks

Long Lake offers an easy 1.5 mile loop hike in Indian Peaks Wilderness. Located about 1 hour West of Boulder, Colorado, Long Lake is an easy-to-access alpine lake with stunning scenery. It's a popular spot, especially in the Summer months, so be sure to read the details on access fees and the notes below on the Long Lake Trailhead. Explore the full trail profile for trail maps, driving directions to Long Lake and more.

Long Lake in Indian Peaks - Trail Snapshot

Parking & Trailhead Information for Long Lake Loop

Note: This trailhead can only be reached by using Brainard Lake Road, which has seasonal closures. Because the Brainard Lake Recreation area is extremely popular, this entrance road experiences high amounts of traffic during weekends on the Summer. See the USFS page for details. For Brainard Lake Road closure status, see the Boulder Ranger District roads page.

From Boulder, Colorado, head North on US36/28th Street. Take a left onto Lee Hill Road. Lee Hill Road will dead-end at an intersection with Left-Hand Canyon Road. Take a left onto Left-Hand Canyon Road heading West. Eventually, Left-Hand Canyon Road will turn into Indiana Gulch Road and will turn into Utica Road upon entering the town of Ward, Colorado. Utica turns into Nelson Road (lots of name changes on this trip) then ends at an intersection with 72/Peak to Peak Highway. Take a right onto 72, then the almost immediate next turn will be on your left for the Brainard Lake Road. Travel on Brainard Lake Road 2.2 miles to the entry station where you will need to pay the fee for the recreation area. As you approach the lake, bear right to continue on the Brainard Lake Road for another 1/2 mile, then turn right onto Mitchell lake Road. Go less than 1/10th of a mile, then turn left onto Long Lake Road. After about 1/3 of a mile, you will have arrived at the Long Lake Trailhead and parking area.

In the winter, the Brainard Lake Recreation area is a popular snowshoeing and cross-country skiing destination. However, all parking is at the Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead (near the access gate). It is approx. 4-miles one-way from the Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead to the Long-Lake Trailhead.

The Hike: Long Lake Loop Hike

From the Long Lake Trailhead, it's an easy and short 0.3-mile hike to Long Lake. Returning via this trail makes this a 0.6-mile out-and-back trip. However, to really take in the best of the Rocky Mountain Scenery, we recommend doing the full 1.5-mile loop.

Having reached the northeastern edge of Long Lake, head south over a footbridge and pick up the Jean Lunning Trail. The Jean Lunning trail travels alongside the southern perimeter of Long Lake and offers stunning views of the jagged mountain peaks surrounding the lake. Eventually, the Jean Lunning trail will intersect with the Pawnee Pass Trail. Take a right on the Pawnee Pass trail to head east and back to the short connector trail that leads back to the trailhead.

long lake brainard lake recreation area

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Long Lake

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morning light on flatirons mountains near boulder taken from ncar on bear canyon loop hike

Bear Canyon Loop Hike at NCAR

The Bear Canyon Loop Hike near Boulder, Colorado is a beautiful trail that spans wide open spaces and meadows near National Center for Atmospheric Research. The Bear Canyon Loop is a relatively easy 3.3-mile loop that features some of the best views of the Flatirons in Boulder. Explore the full NCAR Bear Canyon Loop hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure near Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Bear Canyon Loop Trail in Boulder

Parking & Trailhead: Bear Canyon Loop Trail

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Trailhead is located about 40 minutes North of Denver. From Denver, follow U.S. Route 36 to Boulder. Take the exit for Table Mesa Drive and follow it West. It will wind through a neighborhood to the end as it winds through the neighborhood and past Bear Creek Elementary School. The road will turn into the Drive for NCAR which winds up and around to a large parking area at the lab.

The Hike: NCAR Bear Canyon Loop Trail

From the NCAR Parking area, hikers can pick up the NCAR trail just West of the main entrance to the building. The trail heads West, over a small ridge, past a water tank, then to a fork in the trail. Both the left and the right fork are considered the NCAR trail and both will lead to the Table Mesa Trail--but the left fork is shorter. At approximately 0.7-mile into the hike, the NCAR Trail will intersect with the Table Mesa Trail. Straight through takes hikers up on a 0.8-mile hike up to Mallory Cave, but for this loop hike, the correct way is to go left/South onto the Table Mesa trail. This first stretch provides some incredible views of the magnificent Flatirons Formations of Boulder. This trail segment heading south goes in and out of a forest grove, then the trail comes to its second important intersection.

At the Bear Canyon Trail intersection, take a left onto the Bear Canyon Trail which follows Bear Creek as it descends East. At about 1.5 miles into the hike, you'll encounter another fork. You can cut off about 1/4 of a mile of the trail by taking the left-hand segment. But the right-hand trail provides more pleasant scenery along the creek. The trail will near a neighborhood then bend to the North. This straight 0.7-mile stretch follows along the Eastern boundary of NCAR. Eventually, it meets up with the NCAR trail, which will lead back on a 1/2 mile stretch to the parking area.

Tips & Resources for Hiking the NCAR Bear Canyon Loop

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golden meadow with mountains in distance at Heil Valley Ranch Near Boulder Colorado

Heil Valley Ranch Ponderosa Loop Hike

Heil Valley Ranch near Boulder offers this rewarding lollipop-loop hike which features views of distant snowcapped mountains and geological features unique to this section of Colorado. Nestled in the foothills between Boulder and Lyons this singletrack trail is a great destination for both hikers and mountain bikers. However, soil erosion has required occasional trail closures, so be sure to check out the Boulder County Open Space Twitter feed for trail conditions. Explore the full Heil Valley Ranch hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure in the Boulder County, Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Heil Valley Ranch Ponderosa Loop

Parking & Trailhead Information for Heil Valley Ranch Hike

From Boulder, follow US 36 West toward Lyons, turn left onto Left Hand Canyon Drive. After 0.7 mile, turn right onto Geer Canyon Drive. After approx. 1.2 miles, you'll come around a curve and see a sign for Heil Valley Ranch. The parking area is on the right/North side of the roach.

The Hike: Ponderosa Loop at Heil Valley Ranch Trail

There are two trails located at the north end of the parking area, the Wapiti and the Lichen. For this longer loop hike, we'll be taking the Wapiti up to the Ponderosa loop. This trail is found just to the left/west of the Lichen Loop trail. These should be well-marked by signs and the Lichen loop trail will immediately cross a footbridge. The Lichen loop is a great option for families with small children being just 1.3-mile loop with about 230' of elevation gain over the course of the hike.

Trees on Heil Valley Ranch Hike near Boulder, CO

Taking the Wapiti trail, hikers will head North through a broad valley punctuated with Ponderosa Pine. After passing an intersection with the Lichen Loop, the Wapiti will soon enter the shade of more ponderosa pines as it makes its way through more rocky and steep terrain. At 2.5 miles in, the Wapiti will meet up with the Ponderosa Loop Trail.

The Ponderosa loop segment offers a great set of views, beginning with views of snowcapped peaks in the west. We recommend taking the Ponderosa loop counter-clockwise, which will take you up to a high point then back down into a beautiful meadow with views all the way out to Left-Hand Reservoir. A second overlook is gained after this section, providing great views out to Indian Peaks Wilderness and Longs Peak in the North. The trail will meet back up with the Wapiti trail for a descent back to the trailhead.

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Heil Valley Ranch Trail

  • TIP: Keep alert for mountain bikers as much of the trail is singletrack and a popular mountain biking area..
  • Trail Map for Heil Valley Ranch Trail near Boulder: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Jonathan Reyes for sharing such great photographs of this hike at Heil Valley Ranch.
  • After the Hike: The Parkway Cafe

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old sawmill ruins at meyer homestead in boulder colorado

Meyers Homestead Hike in Walker Ranch

The Meyers Homestead Hike located in Walker Ranch is an almost perfect family hike near Boulder, Colorado. This 5.2-mile out-and-back hike travels through Meyers Gulch, past the remnants of a historic homestead, to an overlook offering panoramic views of Boulder Canyon and the snowcapped mountains of Indian Peaks. It's a wide trail through meadows, stands of aspen, and punctuated by ponderosa pine and wildflowers. Explore the full Meyers Homestead hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this trail near Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Meyer Homestead Hike Near Boulder

Parking & Trailhead Information for Meyers Homestead Trail

The drive to Meyers Homestead Trailhead starts on the Baseline Road in Boulder. Traveling West past Chautauqua Park, the road will turn into Flagstaff Road at the base of Flagstaff Mountain and begin a windy and steep ascent. The overall trip on Flagstaff Road to the trailhead is about 6.2 miles. The Myers Homestead Trailhead is located on the right (West) side of the road. Restrooms, picnic area, and interpretive signs are available at the trailhead.

The Hike: Meyers Homestead Trail

The hike starts from the Meyers Homestead Trailhead by taking the trail on the right marked with a sign that reads "Meyers Homestead Trail - 2.6 Miles One-Way." The initial trail segment descends into a broad meadow. Around just 1/4 mile into the trail, you'll spot the remnants of a sawmill, part of the original Meyer Homestead. There is a spur trail that leads to a mill. Once past the sawmill, the trail begins a very gradual ascent and follows a small seasonal creek into the Meyer Gulch.

meyers homestead trail walker ranch winter

Starting at around 1/2 mile in, the trail will begin to weave in and out of groves of aspens and ponderosa pine, providing intermittent shade on a hot summer day. The trail will eventually open to another large meadow before entering the final, wooded and steeper 1/2 mile. This segment of switchbacks leads to a small unnamed peak with a bench and overlook. Here, you can take in views of Sugarloaf Mountain, Indian Peaks, Longs Peak, and Boulder Canyon.

A great related hike is the Eldorado Falls hike that is also part of the Walker Ranch Trail system.

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Meyers Homestead Trail

  • TIP: Pause to read thee interpretative signs along the trail to indicate places that have historical and ecological significance.
  • Trail Map for Meyers Homestead Trail: Trail Map for Meyers Homestead Trail
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Ian W. Stearns for sharing such amazing photographs of this hike to Meyers Homestead.
  • After the Hike: The Parkway Cafe

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realization point view to front range snow capped mountains on hike near boulder colorado

Gregory Canyon Hike to Realization Point

The trail up Gregory Canyon is a moderately challenging hike to Realization Point Trailhead where hikers can pick up two different loop trails. Both loops offer expansive views of the Rocky Mountains in the West and wildflowers along the trail. Explore the full Gregory Canyon-Realization Point hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure in Boulder, Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Gregory Canyon to Realization Point

Parking & Trailhead Information for Gregory Canyon

Hikers have several parking options for the Gregory Canyon Trail: 1) the Gregory Canyon Trailhead, 2) Parking at Chautauqua Park, or 3) along permitted stretches of Baseline Road. The Gregory Canyon Trailhead can be reached by following Baseline Road in Boulder west past Chautauqua park. Gregory Canyon Road is located on the left/South about 1/2 mile West of the park. Parking is allowed along most of the south side of Gregory Canyon Road and there is room for 7-8 vehicles at the trailhead. Both the roadside parking and the small parking area at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead require an access fee. Because of the fee and because this parking area fills quickly most mornings, many hikers opt to park along Baseline or at Chautauqua Park. Another option is to park at the Realization Point Trailhead (another fee parking area) and to hike down through the Canyon.

The Hike: Gregory Canyon Trail to Realization Point

In addition to its proximity to Boulder, this hike sports a number of options and a variety of landscapes. The stretch between Gregory Canyon Trailhead and Realization Point Trailhead is the main artery of all the options in this profile. Because most hikers will begin their adventure at Chautauqua Park, there are a couple 1/2 mile (one-way) approaches: the Baseline Trail or the Meadow Trail. On the upper end of the hike, at Realization Point Trailhead, there are two different loop options that offer beautiful views to the West of seasonal snowcapped peaks. These are the Rangeview/Ute Loop and the Tenderfoot Loop. You can review each of the hike options below to decide which trail combination is best for you.


View of the Flatirons from the Baseline Trail between Chautauqua Park and Gregory Canyon Trailhead

Gregory Canyon Trailhead to Realization Point Trailhead - 2.4 Miles Round Trip

This segment constitutes the main artery for all the hike options below. The Gregory Canyon Trail begins in the shade along Gregory Canyon Creek and climbs gradually to 0.5 mile where it crosses another small creek. Here the trail becomes more steep, making its way up a ridge via a set of switchbacks. Then the trail descends to a junction. At the junction, the Northern (right) segment leads a short distance up to Flagstaff Road and the Realization Point Trailhead (the destination for this hike as described here), or South (left) to the Long Canyon and Ranger Trails. After hiking the short segment to Flagstaff road, Realization Point Trailhead will be located across the street to the North. Be sure to watch for both cars and cyclists before crossing. If starting at Chautauqua Park and taking the Baseline or Meadow Trails to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead, add approximately 1 mile to this hike, making it 3.4 miles Round Trip.

looking out to boulder and the plains from gregory canyon

A View down into Boulder from the Upper Reaches of the Canyon

Gregory Canyon Trailhead to Realization Point Trailhead + Rangeview/Ute Loop - 3.2 Miles Round Trip

After traveling the 1.1 miles up through the canyon to Realization Point, hikers will find two loop options. The first is the shorter Rangeview/Ute Loop. This loop makes a 0.8-mile clockwise circuit around Flagstaff Mountain then joins back up to the trailhead. The loop offers views to the mountains in the West and great viewpoints to take in the changing aspens in the Fall. If starting at Chautauqua Park, add approximately 1 mile to this hike, making it 4.2 miles Round Trip.

realization point sign and parking area along flagstaff road
Realization Point Trailhead Across Flagstaff Road

Gregory Canyon Trailhead to Realization Point Trailhead + Tenderfoot Loop - 4.7 Miles Round Trip

From Realization Point Trailhead, the Tenderfoot Trail bears to the left (Northwest) and makes for a more demanding loop when compared to the Rangeview/Ute Trail because of both the added distance and the additional elevation loss and gain. At its most northern point, hikers will find a short spur trail leading to a small peak that affords expansive views to the West. If starting at Chautauqua Park, add approximately 1 mile to this hike, making it 5.7 miles Round Trip. By adding the spur trail, it becomes closer to 6 miles total.

trail junction at realization point

Trail Junction for the Two Loop Hikes at Realization Point Trailhead

Both loop hikes afford multiple opportunities for taking in views out to the Rocky Mountains. The photo below was taken along the beginning segment of the Rangeview Trail.

view to snowcapped peaks realization point in boulder colorado

Views of the Front Range from the Rangeview Trail

Video of Gregory Canyon Hike

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Gregory Canyon

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cascade waterfall leaping over granite boulders eldorado falls in walker ranch hike near boulder colorado

Eldorado Falls at Walker Ranch

Eldorado Falls is a cascade waterfall tucked back in Walker Ranch near Boulder, Colorado. It's an easy to moderate 1.25 mile hike from the Ethel Harrold Trailhead down to where South Boulder Creek winds through the park and crashes over the boulders blocking its path. Explore the full trail profile below for all the details: tips, trail map, and driving directions to the trailhead.

Trail Snapshot: Eldorado Falls at Walker Ranch

Eldorado Falls can be reached from several different trailheads that tie into the Walker Ranch Loop system. However, the shortest and probably easiest access is by starting at the Ethel Harrold Trailhead. See the directions driving directions links on this page, and be sure to make note of your last couples turns because cell phone services are spotty.

The drive up to the trailhead on Flagstaff Road is a beautiful one, but do be aware of the many hikers, climbers, and cyclists along the road. After Flagstaff road, the two roads that lead to the trailhead, Pika, then Bison, are improved dirt roads. These were recently graded when we visited (early April) and were fine to drive. However, 4-wheel drive is probably necessary during the winter months or after early Spring rains or snowfall. The trailhead parking area has a pit toilet and information board. If you are interested in birdwatching, you'll find a Birds of Walker Ranch Chechlist at the board.

eldorado-falls-walker-ranch-beginning-of-hike

The Hike to Eldorado Falls

The hike begins with expansive views of Walker Ranch and out towards Eldorado Canyon State Park (pictured above). The air was full of the scent of juniper trees, and we found abundant Elk sign in the meadows near the trailhead. The trail winds down to a intermittent stream that was gushing with the early Spring snowmelt. A bridge buried in snow leads across the creek, then the trail skirts the hillside for most of the hike, gradually working its way down to a junction with the Walker Ranch Loop Trail. At the junction, the trail to Boulder Creek and Eldorado Falls is to the right and takes hikers further downhill to a bridge that crosses South Boulder Creek.

looking-down-onto-eldorado-falls-walker-ranch

The sound of water is almost always within earshot, and the chirps of a variety of birds fill the air. Shortly before the bridge, hikers may notice a "To Eldorado Canyon" sign and trail on the left side of the Walker Ranch Trail. This leads to Eldorado Canyon State Park, about 3.5 miles away, but does not lead to the falls. The falls can be found almost immediately after crossing the bridge that spans South Boulder Creek. Here the trail becomes a series of uneven rock stairs that lead to the top of the falls (pictured above is view from the top).

lower-cascade-of-eldorado-falls-walker-ranch

"Eldorado Falls" seems to be a local and unofficial name given to this set of cascades. The trail map simply marks them as "falls." On the back side of the falls, South Boulder Creek seems to disappear under massive boulders that block its path. Here the water slips under the rock then shoots out on the other side in a series of small cascades. The water pools, then pours over another lower falls (pictured above) before returning to calmer waters.

The hike back is mostly uphill, but it's only about a +500' of elevation gain. The park is open in the winter; however, the trail from the Ethel Harrold trailhead down to the Walker Ranch Loop might become difficult to discern after a blanket of snow. So, the ideal times are Spring through Fall.

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Eldorado Falls

  • Come Prepared in Spring and Winter: Because the trail is mostly in shade of ponderosa pines, the snow and ice can settle in during both winter and spring. Therefore, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail (I wish I had brought mine).
  • Exercise Caution Around the Falls: The area around Eldorado Falls is rocky and uneven. The falls is also difficult to photograph because of how it's tucked back into the canyon. For this reason, exercise caution along the slippery rock and near the waters of South Boulder Creek.
  • Trail Map for Walker Ranch: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder

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Looking for more waterfalls near Denver? Explore our more than 50 Colorado Waterfall Hikes, our favorite Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, or 7 Waterfalls within One Hour of Denver.


Golden Gate Sate Park Blue Grouse Trail Landscape

Blue Grouse Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

The Blue Grouse Trail is a short, 1.6-mile hike on the western edges of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A pleasant trail with little gain in elevation and mellow terrain makes this a great escape from the city. The Blue Grouse Trail is a perfect hiking trail for spotting wildlife, from birds to deer, viewing fall colors and wildflowers, and taking in the beautiful scenic view along the trail. Explore the full hiking trail profile below for hike details, trail map, and links to similar trails near Denver.

Trail Snapshot: Blue Grouse Trail

Before you start this hike there are some things you should know - a Colorado State Park Pass is required to enter Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A day pass can be purchased at the Visitors Center upon entrance into the park. Some trails offer passes at self-serve dispensers, but the Blue Grouse Trail does not.

To get to the Blue Grouse trailhead, pass Kriley Pond and take the first right at Mountain Base Road. The trailhead parking area is to the right at the fork in the road. At the trailhead you’ll find picnic tables. There is a porta-let at Kriley Pond and there are restroom facilities at the Visitors Center. Below you'll find more details on the trail, Kriley pond, and some information on camping at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Hiking the Blue Grouse Trail

You'll make your way along a nice dirt path with a few rocky sections. The elevation gain is slight, and this short hike can be turned into a longer one by joining up with the Mule Deer Trail where the Blue Grouse trail terminates at .7 mile. Mule Deer Trail is a 7.4 mile loop, and there is a Golden Gate Park map at the trail intersection.
Blue Grouse Trailhead Golden Gate Colorado

The Blue Grouse Trail is a popular trail for mountain bikers who use it to access the longer trails in Golden Gate. Mountain bikers in Colorado are typically very considerate of hikers, but just be aware that you'll be sharing the trail with others. After the initial rise, the trail is more gentle as it ascends the hillside. You'll be drawn to the rock outcroppings ahead and a beautiful grove of aspens.

Blue Grouse Trail

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Blue Grouse Trail:

    blue grouse trail marker

    • Trail options: View the Golden Gate Canyon Park map to see the various other trail options you have after hiking the .7 mile in on Blue Grouse.
    • Rim Meadows: a great destination if you would like to continue on the Mule Deer Trail but are not wanting to hike the entire Mule Deer trail loop.
    • Picnic: Because Golden Gate Canyon State Park is an hour drive, make a half-day or full-day out of your trip. Bring a picnic, and sling up a hammock for a nap in the shade.
    • Download our Dayhikes Hiking Guide for a day hike packing checklist
    • Sun protection: The trail is only partly shaded, so be sure to bring sun protection for the parts not covered.
    • After the Hike: Buffalo Moon Coffee
    • Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
    • Trail Map for Blue Grouse Trail: Trail Map Link

    Kriley Pond at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    Kriley Pond is a popular fishing spot in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. In the fall, the hillsides are peppered with the golden glow of Aspens.The early morning hours are the best time to visit if you want to soak in the songs of Colorado songbirds before families and fisherman arrive. Fishing in Kriley Pond requires a Colorado Fishing License. There are several other ponds to visit at Golden Gate Canyon, including: Ranch Ponds, Slough Ponds, Dude's Fishing Hole, and the pond at Forgotten Valley.
    kriley pond at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    Camping in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    There are several camping options at Golden Gate. However, because this State Park is less than an hour from Denver, the sites can fill up fast in the busy summer months. There is a car camping area at Reverends Ridge, a tents only site at Aspen Meadows, 20 backcountry shelters, and a limited number of cabins and yurts that can be reserved. All sites require fees which are posted at the Golden Gate Canyon Camping page.

    We want to thank Lisa Palmer, a member of our Dayhikes Pathfinder Team, who hiked this trail with her family, gathered the information for the trail profile, and took the photos for this post.
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White Ranch Sunset Loop Near Golden, Colorado

This loop hike in White Ranch Park is a great escape, a place to watch the glow of twilight on the city of Denver as the sun sets in the West. This Colorado trail is set at the very beginning of the foothills. You'll journey across a tranquil meadow punctuated with ponderosa pine and decorated with Spring and early Summer wildflowers. In the trail profile below, we'll show you how to create what we are calling the Sunset Loop by putting together a series of short trails. To get the details on this hike near Denver, Colorado, scroll down and take a look at the detailed trail profile, map, hiking trail tips, and the video panorama.

Trail Snapshot: White Ranch Park Sunset Loop Trail

Ifyou are looking for a great family hike or for a mountain biking experience in the foothills, White Ranch Park offers you a network of trails, with enough variety to please anyone. There are two parking lots .3 miles apart. The second parking at White Ranch has more capacity. We went on a Friday afternoon and only a handful of folks were on the trails, but we hear that it gets much more traffic on the weekends. The Ralston Buttes, a unique geologic formation, dominates the landscape in the distant northeast region of the park. It's a protected area because of its sensitive ecosystem. Though it's not accessible by trail, you'll get a lot of great views of the Buttes at various points of this loop hike.

White Ranch Loop parking lot
Start your adventure at the second parking lot with the Rawhide Trail.

Rawhide trail lays on the edge of a vast meadow. The complete trail is 4.5 miles long, but to form this loop, you'll only hike a segment, before you join up with the Longhorn trail. It can be tricky to find the Rawhide trail, but it's the first one to the east at the trailhead (on your right, if you are facing the trailhead sign). See the photo just below.

White Ranch Loop Rawhide trail beginning

In the distance you will have a chance to see some old ranch buildings and farm machinery. You can imagine what it might have been like to farm this rugged area perched above Denver. While cattle no longer graze these meadows, White Ranch Park is home to several species of wildlife including elk, deer, mountain lions, bears, wild turkeys, and bobcats.

White Ranch Loop North View Along Rawhide

When you get to the intersection with the Longhorn trail, you'll turn right and enter the second part of the hike. Open meadows are replaced with shade and the distinct perfume of Ponderosa pine as you walk along the trail.

White Ranch Loop Longhorn Trail

The trail itself is pretty clear and very well-kept. After about of a mile of ups and downs with some nice and easy inclines you can stop and enjoy the view before you turn right again and take the Maverick trail.

White Ranch Loop Hiking The Trail

Maverick Trail is good for riders and hikers of all skill levels. It's 0.9 miles long and it is primarily used for hiking. While hiking on this trail your eyes may be drawn to the beauty of the high plains, but watch out for the shallow roots that make their way into this part of the trail. It is not technically challenging but some riders have found themselves on their backs on this segment, and I'm sure a few hikers have tripped.

White Ranch Loop View of North Table Mountain

After some great views of Denver and out to the horizon in the East you will reach the end of the Maverick trail and an intersection with Belcher Hill trail. Turn right on the trail split and take a short path to the next intersection. Looking from right to left in front of you will be three roads - Sawmill trail (0.5 mi) that will take you back to the parking lot where you started your trail, Belcher Hill trail (0.6 mi) and Sawmill trail (0.8 mi) that can take you to Sawmill Hicker Camp. Take the Sawmill Trail to complete the Sunset Loop hike.

White Ranch Loop Sign to Camping area
White Ranch is one of just two Jefferson County parks with campsites.

There are 10 campsites available on this site, each has a picnic table, a metal fire ring, and some food storage poles. Also there is a maximum of three tents and eight people per site. Camping permits are free and valid for a maximum stay of up to three nights. Click here for more details on camping in White Ranch Park and the most up to date regulations.

White Ranch Camping Permits

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the The Sunset Loop at White Ranch Park

enchanted mesa hike in boulders chautauqua park

Enchanted Mesa Trail Near Boulder, Colorado

Boulder's Chautauqua park boasts some of the best hiking in Colorado, especially if you are looking for accessibility--many of the trailheads are right in town. The Enchanted Mesa trail lives up to its name. The dense pine forest and the wide curving path looks like something out of a fairy tale. It's a fairly easy hike, with a surprising amount of shade, great views of the Flatirons, and close to Denver. Before you launch out to explore Enchanted Mesa, be sure to check out our detailed description of the hike, the Chautauqua Park trail map, and our hiking tips for this great Boulder Hike.

Trail Snapshot: Enchanted Mesa Trail - Chautauqua Park

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado

Start your hike at parking lot near the Chautauqua Auditorium Trailhead. There is limited parking at the trailhead picnic shelter, but you can find more space around the auditorium and in side streets. Keep in mind that parking in the Chautauqua park area fills up fast.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Header Trailhead Parking

There are a few options you can consider before starting the hike.

1# Enchanted Mesa - McClintock Loop - 1.4 mile loop

Your first possibility is to hike the trail clockwise by taking the Enchanted Mesa trail out, then returning on the McClintock trail, making it into a loop. You'll head out on the wide path of the Enchanted Mesa Trail which leads you gradually uphill, across a stone bridge, and onto the Mesa. Once you get on the Mesa, walk into a pine forest. The trees get thicker and taller as you go until you feel like you have walked into an enchanted forest. My kids, who are six and 3, hiked this early one Saturday in April (you'll see our muddy shoes at the end of the post), when snow still covered parts of the trail and the city was still asleep. It did feel like stepping, just for a moment, into another world.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Forest

When you get to where the Enchanted Mesa Trail intersects with the McClintock trail, turn right and take the the McClintock Trail. Because it's so narrow, this part of the trail doesn’t allow dogs. The return trail at least one steep section, but you'll find stairs cut into the hillside to help you on your way. The Mclintock trail was very muddy coming down, so we expect this trail to be muddy in the warmer days of winter, a lot of spring, and after the Summer rains. We've got a great tip below to help you with that.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado go down not up

About halfway back along the McClintock trail, you’ll encounter an intersection where a rough set of steps lead up to the right, and on your left, you’ll see the path leading back down toward the creek valley. Go left/down (see the photo) to stay on the McClintock trail. On the way down, you will see the flood damage in the ravine caused by the 2013 flood.

2# - McClintock to Enchanted Mesa - Loop - 1.4 mile loop

This is simply hiking the same loop, but counter-clockwise. The benefit to this is that you get better views of the Flatirons hiking West on the McClintock trail. The McClintock Trailhead starts right from the picnic pavilion behind the Chautauqua Amphitheater. It is 0.7 miles long and ascends 335 feet to where it ties in with Enchanted Mesa.

Wood Quarry Hike

#3 - Enchanted Mesa + Quarry Loop - 1.8 miles

Quarry Loop is beautiful little jaunt off of the top of the Enchanted Mesa trail. If you wish to add 0.4 mile to your hike and enjoy the more of the mesa forest, follow either of the directions above, and look for the Quarry loop near the intersection of the two main trails. This turns your hike into a figure-eight. You will head uphill until you see an old stone cabin. When you get to the cabin, turn right and enter the short and steep stair-step climb to the quarry. When you get on the top you can relax in the hand-crafted chairs and take in the scenery of Chautauqua park.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Woods Quarry trail

If you add the Kohler Mesa trail to option #3 you can make your hike close to 2 miles long, giving you the chance to explore even more of the mesa.

This is a great hike any time of year, but is especially great in the Spring. We always find the people of Boulder very friendly, so expect good company. People will be out with their dogs, trail running, and talking with friends. Particularly in the early hours of the morning, it's idyllic.

Tips & Hiking the Enchanted Mesa Trail:

  • It Can Be Muddy: Bring an extra pair of shoes or sandals, so that you’re not getting mud all over the floor of your car. There are bags at the trailhead for disposal of dog poop. Our kids shoes were covered with mud, and we used the bags to keep from getting mud all over the back of the car. An even better solution would be to bring plastic shopping bags with you.
  • Dog Restriction: Dogs are not allowed on the Lower & Upper McClintock Trail. So, you'll have to return on the Enchanted Mesa trail with Fido, or check the map for other options.
  • No Bikes: Bicycles are prohibited on the trails in the Chautauqua area.
  • Bring a picnic or a snack: There are some great picnic spots along the Enchanted Mesa hike.
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Lollicup Boulder Coffe&Tea

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado muddy shoes

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royal arch red rock formation in boulder's flatirons chautauqua park red rock arch with ponderosa pine in foreground

Royal Arch Trail

The hike up to Royal Arch in Boulder's Chautauqua Park is a serious workout, but the beauty of Bluebell canyon and the view of Royal Arch make it worth the journey. Our most important tip for making this an enjoyable hike is to go when it's not so crowded, during the early morning or on weekdays. Scroll down to get all the details you need for this hike in Boulder, Colorado: trail map link, driving directions, weather forecast, and more tips.

Trail Snapshot: Royal Arch Trail in Chautauqua Park

If you talk with someone who has hiked the trail up to Boulder's Royal Arch, they will tell you two things: 1) The Royal Arch, though not as grand as some of the arches in Utah's backcountry, is really a beautiful sight, and 2) That the hike is a real challenge.

While the trail is relatively short - 3.5 miles round trip - the hike up through Bluebell Canyon to Royal Arch has a lot of uphill and downhill, making the elevation gain around 1400' over the course of the trip. Because the trail has a lot of rock steps and is heavily used, the latter half of the hike requires some negotiation. It's still a good trail, just don't expect a walk in the park.

royal arch trail chautauqua park

The Hike to Royal Arch

Beginning at the Chautauqua Park Trailhead, take the Bluebell Road Trail through the meadows and up to the Bluebell Shelter (see trail map here). You'll come to a junction near the Bluebell Shelter, and will see signs pointing you to the Royal Arch Trail.

Soon, you'll enter Bluebell Canyon. The Royal Arch trail will descend before beginning its climb to the top. This section of the hike is especially alive and enchanting during the early morning hours. Bluebell Canyon is home to raptors and is seasonally protected when the birds are hatching. The trail is still accessible during those times, but signs are posted to keep the canyon drainage clear of hikers.

flatirons through bluebell canyon on royal arch trail

The higher you hike, the more stairs you'll encounter. It's nothing like hiking the Incline in Colorado Springs, but it's still a real workout. If you hike to the Royal Arch on the weekend, this is where you'll begin to experience the trail congestion. In fact, I'd have to say that this was the most overcrowded trail I've hiked in Colorado. A lot of hikers had stopped to rest, huffing and puffing trailside. Others gathered right in the middle of the trail. I overheard several people deliberating whether or not to keep going, and watched others turn around without making it to the top. So, our first and most important tip would be to hike to Royal Arch early in the morning by getting on the trail before 8AM, or hiking the Royal Arch trail on a weekday.

 

royal arch rock formation in the flatirons near boulder colorado

After pushing up to Royal Arch, be sure to walk around it and go through it. The views of Boulder are incredible. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Denver. I'd recommend taking a picnic or at least a snack, and kick back for a while. There is supposedly a way to make this hike more of a loop by taking a trail down the backside of the arch, but it's an unmarked trail and one hiker who took it warned against it. So, we recommend taking the marked Royal Arch trail back down to the shelter. From there, you have some trail options.

 

chautauqua park meadows on way back from royal arch

On my way back, I decided to take the Bluebell Mesa trail down to the Chautauqua trail, which led me home to the trailhead and ranger cottage. I'd highly recommend this route back. It takes you through a stand of pines on a mesa above the meadows of Chautauqua Park. You can pick up the Bluebell Mesa trail near the Bluebell Shelter soon after you exit the canyon.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Royal Arch in Boulder:

  • Leave Fido At Home: I love dogs; in fact, I took our Dog, Francine, on the hike up to Royal Arch. But it was so congested that it made it difficult for her and I to navigate the trail together. Other dog owners with long leashes nearly tripped several hikers along the trail. If you want to bring your dog on this hike, I'd recommend going early or going on a weekday.
  • Bring Snacks and Water: It probably goes without saying, but be sure to bring food and water to refill your tank. This hike demands it.
  • Bring Trekking Poles: The trail up to Royal Arch can be hard on the knees--especially the descent--so bring trekking poles if you have them. The trail is heavily shaded, so my guess is that it will ice up in the winter. Just another reason to bring something that will help you get traction.
  • Take Time at the Top: Build time into your hike to rest and maybe have a picnic under the Royal Arch.
  • Keep and Eye on the Weather: Talking to one of the rangers, he shared that storms can come up quickly along the Flatirons, which will catch hikers unawares. Because you are hiking through a densely wooded canyon and are so close to the mountain, it makes it difficult to really judge the skies. But the Flatirons area is like a lot of other mountain hikes, storms typically roll in during the early afternoon.
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder, Colorado

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge hike finder

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