Saturday, May 24, 2014

Skunk Canyon/Kohler Mesa Loop

Distance: 5 miles round trip
Elevation: 5,570 ft - 6,320 ft
Elevation Gain: 750 ft
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: On leash most of the way (on Federal property, and protected open space)
Date Hiked: 10 May 2013
Tags: #Boulder, #coloradooutdoors, #hiking, #osmp

Serene Skunk Canyon in Boulder Colorado
Crude map of the route. Note that rerouting of Skunk Canyon is not depicted. 
Very few people do the Skunk Canyon/Kohler Mesa Loop in Boulder because the trails are hidden behind the NOAA complex on Broadway. The government buildings, gate, and Federal police look intimidating,  but the public is allowed to walk across the campus, they are just not allowed to park there. Fortunately, there is an RTD Park and Ride right across the street at the corner of Broadway and 27th Way (entrance is on 27th Way). Park there, cross the street, and walk around the right side of the white NIST building (a cemetery will be on your right and NIST to your left). At the end of the cemetery is a bike path adjacent to the campus child care center. Follow this until it dead ends at a gravel road heading up towards Kohler Mesa (at 0.5 miles). Before the first switchback in the road (at 1 mile), the Skunk Canyon Trail starts on the left at a cleft in the fence.

Starting out across the NOAA campus. The NIST building is just out of frame to the left. Keep following the road.  
Just past the cemetery (out of frame to the right), is a path that heads west, take this and pass the child care center. 
Kohler Mesa is the hill straight ahead. This path will dead end at the gravel road. 
The Skunk Canyon Trail has been rerouted since the Sept 2013 floods and now switchbacks up the side of Kohler Mesa before heading deep into the canyon. In spring this area is a verdant oasis of green grasses dotted with grazing Mule Deer, wildflowers, and Chickadees flitting from pine to pine. Because of its isolation, there are few people on the trail, a rare treat in crowded Boulder.

Starting up the gravel road, which was completely redone in 2013 after the floods  nearly washed it away. 
The start of the Skunk Canyon Trail. Ignore the social trails in the valley to the left. 
With every step up Skunk Canyon, the views of the Flatirons grow closer and civilization drifts away. 
At 1.6 miles and 440 ft elevation gain, is a junction with a spur trail that ascends quickly to the top of Kohler Mesa. Take this for a shorter loop. At the far end of Skunk Canyon, the vegetation becomes more dense, encroaching on the path. It is another 300 ft and 0.7 miles to the intersection with the Mesa Trail. From this lofty perch, south Boulder becomes a hazy post card of streets, trees, and raptors drifting on the wind.

The canyon walls narrow. 
At the far end of the canyon, heading up to the Mesa Trail
On the Mesa Trail
At this point, it is only another 0.4 miles to the start of the well-marked Kohler Mesa Trail. Stop a moment at the junction and look to the left. An old cabin is visible in the trees. A trail passes this cabin and ascends roughly to an old quarry where locals have made lounge chairs out of rocks.

View of Boulder from the junction of the Skunk Canyon Trail and the Mesa Trail. The new switchbacks of the Skunk Canyon trail are visible between the trees on the left. 
Cabin visible near the junction of the Mesa and Kohler Mesa trails.
One of the smoother sections of the Kohler Mesa Trail. 
Kohler Mesa was damaged in the 2013 floods, and the trail is rocky, rutted, and tedious to traverse. Still, the hiker is rewarded with a secluded glen of Ponderosa Pine and resident herd of Mule Deer. At 3.14 miles, the trail comes to a fork. Take the right fork to follow this route or the left fork to descend via social trails. At 3.44 miles, civilization returns as the trail ends and the route follows the gravel road back down to the Federal campus.

One of the few open areas on Kohler Mesa, which is mostly shaded. 
Mule Deer graze all over Kohler Mesa.
Back on the gravel road. Views of Boulder abound. There are a couple of picnic tables under the tree just ahead. 
For those looking for something different to do and who don't mind a little civilization intruding on their day, the Skunk Canyon/Kohler Mesa loop will be just the thing! You can also get to Kohler Mesa via NCAR and the Mesa Trail (view post).

Looking down onto the NOAA campus
Heading back down the road. 

1 comment:

Linda said...

Lounge chairs out of rocks is an interesting concept!
We are off soon for a walking holiday in the south west of France. Will share some photos.