Saturday, July 26, 2014

Walker Ranch Loop

Distance: 8 mile loop
Elevation: 7,362 ft - 7,392 ft (yep its a loop)
Elevation Gain: 1,580 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: On leash, Boulder County Open Space
Date Hiked: 7 June 2014
Tags: #Boulder, #Eldoradocanyon, #coloradooutdoors, #hiking

South Boulder Creek is one of many diverse terrain features on the Walker Ranch Loop.
The Walker Ranch Loop near Boulder, CO is an amazingly diverse trail with green glades, precipitous descents, cool rock formations, and a rumble-in-your-bones creek. I can't believe I have lived near Boulder for over ten years and have never done it. I was under the misinterpretation that it was just like Eldorado Canyon Trail, which it abuts, but it is so much more.

Map at the trailhead showing the numerous parking areas and stream crossings.
Starting out from the Cedar Meadows Trailhead and heading counter-clockwise.
Indian Paintbrush
There are three trailheads for this loop, three up Flagstaff Road out of Boulder (Boulder County Open Space) and the other (Cedar Meadows) up Coal Creek Canyon Road (part of Eldorado Canyon State Park).  Cedar Meadows is blessedly empty, which on a spring weekend is a novelty not to be missed. Finding a place to park and hike near Boulder can be a trial that is so stressful that it would send the most calm yogi into a week of recuperative meditation.

Leaving the open meadows behind, the terrain shifts to dry Ponderosa Pine, Yucca, and rocks.
Expansive views looking west
The steep steps leading down to South Boulder Creek
Since this is a loop, you can take it in any direction. On this trip we journeyed counter-clockwise. The route starts out crossing gentle hillsides covered in green grasses that wilted in the damp air. Wildflowers dotted the landscape and clouds hung lazily and low over the trees. An unusual June for sure. Before long, the trail drifted into stands of Ponderosa Pine.

Mountain bikers do this trail??
Looking down on South Boulder Creek
After the creek, the route changes to a wide dirt road and heads steadily upwards.
After 1.5 miles or so, the trail begins a steep descent down log steps to the bottom of Boulder Creek. The only way to go is slow, taking each step carefully since they are filled with loose gravel and are narrow in places. I can't image mountain bikers liking this trail for this reason but they just carry their bikes up or down this segment and carry on. South Boulder Creek is a controlled waterway with its volume controlled by the dam at nearby Gross Reservoir. On this trip it was a torrent that shook the earth with its intensity. Falling in would have been an instant death sentence.

Turning from the dirt road back onto a single track. Note the nature sign in the distance. That will be a good thing to look for.
A shaded segment in the trees
On top of the ridge
Beyond South Boulder Creek, the trail rises again and becomes a wide dirt road. At 2.5 miles is the junction with the Eldorado Canyon Trail that heads westward into the State Park. Another mile upwards the trail splits. Head straight up the road and you will dead end at the Ethel Road trailhead. Turn left onto the dirt path to continue the loop.

Starting into the burn area
All the rain we had in June 2014 really had the wildflowers popping.
Looking east. You can see where the trail heads south again from the Walker Ranch trailhead.
The next segment is damper and the trees change to shade-loving Douglas Fir. A small stream gurgles nearby while the trail becomes packed gravel eroded from granite outcroppings. After climbing steadily, the route peaks out on a narrow ridge (at 4.4. miles/912 ft elevation gain) with views to the east and west. The trail winds slowly down this ridge until it reaches the Walker Ranch trailhead at 7,279 ft (1,029 ft elevation gain). It was cold and windy at this point but we were starving and so chose to eat at the picnic table to avoid getting crushed by the hikers and bikers disgorging themselves from the parking lot. Obviously, this is the busiest trailhead on the route.

Approaching the Walker Ranch Trailhead
Leaving the Walker Ranch Trailhead and heading back down to South Boulder Creek
Walking along South Boulder Creek. The roar was palpable.
Continuing counter clockwise, the trail descends rapidly on an eroded path back down to South Boulder Creek. At the bottom (at 6.3 miles) there are several picnic tables that were filled with anglers braving the rushing stream. From this point the route is flat, following the stream until it crosses the creek and begins a short but brutal 0.75 mile climb back up to the Cedar Meadows trailhead.

The path along South Boulder Creek is wide, flat, and very pleasant.
Starting the long slug back to the car
Close-up of some reproductive organs.
The Crescent Meadows trailhead is a separate undeveloped part of Eldorado Canyon State Park. To get to the trailhead drive 7 miles up Coal Creek Canyon from Hwy 93. Go through a small town where you'll see a Sinclair Gas Station on the left. Turn Right on Crescent Park Drive,  travel one mile always staying to your left until you come to a T junction. Take a right at the T and proceed a couple more miles, cross a railroad track. A few hundred feet from the tracks you'll see the dirt lot on your right.

More flowers
Approaching the trailhead

It is hard to find long hikes near Boulder. Walker Ranch will get you in shape for summer hiking while keeping you interested with all of the micro-climates. If you don't live in Boulder itself, the Cedar Meadows trailhead is the way to go.


KT said...

I have had a couple of job leads lately in the Denver area. I actually have a phone interview set up for one on Tuesday. But really - I have my eyes set upon a Plans Examiner job with the City of Boulder, CO. We want to have the ability to hike these beautiful trails on the evenings and weekends! Your state is just so beautiful. It looks pretty green right now - hopefully, it is just the right amount of rain this year...not too much and not too little.

sylvia murphy said...

Hey KT, that is GREAT. Hope you manage to get here. It is indeed a wonderful place for the outdoors-ie types!