Saturday, July 1, 2017

Marshall Mesa

Distance: 3 miles round trip
Elevation: 5,520 ft to 5,740 ft
Elevation Gain: 220 ft
Dogs: Off leash with Voice and Sight tag
Bathroom at the trailhead: Yes
Fees: Parking fee for non-Boulder County residents
Tags: #Boulder, #Coloradooutoors, #hiking, #dogfriendly

From Marshall Mesa, you can almost see forever
The Marshall Mesa open space just south of Boulder is one of my favorite areas. The views of the Flatirons are gorgeous and the diverse landscape is appealing in both fall and summer. Marshall Mesa itself is a broad slopping plateau filled with grasses, Cottonwood Trees, and shrubs. The Community Ditch cuts through it and in spring this ditch is filled with flowing water, perfect for fido to cool off in.

Looking east from the parking lot. The Marshall Valley trail crosses the open meadow but will eventually ascend up above the trees.
Standing on one of the ancient sandstone formations that form part of the area. Millions of years ago, this area was a beach. You can still see the waves embedded in the sands. It is a 10 foot drop off on the other side of the tree.
For hikers, the open space contains a pleasing loop that travels over the remains of a fossilized beach then up to a road with expansive views of the surrounding area including the full north-south extent of the Flatirons. Do this hike in the spring and your eye will be dazzled by how many variations of green exist in the world.

Heading across the formation to the open meadow beyond
I was hoping for gorgeous fall color on this trip, but the unseasonable freeze the week before turned all the leave brown. In spring, this meadow and the Cottonwoods that dominate it, is very pretty indeed.
There are two loops main loops in this Open Space with the option of extending your route through several spur trails, some of which connect to the trails on the west side of Hwy 93.  The route described in this post is a loop that travels eastward on the 0.8 mile Marshall Valley Trail, then 1.7 along the Community Ditch Trail, and then finally 0.5 miles down the Coal Seam Valley Trail back to the parking lot.

Map of the area
Go straight up the hill on the other side of the bridge and you can cut the route by a mile. Go left for a loop that is 3 miles long.
Looking east towards Kansas. Here the trail begins to climb upwards.
When the trail reaches it maximum elevation (~200 ft elevation gain), a spur trail heads off to the left. This is a dead end trail and dogs must be on a leash. The main trail heads to the right. Straight ahead, as you see in this picture is a lake. It is private.
A small vestige of fall color in some shrubs along the Community Ditch Trail. In spring the ditch would be filled with lazily flowing water.
The Flatirons from the Community Ditch Trail
Marshall Mesa is great for an afterwork hike, Sunday stroll, trail runs, or doggie walk. Even in January there is something to see and the stark landscape retains its charm under the deep blue skies of winter. The area is popular with mountain bikers too, who struggle up the rocky slopes for a chance to race along the flat Community Ditch Trail.

A sandstone bluff near the end of the loop. The Community Ditch Trail continues west across highway 93. That is a pleasant walk in and of itself.
Heading back down the Coal Seam Trail back to the parking lot
Like most trails near Boulder, parking is limited, but right across the road from the trailhead is a dirt lot that can be used as overflow or for non-residents who don't want to pay a parking fee.


PurestGreen said...

Every time I see your photos I think "that must be a filter...the sky can't possibly look like that." It's just so surreal.

Linda said...

Just what I was thinking. Is the sky always blue in Colorado?

sylvia murphy said...

I'm afraid so. 24 hours of gray skies and most of us locals are ready to commit suicide. We love our blue, particularly in winter!

Jann said...

What a gorgeous hiking trail. The landscape reminds me of the S part of the Black Hills.