Boulderites enjoy taking things to the next level and this includes celebrating Halloween. From the Munchkin Masquerade to the Mall Crawl, there’s something for every ghost and ghoul. But Boulder’s local frights are not limited to the city streets. Our extensive trail system is full of stories guaranteed to get your mind racing and your heart pumping (while giving your legs a decent workout, too). This Halloween, let’s hit the trails for a look into some of Boulder’s unsolved mysteries. These haunted hikes will keep you coming back for more… if you dare.
Rattlesnake Gulch and the Crags Hotel Fire (3.8 miles RT, 1,400 feet of elevation gain)
This hike begins in Eldorado Canyon State Park at the Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead. Today, Eldorado Canyon is known for world-class rock climbing and hiking trails. Back in the early 1900’s, however, it was referred to as “the Coney Island of the Rockies,” a leisure destination for well-to-do travelers and tuberculosis patients.
Begin hiking on the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail as it switchbacks up the hillside. At 1.2 miles in, you’ll reach the Crags Hotel ruins. Take time to read the interpretive signs and explore the fireplace, fountain, and pieces of foundation.
In 1908, this trail was a wagon road named “Crags Boulevard.” It brought vacationers from the base of the canyon up to the lovely Crags Hotel. Perched on a cliff with sweeping views, the Crags Hotel provided outdoor recreation by day and entertainment by night. Mysteriously, in 1912, the hotel burned to the ground in the middle of the night. The exact cause was never determined. Some insisted the fire was natural while others purported it was arson carried out by the owners to collect insurance money. Charges were never brought against the owners.
From the Crags Hotel site, you may retrace your steps back to the trailhead (2.4 miles round trip) or continue on the upper loop before returning (3.8 miles round trip).
Deadly Homestead Squabbles in South Mesa (2.8 miles RT, 500 feet of elevation gain)
This hike begins at South Mesa Trailhead. Over a hundred years ago, this land was primarily used for farming. Several families established ranches and homesteads. The Dunn family came to Boulder in the 1880’s and the Brammeier family soon followed. But in 1902, an incident occurred that would forever link these two neighbors in a shroud of tragedy.
Begin on Mesa Trail and you’ll quickly encounter a stone house to your left.
This is what remains of the Dunn House, built in 1875. Continue to Upper Big Bluestem Trail and turn left. The trail rises for a half mile and crosses a gully. Look to the left and you’ll see some log debris and a stone wall. These are remnants of the Brammeier homestead.
On June 9th 1902, between these two homesteads, John Dunn shot Fred Brammeier in the back and then promptly turned himself in to the Boulder Sheriff. After a 3-day trial, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to one year in prison. He served it in full.
The short story behind the murder is that the two men had a property dispute. The long story is much more interesting and brimming with contradiction. Even the Boulder Daily Camera and the Denver Post offered conflicting reports regarding Dunn’s motivation and the series of events leading up to Brammeier’s death.
It was a sensational story in its day, rife with rumor and speculation, and Boulderites can still experience it through this hike. From the Brammeier homestead, you can return as you came or lengthen your hike by exploring several other homesteads in the area.
South Mesa Trailhead and area trails may be closed Monday through Friday for restoration and repair.
Heil Ranch and the Barn Party Gone Wrong (Options from 1.3 miles to 10+ miles)
Heil Valley Ranch is comprised of 5,000 acres and 17 miles of multi-use trails. This Boulder County property is popular among hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Unfortunately, it was also the scene of a grisly murder in the fall of 1983 that remains unsolved to this day.
The murder of Margaret Hillman is one of several “cold cases” to plague Boulder County. Margaret, age 14, was attending a country western-style barn party with family and friends. As she was leaving, she reportedly told her parents that she was catching a ride with another relative. Tragically, she never made it home. Local authorities searched every nook and cranny of Heil Ranch, but to no avail. Her remains were found 10 months later in a nearby ravine. To this day, no one has been charged with her murder.
Heil Valley Ranch receives thousands of visitors per year and most are blissfully unaware of the events that transpired in 1983. A variety of hikes are possible at Heil, ranging from short and sweet to long and leisurely. The 1.3-mile Lichen Loop, accessible from the Main Trailhead, is a great option for beginners or families with small children. If you’re interested in more trail time, consider starting at Picture Rock Trailhead and doing the scenic 5.2-mile Picture Rock Trail.
Happy Halloween and Happy Trails, Boulderites!
Photo Credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com — all rights reserved