Imagine a hike that suits everyone. Yes, everyone. It’s the holy grail of the great outdoors and Boulderites are in constant search for it. Whether we’re entertaining family from out of town or planning an excursion with friends, we’re always in search of that perfect hike that will suit a wide range of fitness levels and interests.
The “one-size-fits-all” hike is particularly elusive here in Boulder where altitude and elevation gain come into play. Strenuous climbs and oxygen-starved summits aren’t appropriate for new hikers or lowlanders. On the other hand, you can’t just go with any short, flat trail. Without views and points of interest, you’ll be taking your group on a very forgettable journey.
Cue the heavenly music and behold Caribou Ranch. Boulder County’s holy grail is comprised of 2,151 acres and features 4.2 miles of trails with negligible elevation change. Wide-open spaces and airy views? Check. Historic sites to explore? Check. Wildlife watching opportunities? Check. Trails that are suitable for most fitness levels? Check. Something for everyone? Indeed. Read on for your guide to this beautifully unique property.
Dogs, aside from trained service dogs, are not permitted at Caribou Ranch.
Caribou Ranch is not ideal for wheelchairs. Power-driven mobility devices are not permitted. Visit the Boulder Area Accessible Trail Guide for more information on trails for individuals with disabilities.
The Caribou Ranch property closes annually from April 1st to June 30th to protect migratory birds and elk calving and rearing.
Caribou Ranch is located in nearby Nederland, 40 minutes west of downtown Boulder. The trailhead address is 144 County Road 126. Head west on CO-119 to Nederland. At the rotary, take CO-72 W (the Peak-to-Peak Highway) and continue for two miles. Turn left onto County Road 126 at the sign for Caribou Ranch Open Space.
The trailhead has ample parking, restrooms, and picnic tables.
While the trails at Caribou Ranch are neither long nor technical, there is so much to explore that you’ll want to set aside 2-3 hours to soak it all in. Begin on the 1.2-mile Delonde Trail. This gentle well-marked trail takes you through a forest of aspens and pines (there’s a beautiful overlook with a view of Indian Peaks) before opening up to an expansive meadow. There is a fork in the trail – heed the sign and stay to the right.
The Delonde Trail ends at the start of the 1.8-mile Blue Bird Loop. You may take this loop in either direction. If you’re eager to check out the beautiful red barn in the distance (part of the Delonde Homestead), then take the loop counter-clockwise and turn right.
Keep your eyes open for elk and deer, as they’re frequent visitors here. When you reach the homestead, take some time to explore. The red barn also provides a fantastic backdrop for photos.
After the homestead, continue hiking as the trail approaches North Boulder Creek. There’s a very pretty spot where you can descend to sit by the water. From here, the trail turns to the west and soon you’ll be at the junction for the Blue Bird Mine Complex. Turn right to explore this site.
In the 1870’s, Blue Bird Mine was one of many active mines in this area. Its name comes from blue azurite, which is often found in silver ore. By 1905, the mine was shut down and the complex became a tourist attraction off of the Switzerland Trail. The buildings and artifacts that remain are fascinating. Interpretive signs located throughout the complex tell the story of this land’s intriguing past.
Once you’ve gotten your fill, return to Blue Bird Loop. The trail bends to the south and finally to the east as it reconnects with the Delonde Trail. Return to the trailhead via the Delonde Trail.
If you’re looking for more trail time, consider connecting to the nearby Mud Lake property. From the Caribou Ranch parking lot, cross the road and access the Caribou Ranch Link Trail. Mud Lake offers two trail loops and the possibility to add an additional 3.3 miles of hiking and exploring.
Happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo credit: Alli Fronzaglia — all rights reserved