We all consider ourselves lucky to have access to over 45,000 acres of open space in the city of Boulder (and an additional 100,000 acres maintained by Boulder County). The hiking, biking, and horseback riding opportunities are nearly endless. But even with all this in our backyard, we still feel compelled to leave the bubble every now and then. After all, there’s a whole world out there beyond Boulder (or so we hear).
But what if you don’t have the time for a day’s long drive or the budget for a plane ticket? When you’re looking for new land to traverse but need to keep it simple and sweet, look no further than our neighbor to the south – Jefferson County. Jeffco Open Space is comprised of 53,000 acres and 230 miles of trails. White Ranch Open Space Park, one of 28 regional parks in Jeffco Open Space, is your must-visit spot this winter (or any time of year).
Less than 45 minutes from Boulder, White Ranch Park is nestled in a pristine wilderness area just north of Golden Gate Canyon Park and south of Ralston Creek Canyon. With 20 miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and equestrians, it’s the perfect size for a half-day sojourn. In addition to its well-maintained trails, White Ranch Park has a rich cultural history and breathtaking geological features. And its 5,224 acres of open space are bursting with wildlife. This park will definitely inspire you to leave the Boulder bubble a little more often.
The Paleo-Indians resided here approximately 12,000 – 7,000 years ago. They were a dispersed, nomadic people who migrated seasonally in search of food. In the years after the Paleo-Indians, the land was home to numerous native peoples, including the Ute and Arapahoe.
Approximately 200 years ago, white settlers arrived as they made their way west in search of gold. Colorado’s first placer gold (gold that is mined from stream bed deposits) was found in Ralston Creek, just east of White Ranch. Coal, clay, and uranium were also mined in and around the area.
As mining boomed, trading posts, toll roads, and homes were built. In 1865, the Frank Bond family filed a homestead. This homestead changed hands over the years, eventually becoming property of the Paul White family who operated a cattle ranch.
The White family owned this land from 1913 – 1974. Following Paul’s death, his wife Anna Lee White entered into a purchase agreement to turn ownership of the land over to Jefferson County Open Space. An additional piece of land, the geological formation called Ralston Buttes, was also purchased and added to what we now call White Ranch Park.
Like the city of Boulder, White Ranch Park is situated in a transitional zone where the plains rise to meet the Rockies. This overlapping of biomes creates an incredible amount of biodiversity. Wildlife is abundant here.
Although any time is a great time to visit White Ranch Park, arriving after a winter snowfall is a real treat. Tracks can easily be seen on and alongside the trails, telling tales of deer, bobcat, fox, and rabbit. In the spring and summer, peregrine falcons may be observed as they are nesting and raising young in the cliffs of Ralston Buttes. A variety of plant life is found here, too, from narrowleaf cottonwood to big and little bluestem.
White Ranch Park’s trail system can be accessed from one of two trailheads. The East trailhead at 5611 Glencoe Valley Road (Golden) is just off 93 and easily accessible. The West trailhead at 25303 Belcher Hill Road is a little trickier and will add about 15 minutes to your drive. Due to the added difficulty in getting there, the West trailhead is typically much quieter (especially in the colder months). Those seeking solitude may opt for the West side, although 4WD and snow tires are recommended in winter conditions.
The trails range from easy to strenuous, with most falling into the moderate category. All are designated as multi-use for hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Due to the layout of the system, numerous loops are possible. It’s ideal for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of hike. Simply read the trail descriptions, print the map, and see where your feet (or your bike or your horse) take you. With so many trail junctions, it’s easy to turn around at any point and head back to where you started. Or you may just decide to keep going to the next junction… and the next… and the next.
You’ll be rewarded for venturing outside the bubble. Soak up expansive views of the foothills and the plains. Savor the dramatic backdrop provided by Ralston Buttes and Ralston Reservoir. Reflect on the incredible history this land has seen. Enjoy the peace and quiet that can sometimes be hard to find on Boulder’s most popular trails. White Ranch Park is definitely worth the trip and you’ll be inspired to return again and again.
Happy trails (and holidays), Boulderites!
Photo credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com – all rights reserved