Looking for an epic summer hike close to town? Of course you are. Here’s the recipe: Take one rocky, rambling Eldorado Canyon Trail. Then take one historic, meandering Walker Ranch Loop. Combine. Add in a couple of friends, a dash of adventure, and what do you have? The Eldorado Canyon-Walker Ranch Loop. This 14-miler is the perfect addition to your summer hiking menu, and it’s only a short drive from town. Challenge yourself and experience some beautiful backcountry in our own backyard. Read on for everything you need to know about this summer’s epic local hike.
The Eldorado Canyon – Walker Ranch hike is fairly strenuous and best for seasoned hikers. This lollipop loop clocks in at 14 miles and approximately 2,000 feet in elevation gain. If you already have some long hikes under your belt, you’ll do just fine.
To get there, take State Highway 93 South from Boulder. Turn right onto CO-170. Head west on 170 for about 3 miles to the dirt road. Continue on the dirt road to the park entrance. The trail begins just north of the Visitor Center.
What (to pack)?
You will be out on the trails for half the day, so plan accordingly. Here is a suggested list of supplies:
- Water, water, water (at least 8 ounces per hour)
- Lunch and snacks
- Waterproof jacket
- Extra socks
- Basic first aid kit
- Maps and compass
- Toilet paper and baggies
- Cell phone (ideally a portable charger, too)
Plan to be out on the trails for 5-7 hours depending on your pace and the length of your breaks.
Eldorado Canyon State Park is a popular destination for hikers, climbers, and picnickers. The main road and parking areas get very crowded, especially on weekends. Starting before 8:00 am is highly recommended. The park gate opens at sunrise.
This hike can be done year-round, but it’s particularly well suited for the summer. Both Eldorado and Walker Ranch offer long stretches of shade and South Boulder Creek provides opportunities to cool off along the way.
Begin at the Eldorado Canyon Trail. There is no easing into this trail unfortunately. Most of its elevation gain occurs in the first mile, and you’ll be climbing steps right from the parking lot.
After the initial climb, Eldorado Canyon rolls along pleasantly enough. You’ll pass over a saddle with beautiful views as you wind deeper into the canyon. Ultimately, the trail descends into the forest canopy and toward South Boulder Creek. At 3.5 miles into the hike, you’ll reach the end of Eldorado Canyon Trail and the junction with the Walker Ranch Loop.
Walker Ranch can be taken clockwise or counter-clockwise. Clockwise may be preferable for a couple of reasons. First, you’ll be tackling the steeper stretches going uphill, as opposed to downhill, which is easier on the knees. Secondly, this is a multi-use trail. Most bikers seem to approach it counter-clockwise, which means they’ll be more visible to you and vice versa.
If you’ve chosen to hike clockwise, turn left at the sign for the Walker Ranch Loop. Cross the bridge and climb up the rocky outcrop. This is a delightfully shady and cool spot to listen to the creek and enjoy a snack.
From here, the trail begins a short but steep climb up. Then it descends and takes you through a wide-open meadow before switch-backing up again. About 5 miles into the Walker Ranch Loop, you’ll reach the Walker Ranch Trailhead. This is a real treat, since it’s rare to hit any amenities in the middle of a long hike. Enjoy lunch at the picnic table and actual bathrooms!
From the trailhead, it’s a mere 2 miles back to the junction with Eldorado Canyon Trail. There’s a relentlessly shade-less incline in the last mile. It’s an incline you might barely notice under normal circumstances, but after 10 miles of hiking you’ll feel it acutely.
Once you rejoin the Eldorado Canyon Trail, you’ll feel like celebrating. But hold off for just a few more minutes. If you recall, your last stretch of this trail was downhill. Now, unfortunately, you have to go back up. Put on a happy face and trudge up and away from South Boulder Creek back to the saddle. Once that’s squared away, then you can celebrate.
Follow Eldorado Canyon Trail back to the trailhead for your final two miles. The steep descent at the very end may test your legs, but keep the faith – you’re almost there.
Back at the trailhead it’s a jolt of reality. The jarring sights and sounds of the mid-day crowds have replaced the sleepy canyon you witnessed in the early morning hours. High fives all around and it’s time to decide where to grab your post-hike nachos and beer.
There you have it – your epic summer hike all wrapped up and ready to go. Pack your bag, set your alarm, and go get it. Happy trails, Boulderites!