One of the reasons Boulder has been touted the happiest, fittest, and healthiest town in the country has to do with our amazing outdoors opportunities. Just (sometimes literally) a stone’s throw away are the foothills to an impressive stretch of the Rocky Mountains, including the Flatirons, Devil’s Thumb, Mesa Trail, and countless more scenic landmarks.
While the hiking and skiing culture is robust here, as you might imagine, there is something else that makes Boulder as beautiful in its surroundings and its people, the likes of which only some areas of Europe can boast a comparison. That’s Boulder’s love of bicycling.
Bike paths, trails, and parks crisscross Boulder all the way up into the hills and all the way out across the plains of East Boulder’s open space. Most streets are flanked with bike lanes that go parallel to the cars (in some cases, they encroach on the regular car traffic, like the controversial Dutch design wide bike lanes down Folsom). Most Boulderites use bikes over cars to commute, and our fair city is one of the most bicycle-friendly around.
But beyond cruising around in the city itself, Boulder is also well known for bringing its mountain bikes up into the mountains, to experience the environment in a rich, speedy, and extreme-sports way. Boulder and the mountainous areas close by are home to some of the best mountain biking trails to test your shock absorbers on. Here are the Top 5 mountain biking trails in Boulder. Let us know if we’ve left any out.
Ask any seasoned Boulder mountain biker where the best place is to do a little shredding, and there’s a good chance she’ll say Betasso Preserve first. It’s a good combination of linked trails, is Betasso–and it has steepness and rocky terrain for the veterans (like on Link Trail), as well as smooth sailing and fun flying (Canyon Loop, or Benjamin Loop) for those with more modest experience. Betasso Preserve is one of the go-to mountain biking trails in Boulder, no matter what level you’re riding at.
The two main loops of Betasso are very different depending on the direction and are closed periodically, as well as change every so often too, so definitely look ahead if you’re planning on the Betasso experience. But one of the main things that make the looping trails of Betasso Preserve special is the fact that you can ride up there right from town. The Betasso loops are accessible from the long bike paths that make up the Boulder Creek Path. Just hop on the path anywhere in town, ride on up the canyon, and you’ll make it to Betasso in no time.
Located in Boulder’s very near neighbor, Lyons, the Hall Ranch experience is one for the ages. Yes, there’s a reason one of the main trails is called the Rock Garden, and yes indeed you’ll want to both ascend and descend through its challenges (unless you don’t want to deal with that craziness, and start on the Antelope Trail instead). No beginner’s trail here, Hall Ranch is a whimsical and stern schoolmaster, putting advanced and some brave intermediate riders to the test.
Once you conquer some of the most colorful technical climbs, switchbacks, and other fun difficulties, you’d be hard pressed to find a better view of Longs Peak, and what a handsome reward for conquering the rock garden!
Heil Valley Ranch
Not to be confused with Hall Ranch, Heil Ranch is also quite rocky, and also quite beautiful. Mainly an area for intermediate level riders, beginners can find some surmountable challenges here too, as well as the incredible scenery, especially on Picture Rock trail. Heil Ranch used to be, well, a ranch, and so it has lots of old ranching relics and old-timey buildings to set the scene.
The many trails of Heil Valley Ranch have been described as “flowing” by more than one mountain biking enthusiast, and it’s easy to see why: shady rolling curves, s-curving descents, and a trail network that runs both ways means Heil Ranch goes with the flow. I have heard several of my bike enthusiast friends appreciate the work that’s been done on it, changing it from a sort of rough and hairy little corner of bike land into a relatively smooth (albeit still with some technical bits) lollipop-shaped loop not to be missed.
Another old favorite amongst Boulder mountain bikers, the nearly 8 mile loop that composes the Walker Ranch ride feels totally different depending on which direction you ride it in. Located up past Flagstaff road, this is another area that’s most aligned with intermediate and advanced riders, with a long unrideable staircase amongst other obstacles to challenge the hardiest of the hardy.
There’s (of course, as there is with each of these trail systems) beautiful scenery to enjoy when you’re not concentrating on your wheels, too: a burn area from an old forest fire, and part of the loop extends right alongside Boulder Creek. Many experienced Boulder bikers swear by Walker Ranch, and it’s not hard to see why: all the challenge married to all the variety, with gorgeous scenery to boot.
The cool thing about Marshall Mesa is that it’s the hub for a bunch of different trails, that you can interlink to your fat tires’ content. Some favorites, too–bikers across Boulder swear by Doudy Draw, and the Dirty Bismarck, the Community Ditch and the Spring Brook Loop. There’s the Coal Seam trail and the Greenbelt plateau paths, too, and I know a photographer that has frequently sighted eagles and other birds of prey all over that area, so there’s lots to see beyond the lovely open space and fellow cyclists. You could start at Marshall Mesa’s trailhead every day for a month and not have exactly the same ride over the web of packed-dirt trails, depending on what turns you take.
The other great thing about the Marshall Mesa network is that it’s usually open (and more importantly, rideable) during the months of the year when other trails can’t be used on account of weather and conditions. It’s also a comparatively easy set of rides compared to some of the hairier routes on this list. So it’s fun and engaging time for beginners as well as a relaxing and beautiful ride for the daredevil rider needing a meditative and scenic few miles.
Honorable Mention: Valmont Bike Park
A playground and a circus for bicycles, the Valmont Bike Park isn’t exactly your backcountry singletrack trail or secluded forest trek with mountainous views, but the Valmont Bike Park has a wild and wide array of apparatus and areas (both natural and urban in design) to offer the cyclist on a short lunch break, or the n00b wanting to practice their skills before moving on to more difficult trails up on the slopes. Valmont Bike Park has it all (and your non-biker friends can while away their time adjacent while you play, in the adjacent dog park, skate park, or frisbee golf course).