Hike or Bike the Walker Ranch Loop

Walker Ranch Loop

This hike travels through a variety of ecosystems and is perfect as an early season tuneup for the peak bagger. It's close to Boulder and popular with hikers, runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers.

When it comes to hiking trails in Boulder, the standard response usually consists of either Chautauqua Park or Mt. Sanitas, and while both offer excellent hiking options, they are both usually jam packed on the weekends. If you’re looking to stay close to the city, but want a little more seclusion, then check out Boulder County Open Space and hit up Walker Ranch. Although Walker Ranch is still quite popular among hikers, runners, bikers, and equestrians, I’ve still found that the encounters with other groups seems to be much more spread out. If you’re a fisherman looking to cast a line, then Walker Ranch also allows live and artificial bait along South Boulder Creek, just be sure to have a valid Colorado fishing license.

One of my favorite hikes to do when I’m in the area is the Walker Ranch Loop, which actually consists of four trails: Columbine Gulch, Eldorado Canyon, Crescent Meadows, and S. Boulder Creek. This 7.7 mile loop will take you through a variety of ecosystems and give you a taste of just about every type of hiking. The trail will take you from sweeping overlooks and vistas, to dropping you down into the canyons near the creek, so be aware that there are several sections of elevations gain/loss. The loop can be completed in either direction, but it should be noted that there is a steep section of natural rock “stairs” near South Boulder Creek, so if you prefer to hike down stairs, then go counter-clockwise. If you’d rather climb, take it clockwise. This trail description will be following the trail counter-clockwise.

From the Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead take the trail to the right to get on the South Boulder Creek Trail. Early on you will hike along a sloped, open ridgeline that offers views of the Tom Davis Gulch below with interpretive signs that describe a forest fire that came through the area in the past. The trail descends nearly 550 feet over about a mile on a steady grade before reaching the forest and the creek below. The trail levels out once you reach the bottom and you travel along an easy path through the South Boulder Creek Picnic Area. Soon you will reach a bridge crossing over the main South Boulder Creek. If you have time, this is a good opportunity to explore the creek and take a break in the shade from the hot summer sun.

After leaving the creek area, the trail will climb steeply as it ascends 600’ over 1.25 miles. A series of switchbacks will take you up to a max elevation of 7,355’ and to the Crescent Meadows Parking Area. From here the forest opens up and you will be able to enjoy views of the Rocky Mountains to the west.

From the Crescent Meadows Parking Area, enjoy easy hiking along mild grades through wide open meadows with views of Eldorado Canyon in the distance. After about 2 miles from the parking area, you will reach steep rock stairs that will take you down to South Boulder Creek. For the fisherman, this is a good place to explore the creek and cast a line. Rapids and cascades also make excellent subjects for the photographer, bring a tripod to capture milky waterfalls along the creek. This is also a perfect place to stop for lunch if you happened to pack one as you are just past the halfway mark.

After crossing the creek head north; the trail once again begins an upward climb on an old fire road and will take you from pine forest to lush, verdant meadows. Shortly after passing an abandoned homestead, you will reach an intersection with the Columbine Gulch Trail. Bear left to continue on a shaded, but steep climb for about another mile to reach a ridge with excellent views to the east and south. Follow the social trails from the ridge to reach park benches to take a load off and admire the views below. From here, only 0.85 miles remain on easy, but exposed track until you reach the Walker Ranch Loop Parking Area.

Hit the trail head early to avoid the heaviest crowds and afternoon thunderstorms. After you're done, stop in Boulder to grab some food and a post hike beer. Avery, Upslope, Boulder Beer, and Twisted Pine are some of the larger breweries that call Boulder home. Or stop at the Dark Horse just off Baseline Road on the way to Denver for one of the best burgers in town.

Pack List

  • Day pack
  • Good hiking or trail running shoes
  • Plenty of water
  • Hat for shade
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks or a lunch
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RT Distance 7.7 Miles
Elevation Gain 1740 Feet
Activities Fishing, Photography, Mountain Biking, Running, Hiking, Fitness
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Year Round
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Forest
Groups
Picnic Area
River
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Loop Is A Challenging Reward

Take this loop for a ride if you want to feel awesome. And also have burning legs. Great views, will have to hike stairs, but worth it for the loop.

This is one of my favorite mountain biking loops near Boulder, especially when it's hot down in the city. If you're lucky you might see some wild turkeys too.

Trail Run: Eldorado Canyon Trail to Walker Ranch Loop

For those of you looking for a challenging trail run with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, beautiful views, and 15 miles round trip, this is a great one! The Eldorado Canyon Trail is accessed from the state park and climbs about 1,000 feet right out of the gate with stunning views as your reward at the top. It's about 4.5 miles until you reach the Walker Ranch Loop and much of the trail is runnable and downhill once you get up the first big climb. The Walker Ranch Loop takes you down to the creek, back up, and through the valley. The terrain is varied with lots of ups and downs. Save up some energy for the climb coming back out of the loop and up onto the Eldorado Canyon Trail...that's a tough one after about 12 miles of running!


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