Get Outside! Hiking Caribou Ranch

A Trail Through 100+ Years Of Colorado History

Basics: Distance: 2.4 miles to 4.7 miles RT with side trails Elevation: 8,560 feet at trailhead, 8,760 feet at mine/highest point Location: Near Nederland, in Boulder County (directions and trail map below) Trailhead: 25 parking spaces, pit toilets, sign with maps Dogs: Not allowed Entrance fee: None Important note: This open space park is closed April 1 to June 30 to protect spring migratory birds and elk calving and rearing.

One trail in Boulder County can take you back in time musically and historically. While the area of Caribou Ranch was likely used by native Americans, recorded history in the area begins in the 1860s. First homesteaders and miners lived here, then horse ranchers and in the 1970s, a music producer bought the ranch and turned it into a recording studio.

The trailhead is just about 2.8 miles from the first traffic circle in Nederland. After picking up a trail map at the sign in the parking lot, I headed up the DeLonde trail.

This hike is great for families, seniors, music lovers, history buffs, even just people looking for a spot to picnic. I saw all of those kinds of people on this hike and even two park hosts on horseback. Horse trailers are welcome at the Mud Lake Open Space park just 3/4 mile away.

Just 0.2 mile up the DeLonde Trail, I found a bench with a view. I took a quick picture and continued on.

The trail winds through the trees and is very peaceful. About 0.8 of a mile from the trailhead, you come to a road of sorts. A sign explains this is the old roadbed for the Colorado & Northwestern Railway (C&N). It ran from Boulder to Ward. To encourage tourists to ride the rails, the C&N named the 26.1 mile narrow gauge railway "The Switzerland Trail". An old barn next to the homestead

You follow the railbed to a large open meadow at 1.2 miles from the trailhead. Here you can see an old barn in the distance. There is also a trail split here. You can continue on the railroad bed to the mine via the Blue Bird Loop trail, then follow time in history to the homestead and ranch. Or you can go directly to the ranch house. I saw some storms clouds building, so I decided to head for the ranch first. I didn't want to get there in the rain later.

There are two major buildings still standing at the ranch. I went to the ranch house first. While it is not open to the public, it is a great place to sit on the porch and enjoy lunch and the view. A sign at the house tells the story of Canadian Magloire DeLande (original spelling). It says he first homesteaded this ranch in 1863. DeLande and his brothers came to be miners, but eventually turned to ranching and growing hay. The view from the porch of the old homestead at Caribou Ranch

The home has a beautiful view of the meadows and valley. It's definitely worth spending a few minutes here. A sign points past the house to an "overlook." I walked the trail and found a picnic bench and a pond. It's a nice spot, but not what I would call an "overlook."

As you sit on the porch of the house, think about the history of this area. The miners who worked so hard underground. The ranchers who grew hay above ground. The people who made movies and music. And now the hikers and equestrians who enjoy the area.

It's fitting that horses are welcome here. In the 1930's the ranch became home to the first Arabian horse breeding operation in Colorado.

Between 1936 and 1971, the ranch was used occasionally as a movie location. "Arabians of the Rockies", "Sons of Courage" and even the movie "Stagecoach" starring Bing Crosby and Stephanie Powers were filmed here.

In 1971, according to Boulder County's Web site, music producer James Guercio, bought the ranch and renamed it Caribou Ranch. He converted the barn into a recording studio, attracting Chicago, Elton John, Rod Stewart, the Beach Boys, U2, even Frank Zappa. Elton John even recorded an album called simply "Caribou." Wikipedia has extensive list of artists who recorded here. The recording studio closed after a fire in 1985.

I found a recording of Chicago playing "25 or 6 to 4" at Caribou Ranch on you tube. I heard this song playing in my head over and over while I was on the hike.

While there is a big red barn here, it doesn't appear to be "the barn" used as a recording studio.

Between the homestead and the barn is a sign for the Blue Bird Loop, so I went that way. The trail once again winds through the trees. It also begins quite a good climb here. It's not tough for experienced hikers, but little kids and seniors may need an occasional break. You'll climb about 200 feet in elevation from the homestead to the mine. Stream along the trail

Along the way, I heard rushing water. I wondered if it would be the near the trail or if I would have to bushwhack to find it. A short distance later I spotted sign warning to stay on the trail, but I also spotted stairs to the cascade. I found a family enjoying a spot along the stream. If you look closely on the trail map, you'll see a very short side spur trail going to the cascade. This is another spot that is worth a little time. If you've brought lunch, consider having it here.

Back on the main trail, it wasn't much further to the spur trail to the Blue Bird Mine. The mine is 0.1 mile from the main trail.

A sign at the Blue Bird Mine saus it was named for the blue azurite often found in silver ore. In 1882, the Santa La Saria Mining Company had 40 workers and produced 10 tons of ore each day at the Blue Bird Mine. An old bunk house at the Blue Bird mine complex

There's lots to see here, but you can't get too close. There is a fence and a sign telling hikers to stop. But from the end of the trail you can see a large bunkhouse, circa 1877. In the distance you can spot the mining company house, circa 1940s. (The sign has a map of the area) If you look closely to the left, you'll see the mine dump and some old equipment. It appears the mine entrance is just over the mine dump remnants, but it was hard to be sure from the fence.

The sign at the mine also explains, as mining began to fade, the Blue Bird became a tourist attraction. Visitors would arrive by train in the morning and spend the day hiking, picnicking, fishing and gathering wildflowers, then return to Boulder in the evening.

After taking some pictures, I headed back down to the trail/railroad bed back to the trailhead. Remnants from the Blue Bird Mine

Be aware, this park is closed three months of the year, April 1 to June 30 to protect wildlife in the area.

Roundtrip distance with the side trails was about 4.6 miles on my GPS. While this is a fairly easy hike, it's definitely worth your time. I came on a Sunday afternoon after dropping off family at the airport. It was a nice treat and I learned a lot about the area.

Directions: Take the Boulder Turnpike (U.S. 36) to Boulder. The highway becomes 28th Street. Turn left on Canyon Blvd./Highway 119 toward Nederland. Zero your odometer. Drive up the canyon and around Barker Dam to the first traffic circle in Nederland (17.3 miles). Take the second right at the traffic circle, Highway 72/Peak to Peak Highway. It's 1.9 miles to the turnoff for County Road 126. (0.2 of a mile from the traffic circle, you'll see a sign for "Caribou", ignore that. Look for the sign for "Caribou Ranch Open Space" about 1.8 miles from the traffic circle) Take the dirt County Road 126, 0.9 miles to the entrance to Caribou Ranch Open Space. (see trail map below)

If you have any questions, comments or hiking trail suggestions, email me deb_stanley@kmgh.com.

Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star) Boulder: Mallory Cave*, Marshall Mesa,Heil Valley Ranch* Forsythe Canyon*, South Boulder Peak*, The Boulder Flatirons*, Walker Ranch*, Bear Peak*, Rabbit Mountain*, Bald Mountain*, Betasso Preserve*, Wonderland Lake* Golden area: Forgotten Valley, Chimney Gulch*, Apex Park* Jefferson County: Mt. Falcon*, Elk Meadow* I-70 area: Herman Gulch, Chicago Lakes, Chief Mountain Rocky Mountain National Park: Granite Falls, Twin Sisters, Bierstadt Lake, Chasm Lake, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier, Sandbeach Lake Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness: King, Bob & Betty Lakes, Forest Lakes, Arapaho Lakes, Mitchell & Blue Lakes, James Peak Area, Heart Lake Northern Colorado: Homestead Meadows, Devil's Backbone*, Lake Agnes Summit & Eagle Counties: Booth Falls, Missouri Lakes, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls Grand County: St Louis Lake, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby Ranch Other: Exploring Fulford Cave, Our Favorite Hikes, Our Favorite Bike Rides

Map courtesy of Trails Illustrated.