Get Outside! Hiking Walker Ranch

A moderate loop hike in a Bouder County Open Space Area.

Boulder County Open Space, May 2007 Loop Hike, 7.6 miles Price: Free Directions: Boulder turnpike, exit Baseline. Go West as it turns into Flagstaff. Go slow on Flagstaff and watch for bikers. (From Baseline to the park is 7.5 miles) When you see the signs warning you have to pay to park, don’t worry. You’re going past that area. Watch for the Walker Ranch sign on the left. It’s a nice parking lot with port-a-potties. Looks like crews are planning to build fancy bathrooms in the future. History: James Walker came to Colorado in 1869 for his health. In 1882, he and his wife filed a homestead claim for 160 acres. They sold it in 1959. There were several owners until the country began a lease-purchase in 1976.

The good? Close to town, cheap on gas Moderate trail Mileage signs Good distance

The bad? The trail is down/up, then down/up AGAIN! It’s a very busy trail, so don’t come here for solitude.

When it came time to pick my first hike of the year, I got a bit ambitious; 7.6 miles. Since Bolder Boulder is next week, I figured I might as well try something close to 6.2 miles this week.

Walker Ranch has been on my list of “hikes to do” for several years. My boyfriend didn’t want to hike here because the trail is popular with bikers. I don’t mind the bikers. Maybe because they impress me. Maybe because every time I step off the trail to let them go by, I get a short rest.

Walker Ranch is easy to get to. Up Flagstaff Road. I parked right at the trailhead. On some weekends, you may have to park at a trailhead about a half mile east on Flagstaff.

There’s no warm-up on this hike. When you start at the trailhead sign, you have an option. Go left and start climbing or go right and start dropping into the canyon. My guide book suggested going right, so I did. It turns out the mileage markers count in the direction of hikers who go right first, so it worked well for me.

This hike may be a good one with kids (not too young since it’s a tough hike) or for people who like to read signs. Right away you see a sign explaining that there was a wildfire in this area in 2000. While there are burned trees, the ground cover has made a good comeback. While I hiked downward toward South Boulder Creek, there were lots of pretty flowers to take pictures of. The first mile is pretty much all downhill. I came across a creek/tributary right across the trail. Fortunately, to the right were some boulders you could use to cross, so I didn’t have to get my feet wet. There a major creek crossing (the actual South Boulder Creek), but there’s a pretty bridge there to get across.

Just before the major creek crossing, I came to my first mileage marker sign. I love these! After the creek crossing, it was time to start climbing. There’s about an 800-foot elevation gain in the next mile and a half to the Crescent Meadows Parking lot, so there were some steep sections and some not so steep sections, but be ready to climb. At one point, the trail goes right next to the Gross Dam Road; that surprised me. But there’s not much traffic, so it wasn’t too bad.

The first crossing of South Boulder Creek between Walker Ranch trailhead and Crescent Meadows trailhead.

Crescent Meadows is the upper section of Eldorado Canyon State Park. I’ve hiked in the lower part of the State Park. There’s no entry fee and you can start the loop at this trailhead instead of Walker Ranch. It may be easier to find parking here on a busy weekend, but check Walker Ranch first. Crescent Meadows is 2.6 miles into the hike. It’s a good place to decide if you’re going back, making this a 5.2 mile hike or continuing on, doing the whole 7.6 mile loop. I figured I was in, so off I went.

As you pass by the Crescent Meadow, stop and turn all the way around in a circle. It’s very picturesque here. Good pictures in every direction. The trail here gets smaller, so you may have to step off trail to let bikers go by. This is also where the trail starts to descend again. You’re going downhill for the next 2-plus miles. Along the way you’ll come to the 3-mile sign post and 4-mile sign post. You’re now past the halfway mark. There was one more sign I didn’t expect. It said “less technical route” with an arrow. TAKE THAT! I went the other way and had some steep drops to go down. Why make it any harder? Take the high road, the so-called “less technical route.”

The steep hike down to South Boulder Creek.

The next surprise? Stairs! You know if there are stairs on a trail, there’s a reason. In this case, it’s because this was a very steep drop back down to South Boulder Creek. Holy cow, was it steep! While I had a tough time coming down, it didn’t even compare to what the bicyclists had to do. They had to carry their bikes up or down this section. There’s no pushing your bike here, we’re talking carrying! (Have I mentioned that bikers impress me?)

At the bottom of the staircase, as you continue down the trail, look for the small waterfall on the left. This is a good spot to stop for lunch, a snack, a break. It’s also cooler next to the creek. After this, you cross another bridge, pass the sign for the hike to the lower section of Eldorado Canyon State Park (3.5 miles away, 7 miles round trip) and then it’s time for the final climb. There’s one third of the hike left and its uphill most of the way! I wanted to stop for a break at the waterfall, but there were too many dark clouds, so I figured I'd better keep on going.

The last 2½ miles or so are uphill again. About 900 feet in elevation gain with some steep areas. No stairs, but steep.

Just before mile marker 6 you’ll see the turnoff for the Ethel Harrold Picnic Area and trailhead, another parking location for this loop hike. I was at Walker Ranch which meant pushing on another mile and a half or so, hopefully before the rain hit.

A small waterfall along South Boulder Creek is a great place for a picnic or a break.

Just before mile marker 7, I heard what I didn’t want to hear; thunder! That made me hike a little faster! Then I saw something I didn’t want to see; lightning. At that point, I made the decision to jog the last quarter mile to the car. Fortunately, that last little bit was downhill! A biker at the trailhead even said “lightning sure is good motivation to get back to the trailhead, isn’t yet?” How true!

I made the roundtrip hike in two hours, 55 minutes. The brochure says allow 6 hours; that’s pretty good advice. I was moving pretty quickly because of the storm.

Yes, there were a ton of bikers, some doing the loop more than once. I recognized a couple bikers and they recognized me on their second lap around. As I said earlier, bikers don’t bother me. Technically, they’re supposed to yield to hikers, but I always get off the trail for them. I figure what they’re doing is a lot harder than what I’m doing. I only got passed by about seven to 10 bikers from behind and one runner. But I probably saw over 100 bikers (and two dozen hikers) pass me in the opposite direction. Consider yourself warned.

Got questions/comments? E-mail me:deb_stanley@kmgh.com. Because I’m on deadline everyday, give me a day or two to email you back.

Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star) Boulder: Caribou Ranch*, Mallory Cave*, Marshall Mesa,Heil Valley Ranch* Forsythe Canyon*, South Boulder Peak*, The Boulder Flatirons*, 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

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