Heil Valley Ranch Loop | CO | 05/16/19


Heil Valley Ranch Loop | Main Trailhead | Heil Valley Ranch Open Space

Boulder, CO | 05/16/19 | 10.14 miles | 1,263′ gain | Class 1


The weather’s calling for more rain most of this weekend and into next week. A rainy day does not a good hike make. I’m so lucky that my job is flexible in that I can switch my work days around last minute! So a Thursday hike it is, instead of a rainy Friday!

I had a few options on the radar for today but ended up picking a loop at Heil Valley Ranch. I haven’t done any longer hikes lately and wanted to see how my feet held up on a 10-mile trip. I created the loop from the Wapiti, Ponderosa, and Wild Turkey Trails.

Dogs aren’t allowed within the Heil Valley Ranch Park so it was just me, myself, and I on this cloudy Thursday. I was surprised to see a bunch of cars in the lot at 7:30am but would soon find out that these were all early morning bikers.

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I started on the Wapiti Trail.

Wapiti is the Shawnee (Native American) word for elk. I was excited to see some wapiti but I didn’t luck out today. The Wapiti Trail soon merges with the emergency access road and follows that for about a half mile. At that point it turns off and becomes a normal trail again.

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Wild Turkey on the Wapiti Trail (access road)

The turkeys were out like crazy today, it must be mating season! The males (toms) were gobbling nonstop and chasing the poor hens around. I heard them most of the morning.

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Stream and views along the Wapiti Trail (access road)
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Creek crossing on the Wapiti Trail (access road)

I’ve purposefully not been researching too much about these hikes before I go (with the exception of what trails I’m taking). I find it to be a fun surprise getting to see what a hike or park is all about. (Please note that I don’t recommend this for any routes that may be technical, dangerous, or involve any amount of route finding. All of the parks I’ve been going to lately are extremely busy and have great trails and signs.)

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Views along the Wapiti Trail

I was pleasantly surprised by the views and lush greenery. The Wapiti Trail takes you up through a mountain meadow and eventually into the foothills, where it connects with the Ponderosa Trail.

There were an abundance of wildflowers along the trail, these are just a few of what I saw today! (Click to enlarge, hover for the species name.)

The Wapiti Trail gained in elevation nearly the entire time, but was always nice and gradual. Eventually I came to a stone structure. There weren’t any signs along the trail, but a quick internet search back at the house told me that the few stone buildings within the park were once used by ranch hands.

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Stone building once used by ranch hands.

Within the lower parts of the park, all I saw (and heard) were turkeys. But the upper parts of the park were populated by deer. I saw around 30 different individuals.

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Mule deer doe (female)
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Mule deer bucks (male)

After 2.5 miles, I reached the intersection with the Ponderosa Trail. I turned left and completed the loop clockwise.

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Ponderosa Trail

The Ponderosa Trail crested the top of the ridge and meandered along to a scenic overlook. I stopped there for a snack break.

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Long’s Peak in the distance, deer butt bottom right
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A quick view of the plains
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The scenic overlook was on a talus slope overlooking a beautiful valley.
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Scenic overlook views

The stillness in the air bade me notice, the distant hills that seemed to move, as if to gently embrace her spirit, now that her earthly form is gone. – Anonymous quote from a bench along the trail

From the overlook, I kept left to continue onto the Wild Turkey Trail. I followed this back to the Ponderosa Trail, and eventually the Wapiti Trail, which took me back to the car.

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Ants on a log. Not as delicious a snack as you might think.

The Wild Turkey Trail dropped down the opposite side of the ridge and contoured along it. As I got closer to the end of my loop, the trail steepened and I climbed back up the ridge a few hundred feet.

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Wild Turkey Trail
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Wild Turkey Trail

The trail was gorgeous and long enough that I found myself alone most of the time. There were a ton of bikers but spread out far enough that I was able to enjoy the wilderness sounds. 10 miles was definitely rough on the ol’ feet but totally doable. Even so, I was glad to see the car at the end.


Chelsea


 

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