Schoolhouse & Overland Loops | Heil Valley Ranch Park
Boulder, CO | 09/10/20 | 4.03 miles | 305′ gain
We’d just gotten our first winter storm and although I wasn’t at all ready for the snow and cold, I wanted to get out for a quick Thursday hike. Heil Valley Ranch has a number of trails that form loops of all different lengths and difficulties. I’d hiked a popular ten-mile loop twice before, but I had my eye on an easy four-mile hike on the south side of the park. The Schoolhouse Loop and Overland Loop form a rough figure-8 between the Main Trailhead and the Corral Trailhead. I parked at the Corral Trailhead and started with the Schoolhouse Loop.
Heil Valley Ranch’s human history is quite varied, beginning with Indigenous people who lived in the area before settlers moved in. There are four known Indigenous camps or sites within the park’s 6,200 acres. The first Europeans likely arrived around 1800, first beaver trappers and later those hoping to strike it rich and find gold. Early settlers operated a number of rock quarries in the area from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. The Heil family purchased the property in 1949 and used it as a cattle ranch through the 1970s, when they branched out into recreation like horseback riding and hunting. Boulder County purchased the land in the early 1990s to create an open space park.
The Schoolhouse Loop begins in the old cattle corrals and features the historic Altona Schoolhouse. The loop is 0.9 miles long and meanders through a meadow. A spur trail leads to the schoolhouse.
The Altona Schoolhouse was built in 1880 and was used by about 10-20 students per year of all grade levels. The town of Altona gradually decreased and the school was shut down in the 1940s.
I quickly finished the short Schoolhouse Loop and next hiked along the 2.3 mile Overland Loop. This trail follows the edge of the Overland Fire burn scar. The Overland Fire burned 3,500 acres in 2003.
Once past the burn area, the Overland Trail travels through a Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir forest, providing an insight into what the burn area once looked like.
There is a spur trail on the north side of the Overland Loop that leads to the Main Trailhead. I did make a stop here to use the pit toilet and eat my lunch at a picnic table.
Nearly back to the Corral Trailhead, I happened upon a flock of wild turkey. Pets aren’t allowed in Heil Valley Ranch so it’s common to see wildlife like turkey and mule deer.
Unfortunately, the CalWood Fire (started 10/17/20) burned 10,000 acres including much of Heil Valley Ranch. The trails have been closed since then due to hazardous conditions. I’d like to go back and visit once the trails and amenities are repaired and the land has had time to heal.