Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
1,742.00 ft (530.96 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
8.00 mi (12.87 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Walker Ranch is one of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park's most prized recreation areas just outside Boulder. A short drive up Flagstaff Road, which is scenic in and of itself, takes you toward the Gross Reservoir ,and on the way is a dirt parking lot that opens up a world of opportunity for hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and equestrians alike. The amount of variety packed into the 7.6-mile Walker Ranch Loop is incredible, even for Colorado. In just a short distance you can expect to see a grassy balcony trail with open views, closed-in forests, creeks, a rocky canyon, interesting rocky outcroppings, and distant views of the snowy Continental Divide.

The Walker Ranch came into possession of Boulder County in 1959 when the 6,000-acre ranch was sold. It had been a huge cattle ranch originally settled by James Walker in 1869. His wife and son, Phoebe and James, moved into their newly built ranch house in 1883 after filing successfully for the homestead claim the previous year. The homestead today consists of all the original buildings from the 1880s and is closed to the public, though group tours can be arranged through the OSMP office. The homestead also suffered a fire that burned over 1,000 acres and lasted five days in 2000. Some dead trees from the fire are still standing today as a reminder of how careful everyone should be with fire in dry mountain country like this.

There are four main trailheads for this loop, though only two have parking lots directly on the trail (Crescent Meadows and Walker Ranch). Ethel Harrold Trailhead and Eldorado Canyon would both require additional hiking. This write-up follows the main loop clockwise from Walker Ranch Trailhead. Starting out in one of the higher elevation parts of the loop, a gradual short climb that rolls along a ridge has expansive views to the south and west, showing off Eldorado Mountain, Crescent Mountain, Scar Top, and more. From there the trail quickly drops into the trees toward the Ethel Harrold connector trail. Stay to the right and keep descending until you see signage at a creek to continue straight into Eldorado Canyon or turn right over the bridge to continue the loop. Keep right again and begin climbing; from here it is a fairly long and steady climb to the Crescent Meadows parking lot.

Soon after this creek crossing you navigate a steep rock canyon that may seem out of place, but it is a welcome change of scenery after being stuck in the trees for a few miles. A steep 500-foot climb to the rim of the rocky cliff can be dangerous, so it is closed to horses, and cyclists must dismount here. After making the top of the canyon, a steady climb continues to Crescent Meadows. This part of the loop starts in the trees but slowly becomes less and less closed in, with occasional views of the back of Shirttail Peak and South Boulder Peak.

From Crescent Meadows there are some expansive views of the Continental Divide and the Gross Reservoir Dam; make sure to take some pictures here since you quickly re-enter the trees and begin descending back to South Boulder Creek. The trail stays alongside the creek for a short section, and then it climbs steeply for the last mile to reach the trailhead. Just before finishing the hike you get very close to some interesting rock formations along the grassy slopes that can make for fun bouldering.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

General Day Use Fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Great views. Varied terrain. Less crowded than most Boulder Open Space.

Cons

None.

Trailhead Elevation

7,234.00 ft (2,204.92 m)

Highest point

7,335.00 ft (2,235.71 m)

Net Elevation Gain

888.00 ft (270.66 m)

Features

Family friendly
Vault toilet
Near lake or river
Historically significant
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Fishing
Horseback riding

Typically multi-day

No

Suitable for

Biking

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

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