Over Memorial Day weekend, I was blessed with four days off, so I tried to take advantage of the extra time and use one of those days to run/hike a new trail.
I’ve gotten out of the habit of exploring new trails since the ones on my to-run and to-hike list were covered in snow (and some still are) for the past seven months. After my big ride on Saturday, I needed an easier day, so I decided to run Walker Ranch in Boulder on Sunday morning. I’d heard a lot of great things about this trail since it’s open to hikers and bikers, and I’d seen friends post photos of their adventures every so often. I really can’t believe I hadn’t been there before because it’s just 10 miles up Flagstaff Rd from Boulder.
From everything I read on AllTrails (the best app ever, seriously) it sounded like it would get busy pretty early, but when I got there around 9 a.m., I was happy to see there were still spots available in the lot. People were already out and about, and runners, hikers and bikers were coming to and from the trailhead. It was a gloomy day, so I’m sure that deterred some folks, but I don’t mind overcast weather every so often, especially if that means the trails are quieter.
Fees: None! I brought my annual park pass just in case, but Walker Ranch trailhead parking is free. The lot is pretty big, it has bathrooms, trail maps, and a gorgeous view of the mountains. I didn’t get photos because I was too busy getting rained on and my phone locked itself for 30 minutes at the end of my run.
The route: One of the reviews on AllTrails said the best (and easier) way to hike the loop was to go counterclockwise. I was definitely on board for an easier day, so I took that advice and headed onto the trail in that direction.
That reviewer was definitely correct because the first two miles were downhill over packed dirt and along the beautiful rushing South Boulder Creek. One of the things I really miss about living in Florida is bodies of water—hearing them, seeing them, smelling them—so as I ran along the path, I slowed down to listen and take it all in.
The next few miles were beautiful and had a bunch of variety. Some of them had steep climbs with switchbacks in the woods, and others were long, fluid sections along the side of a mountain in wide open spaces with incredible views. There was one point in the trail—maybe about 4.5 miles in—where you can hop onto Eldorado Canyon Trail, which is hiking only, but I stuck to Walker Ranch.
One of the most interesting parts of the run was the stair section. There are a couple sets of STEEP stairs along the creek, and as I approached the top of them and looked down at how they wound along the creek, I was so, so happy I had gone counterclockwise and didn’t have to climb them from the other way. I stopped to let a bunch of walkers and their dogs make it to the top before I started my way down.
The next several miles were pretty much all in the woods on rolling singletrack, and it was SUCH a blast to run. The forest was so lush and green, the trail was packed down and damp with the perfect amount of grip, and the rocks weren’t too wet or slippery yet. Mountain bikers are allowed on this trail, but only going clockwise, which makes it safer for everyone and much easier to spot them and move to the side. It was nice not having to look over my shoulder every 30 seconds. Then…then the rain came. Slowly at first, but when I finally looked up at the sky around mile 5, I realized dark grey clouds had rolled in and were beginning to unleash some nasty weather. Since I still had a few miles left to get back to the trailhead, I put my head down and ran/hiked as fast as I could as the rain intensified. I was only wearing a long sleeve tech shirt and shorts. No jacket or hat or gloves, which really would’ve come in handy. The last mile and a half or so was completely exposed with absolutely stunning mountain views. Lower clouds hung over a few of them as rain continued to come down.
I took shelter under a big tree for a minute to take some photos and re-group before the final mile or so push back to the parking lot. My hands were so cold the last half mile, but I knew I had been through worse and it would eventually end. I kept repeating, “You can do this. You’re strong, and you can do this.” It actually helped, which makes me laugh a little bit.
All said and done, I ran/hiked 7.69 miles and climbed 1,552 ft. which was a bit less than what I found on AllTrails, but not by much. I will definitely be back to do this one again, and maybe even try it clockwise on a day I’m feeling fresh and craving a challenge.
Gear: You don’t have to go all out for this trail. Trail running shoes are just fine. A backpack is not necessary unless you plan to spend a lot of time out there; in that case, water and snacks would be nice. Some people had poles, which I don’t think are necessary, but cautious hikers might like them for the steeper downhill sections. A camera or phone is essential because the views are stunning and begging to be captured.
Can’t wait for more summer trail running and hiking adventures!