Wapiti Trail to Ponderosa Loop, Heil Valley Ranch, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado
Wapiti Trail to Ponderosa Loop - 7.7 miles
Heil Valley Ranch
|Round-Trip Length:||7.7 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||5,945' - 5,945' (6,792' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+847' net elevation gain (+984' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Wapiti Trail to Ponderosa Loop - 7.7 Miles Round-Trip
Heil Valley Ranch runs north-south along Boulder's foothills where the Great Plains abruptly meet the Rocky Mountain upslope. Its 5020 acres support wildlife communities from each, including deer, elk, turkey, coyote, fox, mountain lion and bear.
Elk were extirpated from Boulder County at the turn of the 20th century, but reintroduced at Heil Valley Ranch between 1913 and 1917.
Today this protected area remains one of the only places in the Front Range where elk can complete their natural migration from the Rocky Mountains to Eastern Plains with minimal interruption.
Heil Ranch's Wapiti and Ponderosa Loop Trails form a 7.7 mile lollipop loop through sloping meadows and healthy ponderosa forests. Mild grades and new improvements make these multi-use trails accessible to hikers, runners, bikers and equestrians year-round:
The Wapiti Trail rises from the parking area on a service road into the upper valley. Scars from the 2003 Left Hand Canyon Fire - which came within 1/4 mile of the caretakers cabin - are soon evident.
Despite some aesthetic loss recovery is well under way, as ponderosa pine are darkened but largely unaffected, and grasses and wildflowers were quick to reclaim open spaces.
The road passes two connections for the Lichen Loop before turning west with a good look down Heil Valley toward the Flatirons (.55 miles : 6,080').
This area supported a prairie dog village wiped out in 2008 by disease; though unfortunate, periodic collapses are part of the prairie dog life cycle, and this village will likely repopulate in years to come.
The trail gradually bends north and climbs steadily through uniform timber up the valley's west side to the first of several service road crossings in 1.35 miles (these roads are closed to public use).
It resumes a winding course to the Ponderosa Loop Trail junction (2.55 miles : 6,705'). The following description runs clockwise (left):
The trail levels in a culled forest atop a sloping plateau. It crests at 3.6 miles (6,792') and drops to an overlook on the plateau's rim at the first of two Wild Turkey Trail connections (4.05 miles : 6,605').
Views include St Vrain Canyon, Hall Ranch, Mt Meeker (13,911') and the Twin Sisters (11,428' - 11,413'). The Ponderosa Trail bends away from the overlook and drops on a rocky path, turning sharply back south to begin the second half of the loop.
The trail passes the second Wild Turkey Trail junction (5.05 miles : 6,655') and follows an undulating, nondescript path to complete the loop (5.15 miles : 6,705'). Retrace your steps on the Wapiti Trail back to the parking lot (7.7 miles : 5,945').
Interactive GPS Topo MapKey GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84
- N40 08.964 W105 18.005 — 0.0 miles : Heil Valley Ranch Trailhead - Wapiti Trail
- N40 09.736 W105 17.997 — .55 miles : Service road ends; cross valley
- N40 10.063 W105 17.791 — 1.8 miles : Hairpin turn by stone structure remains
- N40 10.417 W105 17.789 — 2.55 miles : Ponderosa Loop Trail junction
- N40 10.708 W105 17.793 — 3.25 miles : Trail levels on high, rocky plateau
- N40 11.239 W105 17.690 — 4.05 miles : Wild Turkey Trail junction and overlook
- N40 10.520 W105 17.697 — 5.05 miles : Wild Turkey Trail junction #2
- N40 10.417 W105 17.789 — 5.15 miles : Complete Ponderosa Loop Trail
- N40 08.964 W105 18.005 — 7.7 miles : Heil Valley Ranch Trailhead - Wapiti Trail
- Ample shade and new improvements make the Wapiti and Ponderosa Loop Trails ideal for summer trail runners. Arrive early to avoid heavy bike traffic.
- Heil Ranch's mild grades and well-defined trails are well-suited for families and winter activities.
- These are popular, multi-use trails. Honor yield protocols. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
- The Heil Valley area was first homesteaded in 1888. Boulder County Open Space purchased 4,923 acres from the Heil family in 1996, who today still operate ranch lands south of the trailhead.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs are not permitted on any trail within Heil Valley Ranch.
- Camping, hunting, fire arms, and motorized vehicles are not permitted within Heil Valley Ranch.
- It is illegal to enter, move or remove historic remains found in Heil Valley Ranch.
- Horses are permitted at Heil Valley Ranch. Equestrians are strongly encouraged to stay on designated trails. Horses must be on a lead and may not be tied or left unattended. All must yield to equestrians.
Directions to Trailhead
From Broadway in Boulder, take US 36 North 4.7 miles to Left Hand Canyon Drive. Take a left onto Left Hand Canyon Drive for 0.7 miles to Geer Canyon Road.
Look on the right for the Heil Valley Ranch sign and take a right onto Geer Canyon Road, a maintained dirt road and head North through private property 1.3 miles to the trailhead. Heil Ranch parking will be on the right side of the road. It is important to know that Geer Canyon Road is private and you cannot park your car along the side of the road. Be mindful of free range cattle crossing sections of Geer Canyon Road.
Boulder County Parks & Open Space
5201 St. Vrain Road
Longmont, Colorado 80503