Walker Ranch is a large open space located in the foothills of Boulder County, just outside of the town of Boulder, CO. Managed as part of the Boulder County Park and Open Space system, Walker Ranch is a popular recreational destination for locals. Hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, anglers, and horseback riders regularly visit the park, especially on the weekends, making parking a hot commodity. But, with 2,888 acres of open space, visitors have an opportunity to explore a vast and impressive foothills ecosystem. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to spot a variety of birds and other wildlife, along with an abundance of wildflowers when in season. For another great Boulder County Open Space park, check out our destination guide on Hall Ranch!
DESTINATION GUIDE SERIES: Walker Ranch
Why Should You Visit Walker Ranch?
Walker Ranch is absolutely worth a recreational visit, particularly if you’re not far from Denver or Boulder. In addition to its sheer beauty and ecological diversity, the ranch has a rich history. Prior to Boulder County acquiring the property via multi-year purchases beginning in 1976, the ranch began as a 160-acre homestead in the 1880s, eventually expanding over the years to more than 6,000 acres. Today, the property still has original buildings from the 1800s, but the ranch house has been rebuilt, yet reflects the design of the time period. Unfortunately, the buildings are closed to the general public, though group tours of the homestead are available with advance scheduling.
Where is Walker Ranch?
Walker Ranch is located in Boulder County, less than 10 miles from Boulder, CO. From the town of Boulder, begin on Baseline Rd., passing Chautauqua Park. Baseline Rd. will turn in to Flagstaff Rd., which is very steep and windy. You’ll soon reach the Meyers Gulch Trailhead and parking area (park here for the Josie Heath Trail or the Meyers Homestead Trail). If you plan to access the Walker Ranch Loop, keep driving down Flagstaff Rd. to reach the Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead parking area.
Things to Do
Hiking and Trail Running
Walker Ranch’s trail system has three trails spanning nearly 3,000 acres. The Walker Ranch Loop is by far the biggest draw in the park, given its varied terrain, access to South Boulder Creek, and beautiful mountain vistas. However, the Meyers Homestead Trail provides for a shorter out-and-back option for those looking to hike less mileage. Lastly, the Josie Heath Trail serves as more of a connector trail between the Walker Ranch Loop and Meyers Homestead Trail.
Walker Ranch Loop
The Walker Ranch Loop is the premier trail within the park. The trail begins at the Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead parking lot. The trailhead can be busy on popular weekends, so plan for an early arrival. Consider starting in a counter-clockwise direction, which comfortably descends towards South Boulder Creek. Follow South Boulder Creek and begin an ascent towards Gross Dam Road and the Crescent Meadows Parking Lot. You have some nice views of some of mountains in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (notably North Arapaho Peak) at this point. The trail continues through Eldorado Canyon State Park for a good portion of the loop and eventually re-enters Walker Ranch. A staircase leads down to South Boulder Creek once again. Use the footbridge to cross South Boulder Creek and begin an ascent up the eastern portion of the loop. Pass the Ethel Harrold trail intersection and continue the loop until reaching the parking lot.
Length: 7.9 miles (loop); 892 ft. elevation gain
Josie Heath Trail
The Josie Heath Trail is an easy connector trail between the Meyers Gulch Trailhead and the Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead. Park at either trailhead for convenient access. This Josie Heath Trail is pleasant as an out-and-back hike, though many visitors use this trail to access and/or extend the Walker Ranch Loop.
Length: 1.0 mile (one-way); 163 ft. elevation gain
Meyers Homestead Trail
The Meyers Homestead Trail is a relatively moderate out-and-back trail, best accessed via the Meyers Gulch Trailhead. The trail consistently ascends to an overlook at around 8,000 ft. Along the way, trail users will pass through open meadows and mixed forest of Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and Aspen. The trail also features an old ranch sawmill, another relic of the property’s homesteading history. Once at the overlook, turn back around and descend the trail back towards the trailhead.
Length: 2.6 miles (one-way); 749 ft. elevation gain
Mountain biking is very popular along the park’s trail system. All of the trails that permit mountain biking are also open to hikers and equestrians, so plan to share the heavily-trafficked trails during busy times. Note that the park prohibits the use of E-Bikes.
The Walker Ranch Loop, a difficult and sometimes very technical 7.9-mile loop of mostly singletrack, is the gem of the open space. Mountain bikers will need to dismount during a part of the eastern portion at a section of stairs. Consider the Josie Heath and Meyers Homestead trails as less technical options or add-on trails. Check out MTB Project for more details on the park’s mountain bike trail system.
Horseback riding is permitted on multi-use trails throughout Walker Ranch’s trail network. Riders will share multi-use trails with mountain bikers and hikers, which can be plentiful. Also, note that while the Walker Ranch Loop is open to equestrians, the eastern portion includes a very steep staircase that is not recommended for horses.
Fishing is permitted with artificial and/or live bait in South Boulder Creek. Anglers must have a valid Colorado Fishing License. Note, there is a daily bag limit of four Rainbow Trout, with catch and release highly encouraged. For the most convenient access to South Boulder Creek, use either the Meyers Gulch Trailhead or the Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead.
Colorado Fishing Licenses can be purchased in advance here. Daily or annual licenses are available for residents and non-residents.
Walker Ranch is a great place to see a wide diversity of birds, with an abundance of year-round inhabitants. For instance, keep an eye out for the Belted Kingfisher, Great Horned Owl, Western Meadowlark, and raptors such as the American Kestrel and Red-Tailed Hawk. Consider printing Boulder County’s “Birds of Walker Ranch” Field Checklist to keep track of the birds one encounters during a visit.
Fees and Regulations
- Entrance Fees: None.
- Park Hours: Daily; sunrise to sunset.
- Pets: Not permitted.
- Camping: Not permitted.
- Walker Ranch has multiple access points with parking areas. As with many popular Boulder recreation spots, all of these lots fill up quickly during spring and summer weekends. Choose the parking lot best suited and most convenient for your recreation plans.
- Meyers Gulch Trailhead: The Meyers Gulch Trailhead is just off of Flagstaff Rd. The parking area can accommodate 39 vehicles, has a restroom, and a picnic shelter. This parking area is ideal for those intending to access the Meyers Homestead Trail (2.5 mile, one-way). There also is an access point to the Josie Heath Trail, which connects to the Walker Ranch Loop.
- Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead: The Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead is perhaps the most popular parking area in the park. In addition, this is a great parking location for anglers looking to conveniently access South Boulder Creek. The parking area can accommodate 28 vehicles and has a restroom.
- Ethel Harrold Trailhead: The Ethel Harrold Trailhead is just off of Bison Dr., on the eastern side of the park. This trailhead parking area can accommodate 18 vehicles and has a restroom. The Walker Ranch Loop is accessible from this trailhead via a series of switchbacks.
- Crescent Meadows Parking Lot: The Crescent Meadows Parking Lot is a good option for accessing the Walker Ranch Loop hike from the western side of the loop. Located just off of Gross Dam Rd., Crescent Meadows is an undeveloped part of Eldorado Canyon State Park.
- Always check the weather forecast before venturing into wilderness. Although Walker Ranch is not at an extremely high elevation, do plan ahead. If the weather is not ideal, plan your trip for another day. Safety first!
For a well-rounded and more interpretive Colorado Open Space experience, consider picking up a few naturalist guides. An easy to use field guide for plants and birds will help identify species and further add to the enjoyment of your time outdoors. In addition, there are a few Boulder-specific guides that offer more details on hiking and mountain biking trails.
- Boulder Hiking Trails
- Mountain Biking Denver and Boulder
- Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Field Guide
- American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of Colorado
- Roadside Geology of Colorado
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