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Golden aspen near the entrance to Boulder County's Caribou Ranch
 

Hike We Like: Caribou Ranch Loop

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Length: 4.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Why we love it: This gentle hike wanders through serene forests and fertile meadows on a picturesque ranch once used for silver mining, Arabian horse breeding, and music recording.
When to go: In autumn, for the golden aspen; in winter, for peaceful snowshoeing or cross-country skiing; and in summer, for a stunning wildflower display.
Pre-hike buzz: Grab a cup of coffee from the nearby Train Cars Coffee and Yogurt Company for a fun and unique pitstop.
Dogs: Not allowed
Drive time from Denver: 1 hour and 25 minutes, 54.1 miles


Located a couple miles north of Nederland, this beautiful Boulder County Open Space parcel offers higher-elevation hiking and tranquil winter outings for those willing to venture up to 9,000 feet.

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Two adjoining trails on this historic property offer a 4.2-mile-long “lollipop loop” that is ideal for a mellow hike, with or without the kids. From the parking lot follow the DeLonde Trail, which winds past quaking aspen, ponderosa pines, and Douglas fir trees growing next to boulders of 1.7-billion-year-old granodiorite, granite’s darker cousin.

After 1.2 miles, the DeLonde intersects the 1.8-mile-long Blue Bird Loop. I prefer to walk clockwise around this loop, which begins by circling a forest-rimmed meadow with distant views of the beautifully restored, fire-engine-red DeLonde Barn (pictured, below).

About halfway around the loop—just after a signed gate—is access to the historic Blue Bird Mine complex, which includes the old bunkhouse, the mining company house, and several dilapidated outbuildings. (Miners that lived here in the 1880s spent 10-hour days underground searching for valuable seams of silver ore.) A few yards beyond the last outbuilding, a secluded picnic table is perched next to a small waterfall on North Boulder Creek. If you’re not hungry yet, continue along the Blue Bird Loop to the shuttered DeLonde ranch house and barn. In the 1970s, it was a professional music studio where legends like Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Chicago came to record songs.

A second, secluded picnic table situated just past the ranch house offers views of the wetland ecosystem created by beavers who dammed this small creek, which created a vital habitat for the parcel’s 90-odd bird species, including fox sparrow, green-winged teals, and yellow warblers.

From the barn, a short climb past a magnificent stand of aspen trees returns you to the junction with the DeLonde Trail. As you stroll back to the parking lot, keep an eye out for elk, black bear, coyote, bobcats, and mountain lions, as well as the occasional moose.


Getting there: From the CO 93/CO 72 junction (about eight miles north of Golden), follow Coal Creek Canyon (CO 72) west to Nederland. At the town’s only roundabout—the CO 119 junction—continue west on CO 72 for two more miles. Turn left onto CO 126 at the sign for Caribou Ranch Open Space. Follow this good dirt road for 0.9 miles, then turn right into the obvious parking lot.

Logistics: Caribou Ranch Open Space is closed each year from April 1 through June 30 to protect wildlife, including calving elk and their offspring. Dogs and mountain bikers are not permitted.

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