Hiking Heil Valley Ranch Loop
Heil Valley Ranch is maintained by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. It features 6,231 acres of space and several options for trails. Most of the trails allow for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
I decided to take a long-ish trail in order to see as much of the Ranch as I could on one day. I started from the Main Trailhead, headed up the Wapiti Trail, turned left onto the Ponderosa Loop Trail, and headed around along the Wild Turkey Trail, before heading back down the Wapiti Trail to the parking lot.
The parking lot at the Main Trailhead is quite large, and I counted 48 spaces for cars. The parking lot was not filled at any point that I saw on the Thursday that I visited. There is a restroom at the main parking lot.
Starting Out – Wapiti Trail
The Wapiti Trail is 2.5 miles long and starts out wide and smooth.
It was obvious from the get-go that Heil Valley Ranch is a popular destination for mountain bikers.
The trail winds up with a gentle incline. There is a curve with log fencing that is picturesque.
Wapiti Trail Viewpoint
About 0.8 miles into the trail, there is a lovely viewpoint where you can sit down on a bench and look out at the valley below, and the Boulder mountains in the distance.
Telephoto lens picture of the mountains –
And a close-up telephoto picture –
Continuing on Wapiti Trail
The Wapiti Trail becomes more narrow and starts to wind through Ponderosa Pine trees and grassy fields.
According to the Colorado State Forest Service, Ponderosa Pine tree forests “occupy approximately 2 million acres in Colorado or 8 percent of the state’s forested land.” They also interestingly note that “Although ponderosa pine is most common between 6,000 and 9,000 feet, it begins to appear on the landscape around 5,000 feet where prairies and shrublands transition into open ponderosa pine forests. Ponderosa pine is generally the dominant lower timberline species in Colorado’s montane zone.”
Heil Vally Ranch ranges from about 5,900 ft at its lowest elevation to about 6,800 ft at it’s highest point, in line with the elevation you can expect to find Ponderosa Pines.
You can still see the mountains from a little bit further up the trail –
At about 2 miles along the trail, you pass by an old homestead –
Ponderosa Loop Trail
After 2.5 miles, you hit the Ponderosa Loop Trail. The scenery was quite similar, with Ponderosa Pines and grassy fields.
Mt Meeker and Longs Peak
Along the way, you get a glimpse of Mt Meeker (13,911′) and Longs Peak (14,259′) in the distance –
A bit closer with the telephoto lens –
And even closer in with the telephoto lens –
There is still quite a bit of snow at these higher elevations. A lot of people are speculating that the snow on the higher mountains in Colorado will not fully melt until July.
A short wile after, at 4 miles along the way, is the main viewpoint on the trail. It is located just before the junction to continue on Ponderosa Loop Trail or head to Wild Turkey Trail.
This is what you can see from the viewpoint, including Hall Ranch –
A series of photos of the mesas and mountains seen from the viewpoint, taken with my telephoto lens –
From this point, it is possible to loop back to the parking lot along the Ponderosa Loop Trail. If you do so, the entire hike would be 7.5 miles long. Instead of going this way, I decided to take the longer way around, along the Wild Turkey Trail, in order to add 2 more miles to the hike, and to see more of the area.
Wild Turkey Trail
The Wild Turkey Trail is 2.9 miles long from point to point. Most of it is downhill, but there are some sections that rise uphill again, especially near the end as you get close to the connector with Ponderosa Loop Trail and Wapiti Trail.
The scenery as you hike along is much the same as before, with Ponderosa Pines and grassy meadows, but this area of Heil Valley Ranch is a bit more rocky.
It was after noon by the time I started on this trail, and the sun was beating down. Thankfully, the Ponerosa Pine forest provided some shade along the way.
There were some beautiful grassy meadows on this trail with wildflowers.
Third Viewpoint on the Loop
At 5.8 miles along my route, at the junction of Wild Turkey Trail and Picture Rock Trail, there is another viewpoint with a bench.
The bench looks out at this view –
Focusing more on the mountain –
And a panorama of the mountain with a telephoto lens –
This viewpoint isn’t as sweeping or impressive as the first two, but it is a nice spot to stop and enjoy the view.
Wildlife on the Trail
A little further down the trail, I encountered some of the wildlife that is common in the area.
Mule Deer –
And some Wild Turkeys! I was pleasant surprise to actually see Wild Turkeys on the Wild Turkey Trail.
According to the pamphlet distributed by Boulder County Parks & Open Space at the Main Trailhead, other animals you might see at Heil Valley Ranch include –
- Albert’s squirrel
- Black bear
- Downy woodpecker
- Dusky grouse
- Golden eagle
- Mountain chickadee
- Mountain lion
- Prairie falcon
- Prairie rattlesnake
- Pygmy nuthatch
- Western scrub jay
- White-breasted nuthatch
Ponderosa Loop Connector
At the end of Wild Turkey Trail you connect with the Ponderosa Loop Trail and hike down it for 0.1 miles before hitting the Wapiti Trail.
Heading Down Wapiti Trail
After hitting the junction to Wapiti Trail at exactly 7 miles, the trail down was smooth and easy.
The clouds had puffed up in the early afternoon, and it looked like it was going to rain. I stopped for a short break at the bench/viewpoint 0.8 miles from the trailhead before my final push to the finish.
Recommended as a Moderate Hike, and also for Mountain Biking
The Heil Valley Ranch Loop is a moderate hike with a good amount of mileage you can log. The viewpoints and mellow track through Ponderosa Pine forest and grassy fields is pleasant. However, much of the hike features similar scenery. If you get bored of hiking through similar scenery, this might not be the hike for you. For this reason I think Heil Valley Ranch might be more enjoyable for mountain bikers who can whiz through the trails.
In terms of sharing the trails with the mountain bikers, I wasn’t as bothered by that here as I was at Hall Ranch. I think that might be because the trails at Heil Valley Ranch are narrower and a bit more rocky, as opposed to the wide and flat trails at Hall Ranch. As a result, there are fewer bikers and they don’t roll down the trail at high speeds.
Overall, I was happy with this hike and plan to go back to Heil Valley Ranch to hike 10.4 miles back and forth along Picture Rock Trail. I’ve heard it is also a lovely hike.