June 2, 2016
Walker Ranch Loop
Elevation: 6,500-7,800 feet (we walked downhill)
Distance: 7.8 miles for loop, 1 mile on connector trail
The Walker Ranch was once one of the largest cattle ranches in the region. The original 160 acre homestead grew to 6,000 acres between 1882 and 1959 when the Walker Family sold its property. After a succession of owners, the county began purchasing the land in 1976. Now it is a part of the Boulder County Parks & Open Space.
Tanya, Diana and I set out to hike the 7.8 mile Walker Loop Trail. After about an hour drive from Denver, we arrived at Ethel Harrold Trailhead, a new access point into the park. What we didn’t know, is this added a mile to our journey, so our total distance traveled turned into 8.8 miles in just over four hours.
The trail started by descending through the evergreen forest. Our first thought was that we would be finishing going up hill. It didn’t take long, however, to get distracted by all the wildflowers. Several varieties lined the trail and sometimes blanketed the hillside. This trail will be gorgeous in a few weeks.
We dropped 300 feet in the first mile of our trek where we crossed a narrow creek. Over the next 2.5 miles we climbed 900 feet. Some of the ascent included rock and log stairs overlooking the now raging creek. We passed a fisherman and asked if he caught anything. He replied, “No, they must be letting water out from the dam. The water is murky, and it is running twice as fast as normal.”
Little did we know there was a dam nearby, but we ended up spotting it after we rounded the lush, green hillsides and admired the snowcapped mountains from afar. The Gross Reservoir was completed in 1954 and receives water through the Moffat Tunnel.
By this point in our hike, we had descended another 700 feet in 1.5 miles and climbed 500 over the next mile. Being so close to Denver, I thought the trail would be undulating through the foothills. Instead it was somewhat steep. I suppose it was good warm-up for hiking the part of the Colorado Trail this summer.
With at least half the hike complete, we stopped for lunch in the limited shade. We continued down through the forest to the creek again before we reconnected with the Ethel Harrold Trail to finish the last half mile. The loop provided lovely views, both rocky and smooth terrain, open space and forest for a dynamic hike on a super, sunny day. ETB