Heil Valley Ranch is easy to get to (close to Boulder and Longmont) and has a nice trail network. The trail is popular with hikers and mountain bikers, but also sees some snow shoeing action in the winter months. We took advantage of the back to back big snowstorms in December of 2006 to try cross county skiing the trails. I wouldn’t recommend it (too many rocks on the way up), but we made a good day of it by finding an alternate route back.
From the trailhead, you can take the Wapiti trail 2.6 miles up to the 2.6 mile Ponderosa Loop trail. Alternatively, you can start out on the Lichen Loop trail (not shown on the map) which dumps into the Wapiti trail before it crosses the creek. The Wapiti and Ponderosa Loop trails are multi-use (hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians). The Lichen Loop trail is for hikers only. No dogs are allowed on any of the Heil Valley Ranch trails.
Wapiti is a Shawnee word for elk; it means “white rump”.
The GPS track shown on the map is the Wapiti trail and the Ponderosa Loop Trail. The total distance is approximately 7.8 miles. The Wapiti trail starts at an elevation of about 5950 feet. It
climbs to about 6800 feet where it intersects with the Ponderosa Loop Trail. The Ponderosa Loop Trail is relatively flat, ranging from about 6700 feet to 6850 feet of elevation.
There is a scenic overlook at the far end of the Ponderosa Loop Trail. The views are worth the effort to get there. You can see across the valley to Hall Ranch, another great trail. Highway 7 curves FAR below you. There is an excellent view of the uplifted sedimentary rocks that characterize the geography of this area.
We were the first people to make it out this far after the snow. The scenery and solitude combined for a very pleasant day.
A little ways past the scenic overlook (if you go counter clockwise around the Ponderosa Loop Trail), you get a nice view of Long’s Peak.
If you are interested in the GPS tracks for this trail, you can download them in gpx format. The gpx file contains the tracks and the waypoints shown on the map at the top of the page. If you do download the file, please take the track with a BIG GRAIN OF SALT. Between occasionally losing the trail (while breaking trail on Ponderosa Loop) and poor GPS reception on the upper Wapiti trail, this GPS track is not “up to my standards”. But what the heck, it’s better than nothing, right?