When the snow begins to fall, Boulder’s mountain bike trails become playgrounds for fat-tire enthusiasts. One of the most enjoyable trail systems to fat bike in the winter is Heil Ranch. The singletrack trails are easy to navigate, even with heavy snow, and the majority of the climbs are gradual hills at modest angles -- good news for both ascending and descending. Snow will fill in the few rocky, semi-technical sections, making for a fantastic cruiser trail that will get your blood pumping.
What Makes It Great
Dashing through the snow on two wheels is every bit as thrilling as it is on dry dirt. Heil’s fun climbs and speedy descents are just as worthy in the winter, though be ready for a few slick sections in the shadier parts of the trail. The views from the bench at the northernmost section of the Ponderosa Loop are especially enchanting in the winter.
Most of the visitors who go in the winter choose to hike or ski the Lichen Trail loop -- which is closed to bikes anyhow. Biking along the Wapiti, Ponderosa and Wild Turkey Trails guarantees you solitude to go along with incredible views of Boulder to the south and Rocky Mountain National Park to the west. There’s also an abundance of wildlife that stays active throughout the year, everything from the distinctively black Abert’s squirrels to the distinctively bearish black bears. Turkeys, elk, deer and even the occasional mountain lion also call this area home. It may be worth wearing a bear bell (or bringing a chatty friend along) so you don’t spook the wildlife.
Who is Going to Love It
Cyclists who enjoy a robust workout on one of Boulder’s best mountain bike circuits will find Heil more accommodating than most other local trails, due to the moderately angled hills and mostly non-technical terrain. Taken more casually, the winter palette of Boulder’s forests is a photographer’s feast, especially in the early morning light. Be warned that it is illegal to park at the trailhead after dark so if you’re pushing daylight, consider parking at the intersection of the access road and Left Hand Canyon and riding the one-mile dirt road rather than risk a pricey ticket. A fat bike tour of Wapiti and Ponderosa Loop takes around a little over an hour for the average rider.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Starting at the intersection of Broadway and US 36 in north Boulder go 4.7 miles on US 36 north to Left Hand Canyon Drive. Go left on Left Hand Canyon Drive 0.7 miles and turn right onto the marked Heil Ranch access road (Geer Canyon Road). This well-maintained dirt road was rebuilt in 2014 following the 2013 floods and is easily passable for all vehicles. The parking lot will be on your right 1.3 miles down the road. Go to the large dirt road at the north end of the lot (well marked) and follow it about a mile to the start of the Wapiti trail.
In the winter, consider parking at the intersection of Left Hand Canyon and Geer Canyon Road if you think you’ll be out after dark.