Ten years ago Heil Ranch was a decent, though not spectacular, place to get in a mountain bike ride. There was something endearing to bashing, bumping and sliding on loose, root-riddled trails on the out-and-back lollipop loop. However, with a decade of hard work, excellent trail planning and ongoing improvements, Heil Ranch has become one the jewels of Colorado Front Range mountain biking.
What Makes It Great
Before addressing the mountain biking, let it be known that the scenery at Heil Ranch is incredible. Wide open vistas funnel into shady pine forests with unobtrusive relics from the ranch’s farming past found in old stone buildings and rock walls. Wildlife is right at home at Heil, including the trail namesake wild turkey, the unique black-furred Abert’s squirrel and a few resident black bears.
And oh yes, the mountain biking. Heil’s trails are nearly all intermediate and follow a pattern of smooth singletrack with bursts of low-consequence, rocky patches. The most difficult sections are often the few loose, rocky climbs that harken back to Heil’s original trails. Picture Rock has a few technical obstacles and a trio of high rock-wall switchbacks that present a bit of exposure. Overall, the trails ride fast and have gritty, low-angle, sustained climbs to give you an excellent workout. The downhill blitz from the top of Wapiti to the parking lot is fast, tight and full of flow.
The two original trails, the 2.5 mile Wapiti Trail and the 2.6 mile Ponderosa Loop, have undergone drastic facelifts over the years, making them fun, flowing trails with the occasional intermediate-level technical section. In 2013, the once dreaded upper Ponderosa Loop was transformed from a wrist-rattling path of rounded rocks to a smooth, laugh-out-loud, fun singletrack. The 3.0 mile Wild Turkey Trail is a great hybrid of the good parts of the old legacy trails (rocky and rolling) with the new (speedy singletrack) and is a spur loop off the Ponderosa Trail. The 5.2 mile Picture Rock Trail is a work of art, rolling down by old farm silos and sturdy stonewalls and concluding in the town of Lyons, where ambitious riders can link up to the technical ecstasy of nearby Hall Ranch, making for a truly epic mountain biking day.
Heil’s trails were designed to be fast but safe for two-way traffic, with lots of natural speed checks in the form of s-curves, switchbacks and speedbumps. It’s all about the flow at Heil. Connecting trails in opposite directions essentially doubles the experience. There are several overlooks with amazing views all the way to Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Picture Rock has beauty and charm that reflects Boulder’s humble ranching history along with a well-designed trail that concludes with smooth, speedy singletrack. Climbs are never overwhelming but will push your endurance and the descents are bomber without getting desperate or out of control.
Who is Going to Love It
Intermediate and experienced cyclists are going to love hammering up the hills and dashing through the downhills. Those with a keen eye will find some fun technical challenges waiting on the less-traveled lines along the trails. Beginners and less-aggressive intermediates will appreciate the low-consequence challenges and the rewards of friendly, fast trails -- especially the upper Ponderosa Loop and the north side of the WIld Turkey Trail. Photographers need to hit the trail in the late afternoon when the shadows of the tall pines blend with the deep, rocky mountain sunsets to create a dreamlike atmosphere.
Those looking for a quick 1-hour-ish loop can easily knock out the Wapiti - Ponderosa circuit. Doing an out-and-back from Wapiti to Picture Rock will be about 3 hours at a modest pace and tacking on Hall Ranch in Lyons can add up to a 4 - 5 (or more) hour day.
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 (well marked) and follow it about a mile to the start of the Wapiti trail.