Wild Turkey Loop, Heil Valley Ranch, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado
Wild Turkey Loop - 9.45 miles
Heil Valley Ranch
|Round-Trip Length:||9.45 miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||5,945' - 5,945' (6,705' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+760' net elevation gain (+1,173' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Wild Turkey Loop - 9.45 Miles Round-Trip
The Wild Turkey Trail is a new addition to the Heil Valley Ranch trail system that offers a scenically comparable extension to the Ponderosa Loop. This 3.0 mile offshoot also connects with the Picture Rock Trail, another recent addition that leads 5.2 miles to the north boundary of Heil Ranch.
Note the Wild Turkey Trail is not a loop by itself (see map), but connects with the Ponderosa Loop at two different points. You must first travel 2.55 miles on the Wapiti Trail to reach the Ponderosa Loop.
The following describes counter-clockwise travel on the Ponderosa Loop to the Wild Turkey Trail. See Worth Noting below for various route and distance totals trough Heil Valley Ranch:
The Wapiti Trail rises from the parking area on a service road into the upper valley. Scars from the 2003 Left Hand Canyon Fire - which came within 1/4 mile of the caretakers cabin - emerge as you gain elevation.
Despite aesthetic losses recovery is well under way, as ponderosa pine are darkened but largely unaffected, and grasses and wildflowers were quick to reclaim open spaces. The road passes two connections for the Lichen Loop before turning west with a good look down Heil Valley toward the Flatirons (.55 miles : 6,080').
This area once supported a prairie dog village wiped out in 2008 by disease; though unfortunate, occasional collapses are part of the prairie dog life cycle, and this village will likely repopulate in years to come.
The trail gradually bends north and climbs steadily through uniform timber up the valley's west side, to the first of several service road crossings in 1.35 miles (these roads are closed to public use).
The trail resumes a winding course to the Ponderosa Loop Trail junction (2.55 miles : 6,705'), where you'll turn right to reach the Wild Turkey Trail (2.7 miles : 6,655').
The Wild Turkey Trail bends sharply south before curling back north through a more naturally spaced forest with good viewing lanes for wildlife.
It moves north down the eastern slopes of Heil Ranch to the Picture Rock Trail junction (3.9 miles : 6,393'), past which it rises back through pockets of open savannah.
At 5.2 miles the Wild Turkey Trail levels on a high plateau and rejoins the Ponderosa Loop Trail at a scenic overlook (5.75 miles : 6,605').
A few steps off trail lead to good views of St Vrain Canyon, the Lyons Sandstone of Hall Ranch, Mt Meeker (13,911'), and Twin Sisters (11,428' - 11,413'). Note pockets of fir at these higher elevations.
Here you may travel in either direction on the Ponderosa Loop, but turn left for what most consider to be the Wild Turkey Loop route.
The east leg of the Ponderosa loop Trail undulates south on a rocky path back to the first connection with the Wild Turkey Trail (6.75 miles : 6,655'). Continue straight to the Ponderosa Loop Trail - Wapiti Trail junction (6.9 miles : 6,705'). Retrace your steps on the Wapiti Trail back to the parking lot (9.5 miles : 5,945').
Heil Ranch and Fire
Fire is crucial to a healthy ponderosa-grassland ecosystems. Naturally occurring, low intensity fires clear space for mature trees, keep densities in check and rejuvenate soils.
Prior to European settlement, the Boulder foothills were a mosaic of open savannah grasslands and well-spaced pinyon and ponderosa.
Fire suppression since the 1880s has created unsustainable forest densities that can result in destructive, high intensity fires. It's thought that only a few dozen trees once occupied an acre of land in the Heil Ranch area, whereas today they can exceed thousands.
Major efforts beginning in 2008 to cull the forest are meant to mitigate fire impact while restoring the natural balance between grasslands and timber. These ongoing efforts have already yielded positive results, evidenced by wildlife population measurements and the relative containment of subsequent burns in the vicinity.
- N40 08.964 W105 18.005 — 0.0 miles : Heil Valley Ranch Trailhead - Wapiti Trail
- N40 09.736 W105 17.997 — .55 miles : Service road ends; cross valley
- N40 10.063 W105 17.791 — 1.8 miles : Hairpin turn by stone structure remains
- N40 10.417 W105 17.789 — 2.55 miles : Wapiti Trail - Ponderosa Loop Trail junct.
- N40 10.520 W105 17.697 — 2.7 miles: Wild Turkey Trail junction - bear right
- N40 10.562 W105 17.490 — 3.5 miles : Mild drop through spaced trees
- N40 10.685 W105 17.307 — 3.9 miles : Picture Rock Trail junction
- N40 10.948 W105 17.410 — 4.5 miles : Steady climb through uniform forest
- N40 11.494 W105 17.388 — 5.25 miles : Trail moderates on high plateau
- N40 11.237 W105 17.687 — 5.75 miles : Ponderosa Loop Trail junction #2 - go left
- N40 10.733 W105 17.561 — 6.5 miles : Undulating, rocky travel heading south
- N40 10.417 W105 17.789 — 6.9 miles : Wapiti Trail - Ponderosa Loop Trail junct.
- N40 08.964 W105 18.005 — 9.45 miles : Back at Heil Ranch Trailhead
- Elk were extirpated from Boulder County by the early 1900s, but reintroduced at Heil Valley Ranch between 1913 and 1917. Today this protected area remains one of the only places along the Colorado Front Range where elk can complete their natural migration from the Rocky Mountains to the Eastern Plains.
- The prairie dog village described above was wiped out in 2008 by disease; though unfortunate, occasional collapses are part of the prairie dog life cycle, and this village will likely repopulate in years to come.
- Distance for the route above - 9.45 miles - includes travel on the Wapiti Trail, Ponderosa Loop Trail (east half only), and the Wild Turkey Trail.
- Returning via the west half of the Ponderosa Loop is 9.8 miles roundtrip.
- The route described above combined with an additional run on the complete Ponderosa Loop (basically forming a figure eight) is 12.0 miles long and gains 1,550' in total roundtrip elevation.
- The total roundtrip distance between the north and south trailheads of Heil Valley Ranch is 18.2 miles, which includes travel on the Picture Rock Trail.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs are not permitted on any trail within Heil Valley Ranch.
- Camping, hunting, fire arms, and motorized vehicles are not permitted within Heil Valley Ranch.
- It is illegal to enter, move or remove historic remains found in Heil Valley Ranch.
- Horses are permitted at Heil Valley Ranch. Equestrians are strongly encouraged to stay on designated trails. Horses must be on a lead and may not be tied and left unattended. All trail users must yield to equestrians.
Directions to Trailhead
From Broadway in Boulder, take US 36 North 4.7 miles to Left Hand Canyon Drive. Take a left onto Left Hand Canyon Drive for 0.7 miles to Geer Canyon Road. Look on the right for the Heil Valley Ranch sign and take a right onto Geer Canyon Road, a maintained dirt road and head North through private property 1.3 miles to the trailhead. Heil Ranch parking will be on the right side of the road. It is important to know that Geer Canyon Road is private and you cannot park your car along the side of the road. Be mindful of free range cattle crossing sections of Geer Canyon Road.
Boulder County Parks & Open Space
5201 St. Vrain Road
Longmont, Colorado 80503