by Suzanne Webel
When it comes to the West Trail Study Area (and the ongoing task force of stakeholders who have spent years now studying the huge swath of City of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks real estate west of Broadway for its trail potential), I alternate between despair and elation. Despair, because OSMP has closed more than half of all the historic trails in this iconic area to horses — when we’ve had access to them for more than 150 years. (Reasons range from the trails being too steep and eroded to be safe and there’s no will power or budget to fix them, to horses upsetting the ecosystem, all the way to horses just not being politically correct in the People’s Republic.) Elation, when I discover trails up there that actually do “offer a quality equestrian experience” and survived the bureaucratic axe at the conclusion of the West TSA process.
The complex of trails that loop in and out of the terrain near the top of Flagstaff Mountain is a case in point. These old roads and trails offer a unique combination of relatively easy terrain, fabulous views, and proximity to Boulder. Go on a day you’re very sure won’t be icy or muddy, and you’ll have a great time. You’ll avoid the crowd if you can go mid-week.
Drive carefully up Flagstaff Road (it’s really not as scary as it looks!) about 3.5 miles west of Chautauqua. I was unsuccessful in getting OSMP staff to agree to “designated horse trailer parking” for this area, preferably at a wide spot off Flagstaff Road less than 0.1 mi. past the Realization Point/Flagstaff Summit intersection at the “Top Shop.” You’ll know you’re at the right spot when you pass a brown building (OSMP maintenance shop) on the right. Pull off the road as far as possible, so you’ll have “turning radius” room to turn around and head back down the mountain when you’ve finished your ride. This cute little parking area has about enough room for two good-sized horse trailers; it also has a couple of picnic tables and even an outhouse. Don’t block their gate.
Proceed eastward past the outhouse through the trees above the road for a few hundred feet until you come to Realization Point, a busy nexus of about five trails and three roads. Turn left on the “Tenderfoot Trail” (a.k.a. Chapman Drive) and wind your way downward through a beautiful stand of pines and spruces. Be sure to bypass the cattle guard part way down by picking your way through a rock pile on the right side. The road/trail currently dead-ends at a gate behind the Red Lion Inn*; retrace your steps and continue up the Tenderfoot Trail through some lovely meadows dotted with pines, until you get to Realization Point. Take a left on the aptly-named Range View Trail until you get to Flagstaff Summit. From here, turn left again on the Boy Scout Trail, which meanders down and up, and down and up, through more meadows and forest, until you find yourself back at Flagstaff Summit. Another left will take you back on the Ute Trail to – you guessed it – Realization Point. Return to your trailer through the woods or next to the road.
So: a few caveats. Be sure you know your rig and its hauling, turning, and braking capacity. If you and your horse aren’t familiar with wood and stone trail steps at the beginning of this ride, you will be by the end. Take each of these three loop trails clockwise – it will be easier to negotiate the obstacles, and “Just Turn Left” minimizes confusion because the wayfinding signage is less than stellar. The Realization Point trails are surrounded by the new “Habitat Conservation Area” designation, so do not be tempted to go off-trail beyond the loops. The trails shown in red on the accompanying map are in serious disrepair. Drive back down Flagstaff in first gear to save your brakes.
*OSMP has finally purchased the Schnell property at the base of Chapman Drive, and has plans for an excellent trailhead including horse trailers. So equestrians will eventually be able to start at the bottom of Chapman at Boulder Canyon, and ride to the top of Flagstaff Mtn and back . Stay tuned.
Total Distance: 4.9 miles, three loop trails
Total Time: Approx. three hours including lunch
Dogs: Leash or Voice & Sight
Jurisdiction: City of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks, 303-441-3440