Happy Trails – West Magnolia – Phoenix

by Suzanne Webel

Although Boulder County already has quite a few trails, it’s a big place and there’s always demand for a few more. Because of environmental, or inertia, or development, or budget, conflicts, it’s a struggle to get even one more inch of trail on a map, let alone get a new mile of trail built out on the ground. But our friends the mountain bikers have been taking matters into their own hands recently in the area generally bounded by Nederland, Rollinsville, the Peak-to-Peak Highway, and Lake Eldora Ski Area. Five years ago they worked with the Forest Service to formalize part of that area known as West Magnolia, and have subsequently been expanding the trail system (informally) southwest of that. For the purposes of this trail log, I’ll call the new area “Phoenix.” Ardent BCHA trail fans may recall that I wrote a trail log on Phoenix in 1995, and on West Magnolia in 2005 – but the entire area has changed so much since then a complete update is in order.

Start from the new Trailhead parking area (P) about a mile west of Hwy 72 just south of the Haul Rd (123W). There’s almost always plenty of room to park here, but no water or other facilities.   The backbone of the trail system is comprised of old logging and mining roads which are open to some motorized uses and have been formalized in the Forest Service’s new Motor Vehicle Use Map (2010), shown as solid lines with numbers on the attached map. Weaving among the old roads are a system of single track trails (shown as dashed lines on the map), and informal travel routes which are not formalized or official, and may be faint or traverse private property (shown as dotted lines). Be sure to respect any No Trespassing signs that you may encounter. Depending on when you go, you may not see another soul on any of it, or it may be a very busy place indeed.

It’s very easy to get “turned around” (a.k.a. “lost”) in West Magnolia and Phoenix. I find it easiest to think of the area as organized around four “nodes,” or places where several trails meet. If you’ve gotten a bit disoriented, just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride – no matter where you are, pretty soon you’ll find yourself at a “node” and you’ll have a chance to get reoriented.

For a half-day ride you can head north across the Haul Road and explore the system of roads and trails called “Aspen Alley” and “Sugar Mag,” as well as the area south of the Haul Road called “Hobbit” and “Root Canal.”

For a longer day, try riding south along the 355 Road about a mile until you come to a gate (which has always been open). Proceed due south on 105.2 for another mile or so until you feel like turning right, head up over the hill, and follow a few switchbacks until you get to another “node”. Then try the 512 west to the 109, or continue north to the 503, or try any of the smaller trails that weave in and out. You’ll always find yourself back on the 105.1, one way or another. Go ahead, relax, be creative! I guarantee this area will provide many days’ worth of exploring.

Total Distance: Too many to count
Total Time:       Variable; can take an entire day.
Difficulty:         Easy
Dogs:                 Yes
Jurisdiction:     USDA Forest Service
Maps:                 Nederland topo is out of date; this one will be your best friend!