Happy Trails – Caribou Ranch

Our favorite? If you would like to escape the sizzling summer days on the plains, discover the diverse cooler vegetation at Caribou Ranch Open Space. Caribou Ranch Open Space is located on County Road 126, approximately two miles north of Nederland. Horse trailer parking is available ONLY at the Mud Lake Open Space (turn left off CR 126 near the Peak-toPeak Highway) and enjoy the short ride from Mud Lake to Caribou. Car parking is available both at Mud Lake and about 1.2 miles up CR 126 at the actual Caribou Ranch trailhead.

The 2,180-acre property offers visitors a rich tapestry of wetlands, meadows, streams, forests and woodlands. Caribou Ranch is a haven for wildlife where 50 species of mammals could potentially live and/or travel through the open space annually. This represents nearly half of all mammal species found in Boulder County. The most common ungulates are elk and mule deer. A moose group has been observed on portions of the property in the past two years. Also, signs of mountain lion, black bear, bobcat, coyote, red fox, marten, and short-tailed weasel have been found. This open space also includes the Switzerland Trail railroad grade, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Mining began at the Blue Bird Mine complex in the 1870s and operations followed the boom and bust cycles of the industry until the 1960s. In the early 1900s, Blue Bird became a tourist destination, a “whistle stop” during the summer months to a growing demand by city dwellers who wanted to experience the beauty of the mountains. Today you can explore the Blue Bird Mine complex on foot, but horses are not allowed beyond the fence.

The current trail system, 4.5 miles roundtrip, is open to hikers and equestrians only at varying months of the year. Mountain biking is not permitted due to restrictions specified in the purchase agreement.   Also, dogs are not permitted on the open space for wildlife habitat and water quality protection.

Please be aware that all park visitors are required to stay on-trail — no off trail use is permitted. This regulation is in place until hazards are mitigated (e.g. mining test pits, buildings) and cultural resources are inventoried, secured and/or restored (this process could take as long as staff wants, i.e. “forever”).  There is a Phase 2 trail construction opportunity consisting of several connections north of the Bluebird Mine along the Switzerland Trail to the Sourdough Trailhead,  up to the historic Caribou Townsite and the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and over to the Rainbow Lakes Road.  But getting these connections actually opened to equestrians is unlikely to happen unless there is a very focused, very persistent, and very effective trail champion to nudge them along.  Might that person be YOU?

Please note:  Caribou Ranch is closed every year from  to protect spring migratory birds, winter elk survival, elk calving, and elk rearing activities. The closure is for the entire property; no visitors are permitted. Approximately 50 species of mammals could potentially live and/or travel through the open space annually. This represents about 50 percent of all mammal species found in Boulder County. Please respect wildlife needs for solitude. Resident caretaker, park rangers, and county sheriff deputies who patrol the open space property can fine violators up to $300. Please help get the word out by passing this message along to family and friends.


Caribou Ranch Map