Wapiti Trail & Ponderosa Loop (Heil Valley Ranch, Boulder)
- Attempted 6/10/15
- 10.2 miles RT
- Apprx. 2 hours to complete trail
- Moderate MTB Trail
- +1,028′ net elevation gain to peak (about 6,800′)
- sunglasses/biking glasses (when you are going fast downhill, you’ll want some glasses of sorts)
- tech shell (i take this with me whenever I go into the mountains)
- Lots of water
- bike pump
- flat tire patch kit/extra inner tube
I brought up my mountain bike from home and decided to go for a ride. This isn’t a trail I would suggest for beginners because there is some technical moves required to go up and down. I would hate to see a new mountain biker be discouraged from continuing to bike from a difficult trail. If you are new to MTB, I would suggest an easier trail in East Boulder called Dewey Draw. It is basically hills with a couple of rocks, but it’ll get you comfortable with MTB and give you some light practice on rocks. This trail system in Heil Valley Ranch starts with Wapiti Trail and then leads to Ponderosa Loop at the top.
It was cloudy when I began biking, but I was optimistic that it wouldn’t rain having not rained all day with these clouds overhead. The first mile of the trail is a nice warm up, nothing overly challenging save for a couple technical rock formations at the end of the first mile. Once you hit a mile (I think technically 0.8 miles) there will be a service road you cross and then the trail continues on the other side. The first ascent of this trail looks pretty intense. Once you attack it and just go for it you’ll see that it really isn’t that bad, you just have to come at it with a little speed to make it up the steepish ascent. For the next mile and a half or so (the remaining of wapiti trail) there will be some technical moves required to get over the rocks. I don’t think I had any issues getting over any of them except for the difficult one I had mentioned earlier.
The trail began to get muddy around 1.5 miles in or so and some of the mud was getting in my brakes. I found braking while biking uphill (not at technical parts, obviously) was clearing some of the sand and mud out of my brakes pretty well. I would honestly wait until mid to late June to bike this trail again just because it was so muddy at parts that I didn’t have control of my bike – I just had to go straight through the mud… kind of like hydroplaning but on a bike. However, once I got to Ponderosa Loop, it got very dry very quick – it’s slope makes it less prone to retain water I suppose.
The Ponderosa Loop is much easier than the Wapiti Trail. I went up the loop going biker’s left. I first half of the loop was not very rocky, it was more like rolling hills. The later half of the loop was quite rocky. I think it is easier to go up the rocky parts, but if you want to go down the rocky parts, go straight/right on the loop first. At about the half way point of the loop (where it connects with the Wild Turkey Trail) there is a scenic overlook. I wasn’t sure where the trail led to, but was I sure happy to see the end once I got there! It was a beautiful spot to sit and enjoy the scenery before the descent. However, almost right after I dismounted my bike to go enjoy the scenery it began to rain pretty good, so I decided to complete the loop and head back.
On the descent the rocks were all now wet, which made technical moves that just more difficult. I certainly had a lot of slips going down, but I somehow managed to stay on my bike for the whole descent save a few small rocks that managed to stump me (but not the big ones, I managed those fine somehow). The descent would have been much less stressful if the rocks were dry and my wheels/brakes were dry so that the bike would be more responsive to my commands. But the rain was coming down pretty good, so I just had to finish the trail and get back home.
Overall I plan to return to this trail in 2+ weeks when I predict it will be dry again, unless we get more rainy spells here. The trail was great and close to Boulder, just a 25 minute drive from my apartment. It was a great one to start out this MTB season and I cannot wait to sit and enjoy the scenic overlook at the top next time.
*It is worth noting that Wapiti Trail and Ponderosa Loop were the only 2 of the 4 MTB trails that were open, the other two were closed for whatever reason.