Boulder Weekend Loop

  • Distance

    77 Mi.

    (124 KM)
  • Days

    2-3

  • % Unpaved

    65%

  • % Singletrack

    15%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    5

  • % Rideable (time)

    95%

  • Total Ascent

    10,211'

    (3,112 M)
  • High Point

    10,280'

    (3,133 M)

Contributed By

chris-langager

Chris Langager

Guest Contributor

Chris sits in front of a computer screen most days where his passion for traveling by bicycle was ignited after seeing others’ trip accounts and photos flicker across the internet.  With a handful of trips under his belt, including a 2 month tour across the USA, he now plans summers around touring and bikepacking.  Follow along at bicyclewanderlust.com.

Long climbs, fast descents, and cool summer nights characterize this weekend loop that starts and ends in bike friendly Boulder, CO. This logistically simple route removes some of the stress around planning, making this a great first bikepacking trip for anyone with the legs and lungs to make it up into the Front Range mountains.
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For anyone living in, or visiting, Boulder, CO this is a car free way to go bikepacking in the Front Range mountains for a few days. While this may not be the most remote route, it still very physically challenging with over 10,000 feet of climbing in under 70 miles, 65% of which is unpaved. Food and water are available in the town of Nederland and both free and payed camping are available throughout the route making this a logistically simply trip to plan.

The main route consists mostly of gravel roads and double track, with a small amount of single track, but for those feeling strong and wanting to experience some amazing Colorado trails, this route takes you past two trail popular mountainbiking areas: West Magnolia and Walker Ranch. The former of the two is located near Nederland and free camping. Staying the night here will allow you to setup camp and hit some flowy trails unloaded.

  • Highlights

  • Must Know

  • Camping

  • Food/H2O

    💧

  • Trail Notes

  • Singletrack at Walker Ranch and the Sourdough Trail.
  • Rewarding downhill sections of the Switzerland Trail.
  • Starting and ending in Boulder, where you an find lots of bike shop and food options.
  • Ample free camping near Nederland and along the Switzerland Trail.
  • Spectacular (and well earned) views of the Rocky Mountains.
  • Parts of the route may be under snow as late as mid-june.  Optimal months for this route are July – September.
  • Expect storms in the evening.  Weather can change very quickly in the mountains.
  • If you are traveling from lower elevations, plan on this route being more difficult than you expect.
  • Free camping options are spaced out well on the route, giving you options whether you want to take 2 or 3 days to complete the route.
  • If you plan on staying at a pay campground, try to get a reservation in advance or you may need to make some new friends and share a spot.
  • If you want to travel light and commit to doing the route in 2 days, there is lodging available in Nederland.
  • Plan on filling up on water in Nederland.  Some payed campgrounds may also have water.
  • Depending on snowmelt, there will be small, but clear mountain streams to pull water out of with filtering/treatment.

Expect the first day to be hard, especially for those new to bikepacking or anyone coming from low elevation; It’s pretty much a full day of riding up hill.  You’ll be rewarded on the following day (or two) with some great mountain trails and a long, fast descent back into town.

Tags

  • Doug

    Hi. Is this loop suitable for an AWOL?

  • brad

    Nice route. A few notes. Chapman Drive has been closed since May and will hopefully reopen October 1. At Mile 25.6 there is a short and easy singletrack that leaves Magnolia and drops north down draw to Peakview Dr.; dirt roads continue downhill to Ned avoiding the Peak to Peak altogether. At Mile 71.1 going up to Betasso and down the nice singletrack to Boulder Canyon avoids lower sugarloaf and the Boulder Canyon tunnel which is no fun to ride through. Also note that due to the recent Cold Springs fire near Ned, the yokuls are freaking out about campers and fires.

  • Chris Langager

    Thanks for the feedback! I completely wrote off Betasso due to the bike restrictions, but forgot about the link trail. That’s definitely a better way to get down the canyon and avoid the tunnel.

    I didn’t know about the singletrack from Magnolia into Ned. I’m going to try and check that out soon though and update the map.

  • Chris Langager

    Let’s just say that it would be adventurous. The singletrack sections and most of the gravel roads/doubletrack definitely favor fatter tires.

    If you ever give it a shot though, I’d love to hear how it went.

  • Heather

    Is Chapman Drive closed to bike? If so, is there an alternate route?

  • Heather

    Anyone know if there paper maps available in Boulder that would include the trails highlighted on this route?

  • Chris Langager

    While Chapman is closed, the two alternatives would be to continue up Boulder Canyon, past the turn off for

  • Heather

    Thanks for the info!

  • brad

    The betasso link is on mountainbikeproject http://www.mtbproject.com/trail/46709/betasso-link-trail and is open to bikes every day. The singletrack from Mag to Ned is not on mountainbikeproject but heads down at the convergence of Boot/reboot. Other options abound…

  • Heather

    I am considering this loop for a first bikepacking trip this weekend. I do not live in the area and will be traveling with the sole purpose of bikepacking. Does anyone know the status of water sources? I saw the note that depending on snow melt there are streams. I’m assuming with how wet its been these sources should be flowing. Is anyone more familiar with this area to confirm that? Thanks!

  • Chris Langager

    Hi Heather,

    I was out on the route last weekend. Here’s a couple of notes to help you out:

    Water – Stream is running clear at milemarker 35, however many of the other streams are pretty dry right now. You may need to get off route a bit to a lake or the Pawnee Campground at mile 45, which has running water.

    Closures – Chapman Dr. is still closed for another month. I’d recommend leaving Boulder on Flagstaff Rd. (popular paved road with cyclists) and joining back up with the route at mile 6.1.

    I don’t want to make any assumptions about what kind of shape your in or what your idea of fun is, but it’s worth noting that this will be a pretty challenging first bikepacking route, mainly due to amount of climbing. If you need a bail option, Highway 72 (also called the Peak to Peak Byway) is a bike friendly paved road that you can take back to Nederland.

    Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • Heather

    Hey Chris,

    Thank you much for the information and the fair warning! It is much appreciated. I have been trying to assess the feasibility of this route, which is difficult from a computer screen. I figured my other bail out option would be just turn around if I’m not making the time I expect. Water is a concern though. My other consideration was an out and back on the CT. I appreciate your time and knowledge.

    Thank you much,

    Heather

  • anna

    I am new to this site and have downloaded the gpx file to my garmin. how do i view the cue sheet?

  • Chris Langager

    After reading some of the questions here, and seeing new people on the route, I wanted to provide a bit more info.

    Map Updates:

    17.7 – mexican cafe
    35.0 – fairly reliable stream (running clear in september)
    41.7 – fairly reliable stream (running clear in september)
    53.7 – general store with coffee and snacks, open 7am-7pm every day

    Camping options:

    A lot of the route is on national forest land. The map highlights some designated camping zones in areas where restrictions are in place, but keep in mind you can legally camp out for free anywhere on national forestland that doesn’t have such restrictions.. Some good spots that didn’t make it onto the map would be just off the road around mile 35.5 and anywhere along the Sourdough Trail (39.3-44.9). As always, follow all posted signs and respect private property.

    Speaking of private property, there is a sign at 62.6 that says just that. This section of the Switzerland Trail does go through a small stretch of private land, but you are allowed to stay on the trail and make your way through. Please be respectful; this is a popular trail for local bikers and we’d like to keep it that way.

    Bike Choice:

    While exploring options for this route, I mostly rode a hardtail with 3″ tires. This continues to be my bike of choice for riding it. A friend of mine joined me for the full route on a rigid bike with a 1x drivetrain. Some lessons from that:
    – The Sourdough trail singletrack can be a bit punishing without suspension (but is still totally doable).
    – Expect a bit more hike-a-bike if you don’t have low gearing. I have a 22 tooth in the front, 36 in the rear and use this gear combo quite a bit on the route.

  • carl

    what are the differences between going clockwise to counter clockwise. I am thinking about going counter to the first camping area or as far as I can get, given this is my first packing ride. Is clockwise really easier the first 30-40 kilometers?

  • Will Herold

    Rode this route clockwise (with the exception of Chapman Dr, closed) in about 24 hours. It is a pretty genius loop and a great route to take your time on, but if you’re motivated and your legs cooperate you can leave after Friday’s dinner and be home before Saturday’s.

  • Kenny Herring

    Hi Folks, planning a bikepacking trip this summer and trying to pick a location. We are looking for multiple place to drop a line and do some trout fishing along the trail. Would this loop be suitable for fishing??

  • Tom Hoppe

    Question for you about the rest of the singletrack other than the Sourdough Trail section. Would you consider it “technical” at all, or is it more of greenish flowy stuff? Trying to figure out if this would be a good route for someone wanting kind of a dirt route that isn’t really technically skilled on an MTB but has good road bike fitness (considering we would skip the Sourdough section)

  • Chris Langager

    Bikefishing sounds like an awesome plan for a summer trip! While I can’t speak to this personally, I have seen people with fishing gear at some of the streams that the route passes. This map (http://ndismaps.nrel.colostate.edu/index.html?app=FishingAtlas) has info on fishing spots all over Colorado, and if you zoom into where the route is, there’s a couple spots that look good.

  • Chris Langager

    The singletrack at Walker Ranch is pretty flowy, or at least the section of it that makes up this loop is. The more technical sections of Walker are short hike-a-bikes anyway (unless you are a complete beast), so I doubt you’ll have any trouble there. The rest of the dirt sections are best described as “rugged” and “loose”. The 505 trail is popular with 4×4 vehicles and is pretty rutted out in spots, which makes for fun riding, but nothing too crazy. The Switzerland Trail is a bit sandy with cobblestone sized rocks, but nothing I would describe as “technical”.

    My one bit of advice for taking new people on this route is to set expectations on how much climbing there is.

    If you you want more detailed descriptions of the trails mentioned above:
    https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/601365/walker-ranch
    https://www.mtbproject.com/trail/1362987/switzerland-trail