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Hiking in Boulder County: Caribou Ranch Open Space

The view from the homestead at Caribou Ranch
The view from the homestead at Caribou Ranch
Deb Stanley

Music fans know Caribou Ranch as the place many famous artists recorded in the 1970s and 1980s. But hikers and equestrians visiting Caribou Ranch will find themselves transported back many more decades in time. The hike takes you back to the late 1800s when miners were looking for blue azurite, the early 1900s when tourists rode the trains to mountains and mines and the 1930s and 1040s when this area was home to an Arabian horse breeding operation and even hosted Hollywood movies.

But let's start at the trailhead 2.7 miles from Nederland where hikers will find maps and bathrooms. (Directions below) Start the hike by taking the only trail from the parking lot, the DeLonde Trail. The trail winds through the trees almost a mile where it turns onto a wide, flat path. Look carefully here, because you'll want to turn back here on the way out.

Shortly after the turn is a sign explaining why this trail is wide and flat. It's the old railroad bed for the Eldora Line of the Switzerland Trail of America. In 1905, the Denver, Boulder & Western Railroad Company opened a rail line to haul ore from the mines and tourists to the mines.

1.2 miles from the trailhead, hikers come to a trail split. This is the loop to the DeLonde homestead and Blue Bird Mine. You can go either way, but let's head for the homestead first, meaning we'll be going counter clockwise.

The DeLonde homestead still has a home and a barn standing. You may also spot a clothes line in the side yard. Sit for a moment on the porch and enjoy the expansion meadow view the DeLonde family enjoyed. Signs at the homestead explain that the De Lande (originaly spelling) family moved here in 1863. The brothers started as miners, but eventually became ranchers. The DeLonde homestead was used in 1965 during the filming of "Stagecoach" starring Bing Crosby and Stephanie Powers.

In 1936, the Van Vleet family established an Arabian horse breeding operation here. The Van Vleet Ranch hosted two movies, Arabians of the Rockies and Sons of Courage.

In 1971, Boulder County says music producer James Guercio bought the ranch and renamed it Caribou Ranch. He converted a barn into a recording studio. It is not the red barn you see at the homestead. The recording studio barn is in an area that is off limits to the public. The recording studio closed in 1985 after a fire.

Wander around the homestead to a picnic table overlooking a wetlands area. After exploring, continue counter clockwise on the loop. There is a sign along the way explaining the animals that make this area home. Observant hikers may also notice a staircase to North Boulder Creek. This is a nice spot for a short break.

Continuing counter clockwise, you'll come to a spur trail with a sign that says "Blue Bird Mine Complex .1 miles." Take the spur to an impressive collection of buildings still standing. There's the old bunkhouse, the Mining Company house (and pool!), the mine entrance (now gated) and more. Years ago, the area was gated off, but now you can walk around the buildings and learn more about the mining operation. Continue hiking the road behind the mining complex to a picnic table and a nice waterfall on North Boulder Creek.

After exploring the mine, take the wide, flat Switzerland Trail railroad bed back towards the trailhead.

Details: Loop and side trails add up to about 5 miles

Directions: From Boulder, take Highway 119/Canyon west to Nederland. In Nederland, turn right at the traffic circle on Highway 72 north. Take Highway about 1.9 miles to the signed turnoff for Caribou Ranch Open Space. (Do not turn at Caribou or you'll end up at the old town of Caribou) Take the dirt road about 0.8 miles to the trailhead.

Information: Learn more about Caribou Ranch on Boulder's website and learn more about the recording operation on Wikipedia.

Read about more hikes in Boulder, the nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness and across Colorado here.

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