If you ever drive Highway 128 (120th Street) between Highway 93 and Wadsworth, you may have noticed some trails on the north side of the highway. That's the High Plains Trail. A hiking and biking trail that winds through 2.5 miles through the prairie near the National Wind Technology Center, the place with the wind turbines.
You can start your hike at either end of the trail, but the easiest place to start is at the Greenbelt Plateau Trailhead just east of the intersection of Highways 93 and 128 (directions below). After finding a parking spot, walk through the entrance gate to the map board. The wide, road-like trail to the north is the Greenbelt Plateau Trail. The single-track, dirt trail to the east is the High Plains Trail.
The High Plains Trail starts across the very flat plains. At times, it's dirt. At times, it's rocky. The trail is very easy. It never goes up or down more than a few feet, but it is very curvy. In places, you'll wonder why the trail builders didn't just cut straight across the plain.
The trail crosses a private road and you may notice several social trails along the way, do your best to stay on the main trail.
About 0.6 miles from the trailhead, the trail suddenly drops down, goes through a cow fence to an area with signs saying "area closed for natural resource protection." Go over the bridge here, through another cow fence and head for the hills. While the trail goes northeast, it quickly turns hikers again -- back toward the road. In this next section, you'll be hiking closer to the highway. The traffic noise may be louder than you'd like, but concentrate on the hills and not the traffic and you'll forget the road is there.
One thing you can't miss in this section -- the wind turbines. You'll easily see two of them on the other side of the road. The National Wind Technology Center was built in 1993 and tests full-scale wind turbine models ranging in size from 400 watts to 5.0 megawatts.
Suddenly you'll cross under some very large power lines to a sign that says, "This is not a designated trail. Access requires permit." The trail is nothing. It just cuts across the plains instead of winding around it. While it cuts the hike by 0.1 miles, stay on the main trail and enjoy your time out here.
The trail continues winding through the plains and hills, over two small bridges. About two miles from the trailhead, you'll see your first tree. While it's near the trail, it's on the other side of a fence, so you won't be able to sit and enjoy the shade. This is the one and only tree near the trail, so you don't want to be here on a hot, sunny day.
From here, it's another mile to the end of the High Plains Trail. A sign here explains that the James C. Crain High Plains Prairie was named for the former director of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks. Crain wanted to protect the mountains and plains, especially the Front Range foothills, high plains grasslands and Coal Creek Drainage.
Here you can continue on the Coalton Trail or turn around and return the way you came. The hike back is the best part of this hike. On the way back, enjoy the views of the foothills and the Boulder flatirons. On a clear day, you may even spot Longs Peak to the northwest.
This trail is part of a 14 mile loop, read more here. In the area, check out Marshall Mesa, Eldorado Canyon, Flatirons Vista and Doudy Draw. Need more ideas, check out this list of more than 200 hikes in Colorado.
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Details: The hike along the High Plains Trail is 5 miles roundtrip with about 300 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Directions: The Greenbelt Plateau Trailhead is 0.1 miles east of the intersection of Highways 93 and 128. In Boulder, take Broadway south. The road becomes Foothills Highway/Highway 93. Turn left/east on Highway 128/120th Avenue. Go 0.1 miles to the parking lot. (You will have to make a U-turn to get there.)