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Sourdough Trail not for wimps

Sourdough Trail, above Nederland, is popular with mountain bike enthusiasts, snowshoers, hikers and cross-country skiers.
Sourdough Trail, above Nederland, is popular with mountain bike enthusiasts, snowshoers, hikers and cross-country skiers.
Bette Erickson

By the end of that snowshoe trek even my bone marrow hurt. Hiking the 11.6-mile length of the south to north Sourdough Trail above Nederland is one thing. Doing it on snowshoes is quite another. Don’t be fooled by its seclusion and beauty: it is a long trail. My favorite portion, and for the purposes of this essay, is the south end going north along Niwot Mountain’s east ridge, through forests and along several creek drainages.

After you’ve parked in the spacious trailhead parking area, walk north across the road to the trailhead. Directly west is the University of Colorado Mountain Research Station. This is a sought after seasonal destination for cross-country skiers, snowshoers and mountain bike enthusiasts.

The wooded trail climbs gently, gaining 1,000 vertical feet in the first three miles past Fourmile Creek, then levels out. It ascends up a small ridge, closely paralleling Niwot Ridge Road, and then loops away due north along an abandoned road.

Eventually you’ll cross Fourmile Creek on a wide bridge. Soon after you’ll climb to the trail’s highest spot along the route, ultimately leading down to the Red Rock Trailhead.

Reaching the Red Rock Trailhead at 5.8 miles into the trip is a good place to rest, have lunch and turn around, unless you’ve made arrangements to do a car swap at each end of the trail or you have much more energy and time to spare. Nearby, tiny Red Rock Lake is close to this trailhead, just west of the entrance station south of Brainard Lake Road.

The Sourdough Trail stretches 8.9 miles further north of the Red Rock Trailhead weaving its way through forests, past Beaver Reservoir all the way to the Buchanan Pass Trailhead.

Since the 1800s people have flocked to Colorado first for the mining claims and then for the reputedly healing effects of our dry climate. Nowadays, many people come for the hiking. A visit to the Sourdough Trail may not yield strikes of gold or silver but it almost always promises therapeutic effects as a result of getting away and feeling new again.

Bette Erickson is the author of "Best Boulder Region Hiking Trails" (Westcliffe Publishers, $19.95). Contact her at

To the trailhead: Take Colo. 72 north from Nederland seven miles, then turn west on CR 116 (unpaved Rainbow Lakes Road) to the University of Colorado Mountain Research Station. The trailhead parking is 0.4 mile on the left, and the trail is on the right.

Distance: 11.6 miles roundtrip from the south Sourdough Trailhead north to the Red Rock Trailhead.

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous because of the length of the roundtrip outing.

Elevation gain: 1,000 feet

Dogs: Yes, on leash

Jurisdiction: Boulder Ranger District, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, (303) 541-2500

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