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Lyons, Colorado, United States

Hall Ranch Trails including Bitterbrush Trail and Nelson Loop Trail

The Bitterbrush and Nelson Loop Trails are fairly difficult mountain bike routes that form a lasso trail near Lyons, CO.

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Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 5.9 miles / 9.5 km
Duration: 1-3 hours
Family Friendly
 
Overview: Unlike many of my other trail guides, this one is definitely a little more strenuous and technical. If you are riding a bike, prepare for steep climbs and rapid descents. There are some tricky corners and numerous rocks and roots in the trail.
There is also great scenery, lots of wildlife, and a heck of a roller-coaster ride. Although this trail is good for hiking, many hikers choose Nighthawk Trail, which runs off of this trail and takes a similar route.

HISTORY:
In 1885, Edward Lyon settled the land that later became Hall Ranch. The sandstone quarries just to the east of Hall Ranch are made up of 52 smaller quarry pits, and these were also established by Edward Lyon. Electricity was first introduced to the region around 1912 when the Longmont Aqueduct, which supplied water from Longmont Reservoir to the power plant, can still be viewed on the north side of Hall Ranch.
The name Hall Ranch was first applied to the land in the early 1940s when Hallyn and June Hall purchased a chunk of the surrounding land.

WILDLIFE:
Hall Ranch is rich in wildlife. It is considered a crucial nesting habitat for numerous birds. Predatory birds such as golden eagles hunt here and are always on the lookout for a feast of prairie dog or squirrel.
White tailed deer and rabbit are also commonly seen from the trail. One of the better places for observing wildlife at Hall Ranch is in the meadow at the junction of Bitterbrush and Nelson Loop.
In addition to the cute and cuddly critters, don't forget that rattlesnakes love sunning themselves on the trail. Leave them alone, and they're usually pretty docile.

GEOLOGY:
The oldest rock in the area is about 1.7 billion years old and the youngest is approximately 62 million years old. The rocks are a mix of sandstone and granite.


Tips: - Pack plenty of water. You'll need it after the long, arduous climbs.
- Bring a spare tube or patch kit and tools. There are many tire-eating obstacles on and beside this trail.
- Remember that the downhill rider is responsible for yielding to the uphill rider.
- Dogs are not allowed on this trail.
- The only kind of bike recommended for this trail is a mountain bike with at least front suspension and trail tires.

NEARBY ACTIVITIES:
- Spend some time in nearby Lyons, Colorado. It has an old-fashioned soda shoppe, a world-renowned beer brewery, and lots of nice antique & art stores.
-The nearby Thompson River is well-known for its good fishing.
- A day trip to Estes Park and/or Rocky Mountain National Park is a worthwhile endeavor.
- If you're here in the fall, there are some good pumpkin patches as you drive toward Longmont on Highway 66.

Points of Interest

Restroom
map

main trailhead

The main parking lot for the Hall Ranch Open Space trails is just off of highway 7, southwest of Lyons, Colorado. There are two parking areas at this trailhead. On weekdays, that is sufficient for the trail users. The parking lots get pretty full on weekends, however.
An alternate trailhead can be found due west of Lyons on the Apple Valley/Antelope Roads.
Parking
map

upper parking lot

At one point, this was called the overflow parking lot, but now it is the main parking lot for many trail-users who want to cut a little bit off their ride/hike.
Junction
map

junction of Nighthawk Trail and Bitterbrush Trail

Hikers can go either way at this junction. Mountain bikers and horseback riders must turn right onto Bitterbrush Trail. This junction is clearly marked with a signpost and a "NO BIKES" sign embedded in the Nighthawk Trail.
From this point on, the Bitterbrush Trail starts getting steeper and more technical.
map

steep and rocky

Beware on both the ascent and the descent. This portion of the trail is not only steep, but it also has lots of rocks and roots sticking out. It can be lots of fun as long as you know your limits, you're wearing a helmet. and you exercise caution.
Viewpoint
map

As you near the crest...

... the trail gets a little less strenuous and rocky, but don't get fooled. There's some more roller-coaster rides on the other side.
Viewpoint
map

crest of hill...

... and resting spot with a bench
Information
map

interpretive sign

Learn a little bit about prairie dogs and other open space critters.
Junction
map

Antelope Trail junction

A secret among the locals is the Antelope Trail route. If you are anxious to get to the Nelson Loop Trail and want to cut over a mile and lots of steep ascents off your route, then you can take Apple Valley Road (When you get to the west side of Lyons on your way to the trailhead, turn right onto hwy. 36/66 instead of left onto hwy. 7, then watch for a left hand turn onto Apple Valley Road.) then follow that onto Antelope Road. When you get to the end of Antelope Road, there is a trailhead for the Antelope Trail. This is a one mile trail up to this point on the Bitterbrush Trail.
This is a good option if you have less skilled riders with you, or you're in a hurry to get to the loop and back down to your car.
Junction
map

Nelson Loop Trail junction

You can go either way on this loop. It is 2.2 miles around the loop.
Junction
map

Nighthawk Trail junction

The Nighthawk Trail is a hiking trail and bicycles are not allowed on it.
Building
map

Nelson Ranch House

The Nelson Ranch, a small portion of the present-day Hall Ranch area, was homesteaded by the Nelson family in the early 1920s. New settlers came to the region after WWI and began raising sugar beets.
Animals/Wildlife
map

deer near trail

Deer are prolific in the morning and early evening.
Pictures in this guide taken by: trailsnet, beginning of trail from lower parking lot, Hall Ranch Open Space map, Picture of mesa taken from near the upper parking lot., Be ready for more technical climbs for the next couple miles., trail signpost found at junctions, roots-n-roll, rock-n-roll, one eye on the trail and one on the scenery, Vehicles are rare up here, but it's nice to know that the Open Space rangers are keeping Hall Ranch and the Northern Foothills O, good resting spot, Learn about your four-legged, winged, & slithering trail partners., rider ascending Antelope Trail to Bitterbrush Trail, trail sign, trail junction, You can go left or right at this point to start the loop., Boulder High School Mountain Bike team member starts the loop., on the trail

Hall Ranch Trails including Bitterbrush Trail and Nelson Loop Trail Trail Map


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About the Author

trailsnet
trailsnet
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I am a recently retired teacher whose new "career" is to explore as many trails as possible. I am especially...

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