Caribou Ranch Open Space

Location: Boulder County Parks and Open Space
Nearest town: Nederland
Distance from Denver: 48 mi / 1:14
Trail distance: 4.8 mi lollipop
Elevation: 8,550 ft at TH, 465 ft gain/loss including ~100 ft quick, optional climb to the mine complex
Direction notes: From the roundabout in Nederland, go 1.9 mi N on Hwy 72 (Peak to Peak Hwy). Don’t be fooled by the green “Caribou” road sign just out of town. Continue north and go left on County Road 126, at the brown sign for Caribou Ranch and Mud Lake. Follow the road to the parking area.
Dogs: Not allowed
Trailhead: Toilets, signage, brochures with maps, activity books for kids
Date hiked: Jan 2013
Additional resource:
Boulder County Open Space

Trail notes and photos:
This is an easy trail with little elevation change and good variety as it travels through ponderosa forest, across an open valley, and along a former railroad bed. Signs along the trail explain the history of the area and the remaining buildings at the DeLonde Homestead and Blue Bird Mine Complex.

Boulder County Parks and Open Space - Caribou Ranch

Forested section of the DeLonde Trail

The DeLonde Trail alternates between forest and clearings with aspens warped and stunted from withstanding the strong winds which today were gusting well over the 5 mph forecast for Nederland.

Boulder County Parks and Open Space - Caribou Ranch

Aspens warped and stunted from strong winds

After 1.2 mi the DeLonde Trail meets the Blue Bird Loop, which follows the former route for the Switzerland Trail railroad. From 1898-1920 the train traveled between Boulder and Ward carrying miners, ore, supplies and travelers seeking mountain scenery said to equal the scenery found in the Swiss Alps. Due to its history as a railroad bed, about half of the Blue Bird Loop is wide and road-like.

Shortly after reaching the railroad bed, I turned right down the signed road to cross the open valley to the DeLonde Homestead (which started me on the loop going counter clockwise).

DeLonde homestead - Caribou Ranch Open Space - Boulder County Parks and Open Space

Looking across the valley to the DeLonde homestead

It almost felt like I was walking up to someone’s home, with the recently refurbished red barn to the left with a smaller out-building (bathhouse?) and the shuttered house to the right.

The DeLonde Barn - Caribou Ranch Open Space - Boulder County Parks and Open Space

The DeLonde Barn at Caribou Ranch

A couple of informational signs tell the history of the place, which ranges from homestead to horse ranch to recording studio.

DeLonde Homestead - Caribou Ranch Open Space - Boulder County Parks and Open Space

Looking out from the DeLonde Homestead

Beyond the house is a picnic table and view of the wetlands/pond beyond. The trail becomes more rocky as it continues through the forested area behind the house. After gently climbing for about a mile, a sign designates the optional trail to the Blue Bird Mine Complex, named for the blue azurite found in the silver ore mined here. This is a quick, steep climb of about 100 ft in elevation. First are former boarding houses for the miners, further up is another home, an old chicken coop, and other old structures. The property was used in three movies, two in the 1940’s and one in 1965. The trail continues up to the mine, but I chose to turn back to the main trail.

Blue Bird Mine complex - Caribou Ranch Open Space - Boulder County Parks and Open Space

View from the Blue Bird Mine complex

Back on the main loop, the forested trail meets back up with the wider Blue Bird railroad bed. After visiting the homestead and mine, I could imagine traveling on the Switzerland Trail railroad car with the ladies and gents of the early 1900’s in their finest dress, off for a mountain adventure.

Blue Bird Loop along the Switzerland Trail - Caribou Ranch Open Space - Boulder County Parks and Open Space

The Blue Bird Loop follows the former Switzerland Trail train route

A bench toward the end of the loop, before heading back to the TH on the DeLonde Trail, provides a nice view of the valley.

DeLonde homestead from Blue Bird loop - Caribou Ranch Open Space - Boulder County Parks and Open Space

The DeLonde Homestead and valley from the Blue Bird loop

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