Since Boulder County’s Picture Rock Trail was completed in 2008, mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders have been able to guide their way through woods and meadows, encountering spectacular mountain views along the 5.2-mile multi-use trail between Lefthand Canyon and Lyons.
The trail twists and turns in a southerly direction, while climbing through the high grass, short green brush and around the occasional tree until it switches to the west. About 2 miles from the parking lot is the Picture Rock picnic and scenic view area. A stone wall and level ground support a flagstone table, where hikers can look across the swells of wild grass to see the spiny ridges of the hogbacks.
These formations are where the great plains meet the southern Rocky Mountains. The landscape photo-op was developed over 65,000 years of erosion and shifting terrain.
Back on the trail, venture farther up where the grass and shrubs give way to trees that cast welcome patches of shade. The single track shifts to a jeep road then back to a single track before the forest shifts to meadowlands. Well above the valley floor, the wind can freely play with the grass along the open ridgeline overhead.
Continue to follow the trail up and around a bend to the old Vickery Quarry Complex. The former quarry operated from the 1890s to 1960s. This is where Lyons’ sandstone was collected for some of the buildings at the University of Colorado. Cars and trucks that turned their last mile long ago rest with the trees on the hillside.
Picture Rock Trail is great for all: beginners can make a fun ride up to the scenic view, while intermediate and advanced mountain bikers can sharpen their technical skills by riding the trail up to the connecting loops or to the Wapiti Trail to Left-hand Canyon.
Heil Valley Ranch, in the North Foothills Open Space, is also open to the public for picnicking, hiking, mountain biking and equestrians, but no dogs. It’s a protected wildlife habitat and important area for a heard of elk that travels from the Continental Divide to the Great Plains during the winter.
The best times to ride Picture Rock Trail are in the morning and late afternoon during the summer and when the high-altitude trails are still snow bound. The Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department asks that cyclist stay off the trails when they are wet or snow covered, because bike tires in the wet conditions will accelerate erosion.
If You Go
Getting there: Take Colorado Highway 7 south from Lyons and turn left onto Old Saint Vrain Road. Take a left onto Red Gulch Road, then pull into the parking lot provided by Boulder County Parks and Open Space.
At the park gate, Boulder County Parks and Open Space stocks maps and information for hikers, bikers and equestrians on the rules of usage and the latest mountain lion warnings (the chance for mountain lion encounters are slight, but be cautious).
Bathrooms and rest area are available at the trail head.
For more information and a list of park rules visit bouldercountyopenspace.org.