Nighthawk Trail > Out and Back
Starting Elevation: 5480 Ft
Highest Elevation: 6570 ft ( but there is a an additional 320ft loss then gain for a total Elevation gain of 1410ft)
Trail Length: 10.2 miles officially, unfortunately we took a wrong turn and so did a total of 12 miles today. It took us 4hrs 20 minutes to complete.
Trail Uses: Hiking and Horses only, no bikes on this trail but other trails here do allow bikes
Degree of difficulty: Moderate to difficult – difficult mostly due to length
Bathrooms: Yes at the beginning.
Pets: Dogs are not permitted in Hall Ranch
One of Aaron’s coworkers told us about these trails so many months ago, when I first looked at the trail options after hearing about it I didn’t think I could handle such a long hike. Plus the elevation was not what we were looking for at the time so I kept in the back of my head as the perfect hike for fall, winter & spring. Now that the higher hikes seem out of reach for us ( mostly because we are wimps) it seemed time to do this one. For the past 3 weeks we have tried to do this hike with various things stopping us, this weekend was proving to have the same chance of letting the trail thwart us. There was a snow storm coming to the mountains today with some hitting the foothills, this hike is right on the edge of the foothills and the mountain ranges that were supposed to get hit. All week I stalked every weather site I could find in hopes it would change enough to let us do this hike and yesterday I saw our chance, every thing was saying no snow or rain until 1PM.
We left at 6AM hoping we would get enough time to finish the hike before the storm set in and as we got to the top of the hill on 36 where you can see Boulder down in the valley before you, we saw this:
It was pretty beautiful after an amazing sunrise, it was both a good and bad sign….good because there was still some sky showing for the sun to make it happen and of course rainbows are good luck! But bad because obviously it was raining which was not supposed to happen until 1PM!
When we got to the trailhead, the rain had stopped and it looked a little lighter so we bundled up and started off. The landscape was so different then what we had experienced on other hikes in this area, all the cacti with the red mud and dirt I love the variety! The trailhead had something I have not yet seen:
This is so cool! Yay Boulder Open Space for embracing social media in such a fantastic way! Also note that if it was muddy and you get there after 10am choose a different path…..
As for the trail, there are 2 parking lots, the one that is just a little higher up really is at the trailhead but it is not all that large and you might have to park in the lower lot if it is full. Which is ok because the trail at the west end of the lower lot goes up to the Nighthawk Trail as well. We were lucky enough to get there at 7:30 so there were only 2 other cars in the top lot. The Bathroom is up here as well. As a warning all my pictures are with my iPhone, with the weather changing so quickly I didn’t want to take out my camera, these aren’t very good quality and it really shows when I tried to zoom.
The Trail itself is super well marked, there is never a question which trail you are on. It is also almost completely exposed with little to no tree cover but I bet in the spring and summer the colors are something to see, I know I will have to come back to check it out then. Based on the trails we have hit in the past 8 months, my guess is that this is usually a high traffic trail during spring and summer but today it was almost just us, the deer and rabbits….. so many deer and rabbits! I think we saw 6 or 7 separate herds of deer and they were all along the trail constantly crossing it.
At about 4.5 miles we came to the Button Rock trailhead, which is a 2 mile outcrop that leads to other trails not all part of Hall Ranch. I think that if the weather had been different this is where we would have seen Long’s Peak and Mt Meeker, but with the snow starting and with the clouds getting thicker, we were lucky to see any mountains at all.
Stay straight on Nighthawk and you will come to a crossroads very quickly
Again stay straight and you meet up with the bike trail and Nelson’s Loop by a bench, here is the 4.7 mile mark. If you are done turnaround and head back.
We felt really good at this point, so we went on to try to see Nelson’s ranch to get the full 10.2 miles round trip which should have been just .4 miles ahead. Unfortunately we went left instead of staying straight on Nelson Loop and about half a mile too far we realized we did it wrong so we turned around and headed back. It was on the way back we saw Nelson’s Ranch exactly where it should be. It was also snowing pretty hard now so we picked up our pace and the iPhone only came out one more time for a few pictures of Aaron and I when the weather let up a little.
This is a great hike, it has a stamina building length along with lots of ups and downs to work the legs. I bet on less snowy weather heavy days, the views are pretty awesome. One thing I did notice was the mud on the way down, it wasn’t too bad but it was getting worse by the minute with the snow falling. I am sure this is why there is that “check the trail conditions” sign before you go at the beginning. I would stay away if it was a wet week or a wet day as the mud would wear you down quickly. Either way, we plan on doing this one again in a different season.
The directions will be after the few pictures we got that we liked, with the iPhone.
Take 36 North through Boulder onto Lyons. At the junction with 66 turn left. Drive through the town of Lyons at the T intersection ( SH 7 and 36) turn left on to SH7 and take it approximately 1.5 miles to the entrance of Hall Ranch park it will be on your right.