Parts of the new North Sky Trail follow an 1800s railroad grade. Credit: Jenna Sampson

After eight years of planning, Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) is building a new trail. The North Sky Trail will skirt the foothills of north Boulder to merge with Joder Ranch, establishing a connection that will take users all the way to Left Hand Canyon and the recreation areas nearby such as Heil Ranch. 

New trails in Boulder are rare events. Before finishing the Anemone Loop last year, the city’s trail map had remained unchanged since 2015, when Lion’s Lair was completed.

Cyclists are particularly happy with this addition as it connects Boulder to some of the most popular areas designed for bikes.

“There are very few singletrack options open to bikes near the City of Boulder, and we are very excited for this trail,” said Wendy Sweet, executive director of the Boulder Mountain Bike Alliance.  

The trail, which is adorned with flowering yellow prickly pear and follows the meandering path of an 1880s railroad project that never came to fruition, extends the feeling and terrain of the Foothills. Meanwhile, sounds of the not-so-distant Foothills Highway hum in the background. 

According to Sweet, BMA trails director Mike Rutter has been tasked with physically building about a mile of the trail from the Joder Ranch side. 

“BMA is providing this service to the city at no cost to them,” Sweet said.

Prickly pear cactus along the now-designated North Sky Trail looking south towards Boulder. Credit: Jenna Sampson

About two of the three-and-a-half miles of the route is an undesignated trail that is gently used by hikers and runners. Making it part of the city’s trail system is part of a larger goal by OSMP to reduce the number of “social trails” that people have used over time but are unofficial and unmaintained. 

The route was originally designated as a railroad to service mining camps around the Front Range, from Boulder to Left Hand Canyon and over Buchanan Pass. Only the first section — what will be the new North Sky Trail — was ever carved out after a lack of funds sputtered the project. 

Two bridges are scheduled to be constructed along the trail this fall. One was designed with gusseted steel trusses, as a nod to the railroad history associated with the trail.

After a lengthy process of community input and planning to route the trail around rare plants, work has finally begun, and the last touches are expected in spring 2024.

“Before trail design efforts even began, OSMP staff worked to acquire two easements on adjacent private properties,” OSMP spokesperson Phillip Yates said. “Those easements enable a section of trail to be located at a lower elevation to help protect natural resources in the area.”

OSMP is planning a series of “Trail work Tuesdays” in addition to other community opportunities to get volunteers involved in building the North Sky trail, among other trail work.

Jenna Sampson is a freelance journalist in Boulder, Colorado. When not dabbling in boat building or rock climbing you can find her nursing an iced coffee in front of a good book. Email:

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1 Comment

  1. Looks like a dandy addition! Especially sounds great for bicyclists, though pedestrians may land on a prickly pear when they hear a cyclist yell, “Coming through!” along that narrow single track.

    Also interesting is the implication that RTD’s predecessor in the 1880s was equally incapable of bringing rail service to Boulder County. I didn’t know RTD had that tarnished standard to uphold, but they do it well.

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