First Outing on the LoBo Trail

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Ellen's picture

During the last week of July, I biked the LoBo Trail.

I had business in downtown Boulder and, although I would have usually biked to the BOLT stop on the Diagonal Highway at Airport Road in Longmont where I live and bussed all the way in, I had just heard that the Longmont-to-Boulder Trail had been finished.

Christened “the LoBo Trail,” it completed an off-road bike route that went all the way from Sandstone Ranch in the east to Boulder Canyon on the western shoulders of the Rocky Mountain Foothills. So, instead, this time I grabbed the map at and headed out all the way to Boulder on my bike.

All told, it took me two hours and twenty minutes to get to downtown Boulder. The trail was beautiful. I felt like I was biking through all the neighborhood parks between Longmont and Boulder. Way cool. I even met a fellow cyclist on the way and traveled companionably with him for a while. But a couple of things frustrated me.

One was lack of trail signs. The only ones posted were generic pedestrian crossing signs along the new parts of the trail at the eastern end of the trail between Longmont and Niwot.

The other frustration I had was that the current version of the trail forces you to ride on the road for long stretches, even longer than I expected. These "on-street" portions of the trail, which took us along Spine, William's Fork Trail, Twin Lakes Trail, and Jay Road, were much longer than indicated on the LoBo Trail Map. Of course, It is possible that we did not take the ultimate routes, but we had to guess what the trail designers had in mind when they outlined these areas in broad strokes on the map. But, hey! I've got plenty of time to ride the trail again before the Colorado snows hit and perfect the route.

On-street connections were hard to decipher on the LoBo map because there were no street detail for other than the major intersections. I brought a Google street map with me to help with these connections, but it didn't have enough detail to show the street names in those neighborhoods, and it didn't match the LoBo map exactly. I also chose not to stop and look at the map as often as I could have, which, looking back on it, could have eliminated some confusion and wrong turns.

As I started out, I spotted luminescent green pedestrian crossing signs, which marked the LoBo trail coming southwest out of Longmont. I followed those signs to the trail and was off to a great start. The ride along 83rd was heavenly because, before the trail, riding there forced cyclists to ride with traffic going 45+ mph and with now shoulder to escape to.

It was relaxing and pleasant seeing the mountains ahead and then when I made the turn onto 83rd, to my right as I pedaled toward Niwot. But those signs ran out once I exited the path along 83rd street and turned onto Niwot Road, and I was at the mercy of the local neighborhood and city trail signs. There weren't any street signs to tell me that I was at Niwot Road here. This wouldn't have been a problem if I had been familiar with the local trails. But, I wasn't, and I searched across the unmarked street for the connection. I saw what looked like an underpass (also not indicated on the map) so I took it and sailed on west through Niwot.

Some of the local trails I encountered were parts of LoBo, and some were not. The map indicates the trail heads for those, and I found the Lefthand Valley Grange Trail without a problem. But I never saw a sign for the Monarch Trail Head as indicated on the map. I did see the sign for the Niwot Loop trail, which carries you southwest from Niwot Road to the horse pasture trail northeast of Highway 52. On the map it is marked "Monarch Trail." Very confusing. Not understanding this, I took the right-hand trail marked "Niwot Road" rather than the left-hand one marked "Niwot Loop Trail." (If I had taken the Loop Trail, wouldn't that mean I would loop around Niwot and go in circles?)

The Niwot Road trail dumped me into the neighborhoods west of Niwot. Once I realized I was off the trail, I backtracked to the spur marked Niwot Loop, and, shortly after taking it, I was back on the LoBo. If you are familiar with the local trails through Niwot and Gunbarrel, I am sure you won't have the trouble there that I did.

After climbing a steep gravel and dirt embankment I landed in another street with a car coming down on me. Luckily I had slowed upon approach to the street, braking so that I balanced on the edge of the pavement. There was no shoulder – another detail you can't get from a map. (Sure wished I had used the satellite view on Google Maps before I left the house!) This was Monarch Road but. again, I had only a vague idea of where I was. Nevertheless, I kept going. I was now biking through a rolling meadow. Sure hoped it was part of LoBo! I came to a closed gate. Uh oh. As I was contemplating my next move, I notice an old sign, bleached white from the sun and wrinkled from cycles of wet and dry, the writing just barely legible: "Please keep this gate closed so my horses won't get out. Rex." How old was this sign? I took my chances, opened the gate and walked my bike through. The gravel path continued on through the meadow. It sure looked like the LoBo trail. Soon I came to another gate. Must be the exit from Rex's horse pasture, I thought.

I saw a major street ahead. I pulled out my maps. I was almost to Highway 52! What I didn't know was that the trail went under the highway. It continued through the hilly landscape in front of me, meandering through tall, wild grasses. I couldn't see beyond about 50 feet. So, I spent a good 15 minutes noodling around in the wrong direction, getting onto the highway and seeing the trail heading west, but discovering there was no access from the road. Doh! Feeling a bit embarrassed I backtracked and discovered a fork in the trail, again unmarked, that led me under the highway. This really was a nice trail. Once I located it!

When I hit Lookout Road in Gunbarrel, I was able to negotiate the streets to Spine, but there I had to stop and study the map. Which street did I take to catch the Twin Lakes Trail? I knew that Twin Lakes Road went around the lake paralleling the trail at certain points, so I should have no troubling finding the trail once I got to that street. But which street would get me to that one? Neither the LoBo map nor the Google map showed a street name. I realized that it had been ages since I had driven around Gunbarrel and I was no longer familiar with side streets or landmarks. I decided that the street I needed was the next left east from where I stood at the corner of Gunpark Drive and Spine. The best route would be to follow Spine south until it curved west and then take the street that should appear on my left at that point.

As I folded up my maps, I heard a voice call out, “You looking for the LoBo Trail?”

I looked up from my map to see a man in a rust-colored baseball cap on a bike holding a map that looked a lot like mine. His bike was pointing south down Spine. “Yes, I am,” I said. “And I think you're pointed in the right direction!”

I came across the street and conferred with him. I shared my thoughts, and we agreed that, yes, he was facing the right direction and that I was likely right about how to find the next street. He introduced himself as Jerry and admitted he used to live around there.

“You lead!” I said, and we set off.

The next street on the left was William's Fork Trail, and Jerry paused. “It's heading in the right direction,” I said. He agreed and we took off. Eventually we hit Twin Lakes Road. I felt vindicated, but at the same time I loved discovering the trail with a total stranger. It was exciting and I had nothing to lose if I made a mistake. I wasn't likely to meet Jerry again and we would all too soon forget our adventure.

Twin Lakes Road hugs the lake near the trail, so we had several chances to find a connection to the Twin Lakes Trail. As we rode along and looked west towards the lake, we saw an access point that was a series of stairs. Jerry checked it out. He could see tire marks where people had rolled their bikes up the dirt beside the steps. I didn't think this was an official part of LoBo. Couldn't be. We decided to keep to the street. We knew it would go around the lake and connect us up with Jay Road either way, even if we never found the trail. Jay Road was our next street connection. As we continued on Twin Lakes Trail we saw another trail to our right. Other than the curb we had to jump to get to it from the street, it looked like a real bike path. We had found the Twin Lakes trail. (Not to be confused with Twin Lakes Trail, the road. Yeah. I know!)

We went around the lake on the trail and came to another fork. Neither of us knew for sure which direction to go in.

“I always got off the trail at this point to go to my apartment,” Jerry said pointing down the left. But the path on the right didn't look like it was obviously going to get us to Boulder, either. We pulled out our maps again and decided that we weren't at Jay Road yet, so we had to stay on the trail.

We had made the right decision. We crossed 63rd and rode until the trail ended at Spine Road. Arggh! Not Spine again! But I kept pumping and finally we hit Jay after about a half mile. We turned right and biked another quarter mile on Jay with only a narrow gravel shoulder to keep us out of the now lunch-time traffic. We turned left from Jay and continued on the LoBo trail westward a mile to Cottonwood Trail.

A small dirt trail wound up from Cottonwood Trailhead and headed west and parallel to the diagonal.

“Someone told me that allows you to go under the railroad tracks. But if we are headed downtown, we should take Cottonwood,” Jerry said.

I agreed. We were now officially off the LoBo trail and on local Boulder city trails. We followed the Cottonwood Trail until we got to yet another fork. One direction was blocked by a cement pylon, so we took the left fork. This path dumped us in a little neighborhood of single-family hoes and condos. We didn't know where we were. We wanted Valmont, but didn't know where it was in connection to where we were.

We asked a woman riding by on bikes with her kids and she pointed us toward a path that would take us to Valmont. We found it and hopped on, but then got dumped off on another street we didn't recognize. Jerry scanned our location and saw a bunch of traffic to our right.

“Probably Valmont,” he said.

I concurred, and we set off in that direction. Sure enough it was Valmont. We turned right and headed west toward the intersection with Foothills Parkway. We had made it to Boulder. We still had to get to downtown. I looked at my watch. It was 12:30pm. I had left the house shortly after 10:30am. It should not have taken that long.

I bid Jerry goodbye. He headed directly west on Valmont into town. I took the familiar Foothills bike path under the parkway and headed downtown along the creek and hit the Boulder Creek path.

All in all it had been a fun little adventure with the weather cooperating and the unexpected companionship of a new friend along the way. It was cool putting our heads together to figure out the trail. Together, we may not have gotten to Boulder faster, but it was good to ride alongside a veteran of the Boulder County bike path.

I really like living in Longmont and in Boulder County with their continued support of greenway trails and off street bike baths. I am pleased that Boulder County and the local cities are planning to add additional bike paths at these on Street parts of the trail in the near future. There is also an underpass to Boulder Reservoir planned and another trail leg going in south Niwot next year.

Before we parted, Jerry mentioned he might do the path again with his GPS and mark way points as he rides. If he could post those to his website, it might save first timers many moments of wondering, “Where the heck am I?” But I do think the county should add signs at major decision points.

Hope you decide to hit the LoBo or at least part of it this year, before the cold weather. Happy Trails!

For more information on the LoBo Trail, check out these sights:


Ever learning, Everlasting