Clear As…Mud Lake
It wasn’t until I’d spent almost two whole summers in Boulder that I stopped at Mud Lake, despite driving past it numerous times. Maybe it was the name, maybe its deceptively small appearance from the Peak to Peak Highway, maybe the stars just hadn’t come into alignment – regardless, once I finally made it a point to stop there during a visit from a Midwesterner friend fresh off the plane, Mud Lake showed its true colors (spoiler: they weren’t mud brown).
Starting with the round-about parking lot, clean bathrooms and cool old gutted bus, Mud Lake is a great place to come enjoy a mellow day. The bus, right next to the parking lot, is a great spot for an impromptu photo shoot (I didn’t find any trash or broken glass in or around it, but be sure to check before the kiddos go diving in). A nice map kiosk lays out the trail system for easy pre-adventure planning.
We set out from the parking lot along the Tungsten Loop and headed straight toward the northwest edge of the lake. The smooth, flat trail led us past multiple points to access the lake shore and, while swimming and fishing aren’t allowed, the birds, water and views made up for it. Following the trail counter-clockwise around the lake brought us past the protected riparian area found at the south edge of the lake; bird watching here was especially good, with lots of red-winged blackbirds perching on and flying through the reeds.
The next few times I stopped at Mud Lake I brought my mountain bike with me, curious about what the rest of the park looked like and whether there was potential for some longer rides. There’s really only about 4 miles of trail in the whole park, but it’s divided into three connected loops with a couple branches leading out to Caribou Ranch, some of the Nederland city trails and what seemed to be a trail network on the east side of the Peak to Peak Highway. Full disclosure – I have no idea if these last trails are legal or not, but they did seem to be well ridden in and not hidden, although the small section I saw was definitely more technical and strenuous than the Mud Lake trails.
Even though the miles of trail is low, I still managed to put together a decent ride. With no significant elevation gain or loss, the various loops and short out-and-backs can be linked together into a longer, fast and pedally ride that swoops around the 190 acres of Mud Lake without turning into a repetitive bore. Six inches of travel is overkill here, and you’d do just fine on a cross bike.
Don’t hesitate to bring the kids or beginning bikers or hikers. The technically easy trails that never leave you far from the car are perfect for learning on, but offer more fun and interest than gravel or paved paths. Boulder County’s website has more Mud Lake resources, including trail maps, usage info, a Natural Detective’s Guide for kids, bird lists and more.
– By Avid4 Adventure Staff Aaron Inouye
October 1, 2012 | Emily Moeschler