In Boulder, Chautauqua Park is the top choice for a quick taste of the great outdoors. They are indeed great around this college town, iconic for the Flatirons. Those rock slabs are the centerpiece of that park, where it’s nearly impossible to find a spot for your car on weekends, even early in the morning. Might we propose another treasure of Boulder County Parks and Open Space: Betasso Preserve.

It is named for the man who homesteaded the land near the juncture of Boulder and Fourmile canyons. Rusted machinery near the Canyon Loop trailhead is easy to miss, with the sweeping views at hand: the foothills surrounding this grassy swath, the plains beyond.

Along the loop is no high point, no signature vista. But the serenity lasts throughout, even on Saturdays — at least for people on foot and horse. Cyclists are not allowed on this day or Wednesdays, keeping crowds controlled and riders frustrated. They should heed the rule though; rangers are known to patrol the trailhead and deliver fines.

We started left, while signs insist cyclists start right. Either way, you’re not missing any significant vertical gain. Start through the prairie, grateful to have such a quick escape from that bustle in Boulder Canyon, where drivers cruise alongside runners on the sidewalks and climbers on the walls.

Soon the trail descends into dense Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. So begins the loop’s trend, shifting from open meadows to forests. Thus visitors grasp the importance of the 1,151-acre preserve in this transition zone, home to a variety of plant communities and wildlife.

The path thins and straddles hillsides, leading to rolling and curving sections fun for riding, where it’s easy to imagine some user conflict. Our first trail split was for the Benjamin Loop, where the Canyon Loop continues straight. Nearing 3 miles, at the junction with a friendly pump station, we stayed straight again, returning to the parking lot.

By the way, if this parking lot is full, see if spots are available at the picnic area up the road. Overflow parking is off the road on which you came; see the signs pointing to the Bummer’s Rock trailhead. That’s also where horse trailers park.

Trip log: 3.4 miles round trip (loop), 444 feet elevation gain, 6,614 feet max

Difficulty: Easy

Getting there: On Interstate 25, exit for U.S. 36 west toward Boulder. Turn west onto Canyon Boulevard. Five miles through the canyon, turn right for Sugarloaf Road. Follow signs to preserve on your left.

FYI: Multiuse trail, but no bikes on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Dogs on leash.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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