Marshall Mesa, Boulder

In southern Boulder County, close to the hustle and bustle of the city and university but feeling far away, lies a slice of nostalgia. Tallgrass has steadily vanished from America’s heartland, but Boulder has preserved its largest swath here, waving beside Marshall Mesa. It’s a popular recreation area, though not as busy as, say, Chautauqua Park. It’s a breezy, scenic escape, with pleasant trails to explore — offering a step or ride on bike or horse back in time.

The mesa and the former town here is named for Joseph Marshall, the baron who led one of Colorado’s earliest coal discoveries. Marshall bustled with a schoolhouse, railroad and several saloons that lent the outpost’s rowdy reputation. For 80 years coal lasted.

Now, of course, outdoor recreation rules in the area, and the mesa goes to show why.

The trailhead sits at a point with the mighty Flatirons in view, those majestic rock slabs soaring through the foothills. Pick your direction for the loop. The vertical difference is hardly noticeable either way; cyclists, mostly a beginner and intermediate bunch, don’t have a strong preference.

We veered left for the Marshall Valley trail. The sandy singletrack tours the flowering grasslands, steadily rising to escape the highway hum. A bridge crosses a gully, meeting the Marshall Mesa trail.

We connected with the Community Ditch, where pines join the landscape, tall, but not tall enough to block the views of higher summits beyond Boulder. Eldorado Canyon also captivates in the distance. Downtown Denver is seen east, the plains spilling away.

You might elect for higher spurs off the ditch. We ended by looping down the Coal Seam trail.

Trip log: 3.1 miles (loops), 258 feet elevation gain, 5,589 feet max elevation

Difficulty: Easy

Getting there: Trailhead at 5258 Eldorado Springs Drive, Boulder, near the intersection of Colorado 93 and Marshall Road.

FYI: $5 fee at trailhead parking lot, free space when available at lot across the street. Multiuse trails. Dogs on leash. Lock car and don’t leave valuables. More information: marshall-mesa-trailhead

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