Skip to content

Breaking News

Sorry dear, pets are not allowed in the schoolhouse.
Sorry dear, pets are not allowed in the schoolhouse.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correctly identify Boulder County Parks and Open Space and the Overland Loop Trail.

A mule deer peered through a window into the historic Altona schoolhouse as Glenn peered through from the opposite side. Locking eyes with a wild creature just enhanced the enchantment of our walk on the newly opened Schoolhouse Loop Trail at Heil Valley Ranch.

Ten to 20 students from the Lefthand Canyon area attended this one-room schoolhouse each year from 1880, when it was built of the local sandstone, until it closed in 1949 when the Heil family bought the property.

The Altona schoolhouse was recently renovated and a new trail — the Schoolhouse Loop — was opened to the public Oct. 9.

Now owned by Boulder County Parks and Open Space, the school has been restored and furnished with authentic period furniture, including a pot-bellied stove and old school desks donated by local people. Next spring, Open Space staff hope to offer tours and programs at this historic site.

After finding the trail closed because of muddy conditions in early November, we returned on a crystalline, cold morning after a new snowfall when the frozen ground was crunchy but not muddy. Filigrees of ice seemed suspended by magic just above the creek, and large snow crystals sparkled on the snow.

We began the loop at the Corral Trailhead in the old paddock now provided with sandstone picnic tables and walked in clockwise direction following an irrigation ditch to the east. The trail contours through grasslands and a ponderosa pine forest to a junction with the upper end of the loop. At the junction, the trail drops to a bridge across the ditch and then passes an old basketball hoop, a shed and a two-seater outhouse from the school days.

A hiker admires ice formations in the irrigation ditch near Altona schoolhouse.

Continue down to the schoolhouse where you may encounter deer or wild turkeys. Interpretive signs include old photos showing the students and their teacher. There’s a small parking area at the schoolhouse, but it was closed the day we were there. When it’s open, you could start the loop at the schoolhouse instead of at the Corral Trailhead.

We retraced our steps to the trail junction and took the upper loop to return. This section winds through ponderosa pines and across grassy meadows where Steller’s jays, magpies, and flickers flashed through the trees. You might also spot nuthatches, Townsend’s solitaires, chickadees, chickarees, and Abert’s squirrels.

Rock outcroppings and cliffs dominate the view to your right, and to your left is the hillside burned in the 2003 Overland Fire. When you reach the junction with the Overland Loop Trail, drop back to the Corral Trailhead and stroll around the old railroad cars, formerly part of the Heil ranching operations. Work is ongoing near the Corral Trailhead, so be prepared for detours and watch for heavy equipment.

A brochure and map are available at the trailhead. Before coming, check to find out whether the trail is open as trails in the foothills are often closed to prevent erosion when it’s muddy.

For a longer hike, cross Geer Canyon Road and continue on the Grindstone Quarry Trail (see the October Nature Walk, Oct. 21).

To protect wildlife, dogs are not permitted.

If you go

Highlights: Historic schoolhouse, ranching relics, wildlife, grasslands, forest

Distance: 0.9 miles one-way

Difficulty: Easy

Access: Turn west from US 36 onto Left Hand Canyon. In about a mile, turn right onto Geer Canyon Road. Corral Trailhead is a very short distance up Geer Canyon Road, on the left. The Altona School is just beyond Geer Canyon Road on the right side of Left Hand Canyon.

Ruth Carol and Glenn Cushman are the authors of Boulder Hiking Trails, published by West Margin Press.

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.