“A fantastic network of trails for beginners, or any rider looking for a mellow MTB cruise.
— Michael Ahnemann
This ride links several different trail networks to allow a rider to travel from Gunbarrel, through Niwot, and over to Longmont, all on dirt trails. It's great for an easy cruise, or for a fun way to link these neighboring towns without riding on the road.
This is not a challenging ride - all of the paths are smooth, man-made bike paths. But it's almost all dirt, with only a couple very short sections of pavement. It's great for beginners, but enjoyable for advanced riders as well - a perfect recovery ride!
Several sections of this trail offer great views of the front range, looking over large fields of corn and cow pastures.
Need to Know
It's possible to get to several breweries, pubs, and restaurants in all three towns this ride touches, all on bike paths. You can link up with the Longmont paved bike path network, including the St. Vrain Greenway trail.
A cross bike might be the ideal weapon for this trail system, especially if you plan to link up with the Longmont paved paths. But the trails are entertaining on a mountain bike as well.
As you'll see on the map, there are several parking spots and trailheads - one could start this ride from any of the three towns it touches. But the ride as shown starts at a small trailhead at Lookout Rd. and 75th St.
You'll start at a sign for the Cottontail trail - one of the few signs you'll see along the way, as some sections of trail aren't marked particularly well. But the trails are well-maintained and very obvious, so you're unlikely to find yourself too far off course.
Follow the trail towards Niwot, and stay right after the bridge to wind your way down underneath Highway 52. Stay right again at the junction just after crossing underneath the highway, and you'll pop out to N 79th St. There's another trailhead here, for those wanting to start in Niwot.
From here, you'll find yourself on the Niwot Trail. The trail is unofficially divided into an upper and lower section, and this ride will take you up a bit of a climb, past some large Niwot mansions, and onto the upper section of trail. You'll loop around the houses in a subdivision called Legend Ridge and make another right to head downhill towards Niwot Rd. and Niwot high school.
Don't let the description of subdivisions and mansions fool you - the whole time you'll see expansive views of the front range, and the trail feels quite rural.
You'll then cross Niwot Rd. and follow the trail behind the high school, then down a hill through another subdivision. You'll eventually pop out on 83rd St. Cross the street and make a right to stay on the dirt trail, and this trail will take you to a newer section of the LoBo (Longmont-Boulder) trail towards Longmont.
The trail turns right and runs alongside the Diagonal Highway. Once again, despite the location of the trail, the scenery is fantastic. Here, you'll have views of the foothills to your left, and farmland to your right. You might even pass close enough to reach out and touch cows grazing in the fields there.
Eventually you'll end up in Longmont at 95th St. Follow the paved path heading east to join up with the St. Vrain Greenway. Or to complete this ride, return the way you came. But when you get back to 83rd street, you'll follow the path along 83rd back to Niwot Rd. From here you can stay right to get on the lower part of the Niwot Loop. You'll cross back over N 79th St. a little closer to the center of Niwot this time, and eventually loop back under Highway 52 to reconnect with the Cottontail trail.
Finally, you'll stay right on the Cottontail trail to head towards Gunbarrel. The ride ends back on Lookout road, but about 1/2 mile West from where you started, very near the Gunbarrel shopping center.
History & Background
Many of these trail sections have been built over the past several years in an effort to build a trail network that will one day link Boulder to Longmont all on trails (The LoBo trail system). New sections of trail are added every year, and signage seems to be slowly improving as well.