“An intermediate/difficult, quiet run (save a few mountain bikers) that features an abandoned 1950s-era school bus.”
— Joe Holvey
Birding · Fall Colors · Spring · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
School Bus Loop is an intermediate/difficult 12.6 mile run with stunning mountain vistas, quiet wooded sections, and subalpine meadows rife with wildflowers. This run functions as a great alternative to those found closer to Boulder. Although slightly challenging, one is rewarded with a great view of the Indian Peaks around 1.2 miles into the run (a good lunch or snack spot), and a spectacular meadow at mile 4. The run derives its name from the abandoned school bus that can be found between miles 6.5 and 7.
This run also sees relatively low traffic, so it is likely you'll have it to yourself, although you may encounter a few mountain bikers. It is quite easy to get turned around on this loop, so it is wise to have a trail description or the Trail Run Project mobile app
Need to Know
A spooky, abandoned 1950s era school bus is located between 6.5 and 7 miles, lending the run its name. The Sundance Cafe is a great spot to grab a bite to eat following the run, or a quick coffee to fuel up beforehand!
School Bus Loop is a great place for an intermediate/difficult trail run. With a significant amount of climbing, expect your legs to be pumped but endorphins to be high! Bring some water and a light snack to avoid bonking. There are a couple stream crossings with water flowing as late as Labor Day weekend, if you plan to filter mid-run.
Note: There are numerous spurs and side trails not shown on the map or covered in this description, which can make navigating difficult if you are new to the area. The trail map in the photo (from the trailhead) doesn't have all the trails of this run shown between the YMCA gate and the school bus (during the biggest ascent). Here the National Forest Service road 355
refers to 355C
during the early part of the run through the campsites.
Parking is available on CR 132 West
, directly across from Magnolia Road.
Follow CR 132 West
for approximately 1/2 mile, and look for an electrical box on your left. 10 yards past the electrical box, the run begins on a trail named Re-Root #927
. It is smooth and mellow with a few roots thrown in as you run through the trees. After about 5-10 minutes of running, you'll descend to a small creek rife with aspen trees, and with a slightly loose wooden crossing. Immediately after the crossing, the terrain becomes rooted and rocky for the next 50 yards.
After this slightly more technical portion, the trail becomes refreshingly smooth singletrack that emerges in a meadow with spectacular views of the Indian Peaks. This is a great spot to take a snack or water break, either on the way in or out (you'll pass this point twice). Continue on this trail, and it will appear to end on a 355
just south of CR 132 West
Follow this smaller road for approximately 1/2 mile, and turn left to remain on it. This road is largely open with great views of the surrounding mountains. Continue straight for another 1/2 mile until the road ends at an intersection (near the YMCA Camp Ora-Penn). The trail is immediately to your left, across the road. This next section is Lost Meadow #355
From this point, the trail becomes loose and rocky for about 300 yards. After the rocky section, the trail opens up at the top of the hill. Stay left to remain on the trail. Follow for approximately 1/4 to 1/2 mile, and stay right at the fork to continue climbing. Follow this trail for the next 1 1/2 miles.
After the first mile of this stretch, the trail opens up to a gorgeous meadow that is filled with wildflowers in early to mid-summer, and patches of aspen. Following the meadow, the climb becomes steep and features an abundance of roots. Exercise caution as the roots may be wet and slippery.
Once the climb tops out, you'll descend and meet 503
. Stay left and follow the road for approximately 1/4 mile. The trail continues just down the hill to your right in the form of the School Bus Cut-off
. This can be difficult to see and easy to miss. Head left and then follow this section until a wooden barricade blocks your passage, and turn left to climb up through a tight aspen grove.
After about another mile crossing a dirt road and many private property signs telling to to stay on the trail, the reason for the run's name becomes apparent (if you look for it). A small shoot-off trail leads to an abandoned 1950s-era school bus. Be careful when exploring this area, as there may be broken glass and other sharp objects. (If you have trouble finding the bus, watch for a rock outcropping just off the trail where there is a sharp right switchback and steep descent. There are several little trails to the bus/ old cabin, all on the right hand side when heading in this direction.)
Follow this trail for another 3/4 mile, and the trail intersects with the dirt road 355
. To your right, the trail leads to a sign detailing the routes in the area. Follow the trails named Hobbit 1 #927
and Hobbit 2 #927
, although you start on Hobbit 2 #927
. Both Hobbit trails are relatively loose and rocky, so mind your ankles.
Stay on the trail as you cross two Forest Service roads, and meet the first trail of the run: Re-Root #927
. Follow Re-Root #927
the way you came to arrive back at the parking area.
Flora & Fauna
Lodgepole and ponderosa pine are abundant, with touches of blue spruce and aspen lining portions of the trail. Indian Paintbrush can be seen in the summer/fall. Keep an eye out for deer and plenty of Abert's squirrels. Occasional mountain lion sightings, so check signage for notices.