“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”
Rudyard Kipling, “If”
Heaps of climbing and eclectic terrain hallmark White Ranch trail running. White Ranch is comprised of amiably rolling trails on the top floor with various staircases to get there from the lower lot. En route you’ll encounter a dry dessert environment down low that transitions to flowery Ponderosa Pine fringed meadows up high.
Here are the basics. You can park at the lower lot, a 10 minute drive from Golden (the hardened trail runner way), or drive way up Golden Gate Canyon and park at the upper lot (the dilettante’s plush access point of choice). The lower lot saves 20 minutes of driving. I believe that, with this particular trail design, you have to earn your high meadow trails by putting in some sweat equity to get up there. With Centennial Cone it’s a real drive to get to either lot so I personally prefer the upper lot but with this one you are basically already at the lower lot if you’re coming from town so why not just park there.
Starting from the lower lot on Belcher Hill Trail you’ll pass an ensemble of mega mansions. The trail here can be dry and busy with other trail users. After steadily climbing a mile to the north, the trail flips back south starting it’s zig zag ascent. The ascent is damn hard and you’ll sound like an asthmatic Bulldog by the time you reach the annoying loose rock section halfway up. My preferred way to the top is, once that rocky section starts, take a right onto Longhorn, then a left on Shorthorn, then a left back onto Longhorn which brings you to the high trails. Basically, what you’ve gloriously achieved with this brilliant Magellanesque route is split the climb into two sections, with a really nice 1.5 mile traverse in between. BAM, take that you miserable Belcher Hill climb.
Then, once you climb up Longhorn a ways, then you’re at the plateau up top where a bunch of trails are. You’ll curse me for calling it a plateau as there’s a slew of punishing 5 minute punchy climbs up there but basically it’s all little ups and downs at around the same elevation. My favorite two trails are Rawhide and Mustang which sit a opposing sides of the trail system from each other. They both get into some scenic and lush pockets where you feel like you’re in British Columbia for ten seconds.
Some other small notes. I don’t recommend getting to the top via Whippletree directly into Longhorn. Runners have basically ceded that lower Longhorn section to mountain bikers. This makes sense since it’s a bad ass mountain bike descent with some fun drops and those drops aren’t much fun to clamber up on foot anyways. If you do want to run it then go all in and take every single right turn you encounter to run the entire perimeter of White Ranch, what I call White Ranch Climbzilla. Strava will go wild when you pop that GPS loose.
I’ve seen some bad hombre snakes on the lower trails. Once, I nearly ran into a super agro rattler that wouldn’t stand down and made me bushwack a ways around it. I’ve also seen a rattler hide under the stairs on Belcher. That’s a scary thought – one of those serpents hiding in the shade waiting to pounce on our skinny little runner ankles. Shudder. I’ve also seen a five footer bull snake on the trail just after the stairs. Other than that, In my many runs there I’ve seen turkeys, bear scat, and deer. Enjoy.