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Off Trail Permits

Welcome to the City of Boulder Habitat Conservation Area Off-Trail Permit Program

Off-Trail permits are available for the Western Mountain Parks, Eldorado Mountain and Southern Grasslands HCAs.

Be Advised: You are responsible for knowing and complying with all trail and area closures. Please view the current wildlife closures map to see if the off-trail area you are interested in visiting is closed for wildlife protection. 

What is the Off-Trail Permit Program?

The Off-Trail Permit Program allows visitors to obtain a free permit to travel off of designated trails in Habitat Conservation Areas (HCAs). This program was adopted as part of the 2005 Visitor Master Plan to protect high quality habitat areas where trail density is low.

Do I need an off-trail permit?

You need to have an off-trail permit with you if you hike off of a designated trail in an HCA. You can travel on designated trails in HCAs without a permit.

You may also access some climbs without an off-trail permit. Maps and a list of climbs that require a permit are listed under Climbing Access Maps and Routes.

Closures may affect when off-trail permits for specific areas will be available. You are not allowed to bring dogs off-trail with an off-trail permit. Bicycling is only allowed on certain designated trails. 

Registering for an off-trail permit is quick and easy!

  1. Read and agree to the rules and travel guidelines below.
  2. Review the HCA map and select the HCA you would like to visit.
  3. Select the sub-area(s) you would like to visit and submit your activity and trip detail information.
  4. Verify your trip details.
  5. Enter additional registration information.
  6. Print your permit or save the PDF and carry it with you on the day of your off-trail activity.

Off Trail Permit Terms and Conditions

  • You are required to carry a valid off-trail permit for any activity occurring off of designated trails in a Habitat Conservation Area (HCA).
  • Off-trail permits are valid for one day only.
  • Off-trail permits are valid for one HCA. If you are visiting more than one HCA, a separate permit is required for each HCA.
  • You are responsible for knowing when and where closures apply.
  • Dog walking is not an allowed off-trail permit activity. Bicyclists must remain on designated trails that are open to bikes.
  • Overall group size limit is 16.
  • Permit holder must read, agree to, and communicate these rules (terms and conditions) and low impact guidelines to group members.

Things to Know: Off-Trail Permit Low Impact Guidelines

Follow these low impact guidelines to reduce your impact on the land and wildlife.

Know Before You Go

  • Communicate requirements to other group members.
  • If possible, travel in small groups of six or fewer. Smaller groups tend to be less disruptive than larger groups.

Disperse Your Use

  • Disperse your use when traveling off-trail. When possible, travel on durable surfaces including rock, sand, gravel or ground litter such as needle cast or dry grass. Please avoid leafy plants and wet areas including shorelines, wetlands and streamside corridors. If you encounter an undesignated trail, please do not use it. If an official or emergency vehicle access exists, please use it.

Trash Your Trash

  • Remove and dispose of any seeds or mud containing seeds on your socks or shoes before entering natural lands. Please dispose seeds or mud in a trash can to prevent the spread of invasive weeds.
  • Pack out all litter, including scraps, peels and fruit cores. Even biodegradable materials take years to break down and attract scavengers that harm other wildlife.
  • Don't leave ribbons, cairns or signs of your passing. Don't prune shrubs to ease your passage.
  • No restrooms are available. Reduce your impact by using restroom before entering the HCA.

Leave It as You Find It

  • Leave rocks, plants and cultural artifacts as you find them.

Keep Wildlife Wild

  • Don't approach or disturb wildlife. Give wildlife time to move on.
  • Avoid streamside corridors.
  • Avoid and minimize nighttime activities from one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.

Respect Other Visitors

  • Let nature's sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises. Keep cell phones and electronic devices turned down, off or on "vibrate."

Off-Trail Permit Notices and Reminders

Eldorado Mountain HCA Bull Gulch area

The Eldorado Mountain HCA off-trail permit Subarea 6 includes the Bull Gulch drainage. This area offers exceptional habitat to a variety of wildlife that are rare on OSMP lands and are sensitive to human activity. Some of these include elk, wild turkey, grouse, black bears and mountain lions. To better protect wildlife use of this area, we ask that off-trail permit holders voluntarily avoid the Bull Gulch Area (Subarea 6). OSMP will be monitoring this sub-area to address future decisions on balancing visitor-use and wildlife protection.

Private Roads

Some private roads, such as Bison Drive, border Open Space and Mountain Parks property but are not open to the public. Private roads are reserved for residents and emergency vehicles, and are not open to the public for driving or hiking. Off trail permits do not grant access to private roads.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why are off-trail permits required in Habitat Conservation Areas?

Habitat Conservation Areas (HCAs) are large areas of habitat and naturally functioning ecosystems with few trails. The management goal for HCAs is to help minimize impacts to these sensitive areas while maintaining a quality visitor experience. The off-trail permit program helps to manage access and promote low-impact activities in HCAs.

Is an off-trail permit required for activities in HCAs?

Yes, if you would like to travel off designated trails in HCAs you will need to obtain a permit to do so. A permit is not required for activities that remain on designated trails.

What is considered "off-trail"?

Activities occurring off a designated trail in a HCA require an off-trail permit. A visitor is considered "off-trail" if he or she travels off an OSMP-designated trail or designated climbing access. Unavoidable and incidental activities (for example, answering nature's call, yielding to a horse, avoiding a hazard on the trail, resting or eating "beside" the trail) are generally not considered "off-trail."

Going off-trail for lunch, to find a quiet spot, or to reach an overlook is considered off-trail. Activities that require an off-trail permit include climbing, hiking, photography, running and bird watching. Rangers will determine the need for a permit based on the specific intent and circumstance of a visitor being off-trail.

How long will it take to get my off-trail permit?

It will take about 10 minutes to apply online and print your permit.

How much does an off-trail permit cost?

Nothing. There is no charge for off-trail permits.

How long is an off-trail permit valid?

It is valid for one day - the day specified on the permit.

How does OSMP administer popular areas?

OSMP retains the ability to limit access to popular HCAs.

Can I renew my current off-trail permit for a later date?

No, you will need to apply for a new permit for each day you plan to travel off-trail in an HCA.

What if my plans change after I get my permit?

If your planned trip has not occurred, apply for a new permit and call OSMP at 303-441-3440 or email [email protected] to delete your existing permit. If your visit has occurred, call OSMP to correct your information.

Why aren't dogs allowed off-trail in HCAs?

HCAs are ecologically sensitive areas and off-trail dogs may disturb the ecosystem.

Why are agricultural activities allowed in HCAs?

Preserving agricultural land and uses is part of OSMP's charter. Some HCAs allow limited grazing or other agricultural activities as a traditional use of a property that is part of a larger HCA.