UPDATED OCT 4, 2019
You won’t struggle to find hiking options in Boulder, but the massive amount of options might be overwhelming. Wondering where to start? We’re here to help. So, load up that pack and get started with a few trails from our list to experience some of the best in Colorado.
The Woods Quarry Trail is a mild 2.9-mile loop that starts in Chautauqua Park. It follows the McClintock Trail to Enchanted Mesa and heads uphill to an old stone cabin. At the cabin, you’re about halfway through and will start a short, steep climb to a quarry that makes the perfect pit stop. Prior hikers have arranged the large sandstone slabs into shapes of chairs, sofas, and tables. The downhill return connects back with the Mesa Trail to finish the loop. But for more mileage, you can take the Mesa Trail to Bluebell Road and connect with Bluebell-Baird Trail.
This hike starts out at the NCAR Trailhead, and there is plenty of parking in the NCAR lot. It is only 2.5 miles round-trip but gains about 1,000 feet. This short, moderate hike is great for people of all abilities. As of July 2019, the cave itself is closed year-round to protect the bats in the cave from White-Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease for hibernating bats.
This 3.5-mile roundtrip hike is a a great way to spend an afternoon. Once you reach the summit of this hike, you’ll see why it's called the Royal Arch. However, after rain or snow, this trail can get quite muddy and slippery as it runs through Bluebell Canyon – trekking poles are helpful on this one. While dogs are welcome on this trail, its narrowness and popularity can make it a little trickier for pups during the crowded weekends.
This out-and-back trail in Eldorado Canyon State Park is 3.5 miles each way with some moderate elevation gain. It is a solid, moderate hike with a bit more distance than Mallory Cave. Be aware that the eastern half gets a little busy, so stay on the western side if you prefer a more tranquil hike. If you find yourself wanting to hike farther, you can break off the Walker Ranch Trail. Remember that all trails in state parks will require you to pay the park entrance fee, usually $7-9 per vehicle.
To start your adventure at Betasso, head up Boulder Canyon to Sugarloaf Road. The two loops here double as hiking and biking trails but are strictly for hikers on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We recommend sticking to these days, as there are many blind turns and the trail rides fast. If you’ve got some time on your hands, connect the two trails by hiking from the upper lot and heading clockwise. At the junction, you’ll be presented with the option to extend your travels on the Benjamin Loop or head back to the upper lot.
A Boulder classic, start the Mt. Sanitas Trail at the Centennial Trailhead. Parking is available at the trailhead on the south side of Mapleton Avenue. The southern part of this trail is popular for bouldering, and the summit offers amazing views, both east and west that make the rough ascent worth it. The descent down Sanitas Valley route is steep and rocky as well and may take longer than you think.
Everyone recognizes the Flatirons as a symbol of Boulder, so why not explore them by foot? The Flatirons are numbered in order from north to south, so the first two are the furthest right when looking at them from Boulder. Start at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead and catch the Bluebell-Baird Trail to connect with the first and second Flatiron trail. To avoid the fee at Gregory Canyon lot, take the shuttle to Chautauqua and connect to the trail via Bluebell-Baird or Bluebell Mesa.
The South Boulder Peak hike can start at the Chautauqua Trailhead, the NCAR Trailhead, or at the South Mesa Trailhead. Starting from the South Mesa Trailhead makes the hike about seven miles roundtrip and gains about 3,000 feet in elevation. It starts out moderately, but the last mile is quite steep with difficult terrain. Heads up on parking: the South Mesa Trailhead has a decent lot, but there is a $5 fee for any car not registered in Boulder County.
If South Boulder Peak isn’t enough for you, link it with neighboring Bear Peak. Like South Boulder, this is a difficult hike with substantial elevation gain and technical terrain. The last 300-foot stretch to the summit requires some scrambling across an exposed ridge, but the amazing views are a generous reward.
Flagstaff Mountain has a reputation amongst cyclists for putting lungs to the test. But this steep ascent isn’t just for two wheels. While it’s not the toughest hike in Boulder, this short but sweet climb will make you work. The trail starts at the junction of Flagstaff Road and Baseline and zig-zags up the east side of Flagstaff through boulders and pine trees.
There are a few different ways to tackle this peak. You can bypass the traffic near Chautauqua and head up Flagstaff to Realization Point. Otherwise, you'll find the trailhead for the western ridge of Green Mountain just a four-minute drive beyond Realization Point. Both trails are solid options, especially on the weekend when foot traffic from the east is high. There isn’t any dramatic elevation gain from this angle, but there’s potential to more than double your mileage by linking Green Mountain and Bear Peak. There’s signage throughout, but bring a map as you’ll see far less people on this trail to ask for directions.
Looking for a good alternative to the Boulder classic out-and-back? If you’re looking for a moderate loop with little elevation but big gains in scenic vistas, Walker Ranch is the perfect option. With 7.5 miles of mountain bliss and views west of town, you’ll feel slightly more removed than some of Boulder’s more popular, neighboring hikes. However, this is also a popular place to fish since the trail winds up the side of a steep bank along a creek. Our advice? Head clockwise for better footing up and down on some of the steeper sections.