IMAGE VIA @WKMAN30 | INSTAGRAM
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.
And if you are new to the hiking scene, here are a few general tips: start early (all trails get really crowded, especially on weekends), wear sunscreen (trust us), keep an eye on the sky (storms roll in pretty quickly), bring lots of water (like, more than you think you need), and leash and pick up after your dog (don’t be that guy).
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 the quarry. Make it happen; the quarry is an awesome spot for a pit stop. Prior hikers have arranged the large sandstone slabs into shapes of chairs, sofas, and tables (perfect feng shui). The downhill return connects back with the Mesa Trail to finish the loop. But if you’re jonesing for more mileage, take the Mesa Trail to Bluebell Road and connect with Bluebell-Baird Trail. Follow Bluebell-Baird north and then head east on Baseline Trail to get back to the trailhead.
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. It is a short, moderate hike for people of all abilities. Alert: the cave itself is now closed year-round to protect the bats in the cave from White-Nose Syndrome, a deadly disease for hibernating bats. The disease has yet to spread to Colorado, and we’d like to keep it that way.
If you haven’t tried this 3.5-mile out-and-back hike, you’ll learn at the summit why it is called the Royal Arch. It’s beautiful and unique. Totally Instagrammable. Be careful after rain or as snow melts though, this trail runs through shady Bluebell Canyon and can get quite muddy and slippery – trekking poles are helpful on this one. FYI: The narrowness and popularity of this trail can make it a little trickier for pups on busy days (weekends).
This out-and-back trail in Eldorado Canyon State Park is 3.5 miles one way with some moderate elevation gain. It is a solid, moderate hike with a bit more distance than Mallory Cave. And we should note the eastern half gets a little busy; stay on the western side if you really want to tune out. And for even more mileage, it can be linked to 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. Or you can opt for an annual Colorado state park pass for $70 (call it a health investment.)
Betasso promises breathtaking views without getting short of breath. To start your adventure, 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 (you know what we’d choose).
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. Adventurers welcome, the southern part of this trail is popular for bouldering and the summit offers amazing views both east and west. And get ready to feel the burn – you’ll gain about 1,300 in this three-mile loop. Your work’s not done though, the Sanitas Valley route down is steep and rocky, so your descent may be slower 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, the hike is about seven miles roundtrip and gains about 3,000 feet in elevation. It starts out moderately, but the last mile is a doozy – it’s 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, you may be a junkie. But Boulder loves outdoor junkies, so 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 certainly 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. Honestly, this stone stair climb is a swift kick to the you-know-what, but once you reach the summit, you’ll thank your behind for the climactic view. This is a perfect pre- or post-work hike.
There are a few different ways to tackle this peak, but if you’re looking for some intel, know that you’ve got options. Option 1: bypass the traffic near Chautauqua and head up Flagstaff to Realization Point. Option 2: just a four-minute drive beyond Realization Point is the trailhead for the western ridge of Green Mountain. 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. Yes, there’s signage throughout, but if this is unfamiliar territory, bring a map — 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, try this one on for size. With 7.5 miles of mountain bliss with views west of town, you’ll feel slightly more removed than some of Boulder’s more popular, neighboring hikes. Though, on the weekends, you’ll likely share the trail with some local mountain bikers and trail runners. This is also a popular place to fish, as 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.