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Foot to Earth: Boulder's Premiere and Pristine Hiking Trails



Boulder is known for its proximity to the great outdoors. Hiking, rock-climbing, mountain biking, and skiing are just a few of the outdoor activities that can be done within the Boulder city limits. As such, this active town takes pride in maintaining its pristine and intricate hiking trails. Chautauqua Park boasts a variety of trails that range from easy to strenuous and nearby Rocky Mountain National Park is a hikers heaven. Mt. Sanitas and Bear Peak sit toward the top of our list because of their challenging terrain and spectacular views. But before tackling these hikes, let's talk trails: the class ratings, what you need to bring, and how physically fit you need to be. 

Class 1: Easy-Moderate. These trails are typically flat with little elevation gain. You will need to be in descent physical condition. If you can climb a flight of stairs without getting winded, you should be just fine. 

Class 2: Moderate. Class 2 trails usually rise steadily and gradually. There will be considerable elevation gain over time. People who hike regularly and are acclimated to altitude will find these trails fairly simple where others may find them to be a challenge. 

Class 3: These trails are a challenge even for those who are accustomed altitude. Scrambling (using your hands for stability) may be required. 

No matter how easy the hike, taking water, rain gear, layers, and sturdy hiking boots is essential. Remember when hiking in altitude that there are sudden weather changes and always tell someone where you are going and when you'll return.

Hike safe, and hike on! 


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Flagstaff Mountain

This famous 2.5 miles loop allows for an easy-moderate hike with splendid views. Perfect for visitors who haven't yet acclimated to the altitude, young children, and those who just aren't particularly fond of long hikes but want to get out and enjoy the great Boulder outdoors. The trailhead can be accessed through Realization Point which is located about 3 miles up Flagstaff Road. Parking is available. On your hike, expect to see sweeping views of the Boulder foothills and valley. You can also venture to the Continental Divide Lookout where you'll enjoy views of the CD in all it's splendor.




13.4 miles of trail connecting Eldorado Canyon to Chautauqua park offers access to multiple trailheads and a variety of terrain. Start out at the Chautauqua Trailhead and end up at the South Boulder Peak trailhead. If you don't want to double your efforts and hike all the way back from whence you game, it is advised to have a friend leave a vehicle at the SB trailhead or pick you up to return to you vehicle in town. At 3,250ft of elevation gain over several miles, this is a moderate-strenuous hike that gains more gradually than, say, Bear Peak or Sanitas. However, endurance is key.




Red Rocks trail can be accessed from the Centennial Trailhead in North Boulder and sits just across Mapleton from the Mt. Sanitas trailhead. For those who aren't up for significant elevation gain but could use a brisk hike with great views and some iconic rocks. this is the hike for you. Short, sweet, and easily accessed from the trailhead parking lot, this hike is perfect for visitors who are still acclimating to the altitude, children, and folks who haven't done much cardio recently. Known for the giant monolithic red sandstone rocks that tower over the trail, this is a perfect place to stop for a picnic, scenic view of Boulder and, if you're daring, scramble and climb the Class 4 ( an unroped fall would not necessarily kill you but it would probably hurt real good) rocks for awesome views of the foothills, Mt. Sanitas, and Green Mountain.


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With more than 1,000 acres of land, this park is a favorite site for hiking and horseback riding on 10 beautiful miles of trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The park's 850-foot sandstone canyon wall is popular with world-class rock climbers. Fish for rainbow trout in the park's streams or enjoy a relaxing lunch at the picnic area along the creek at the bottom of the canyon. The Visitor's Center includes exhibits and displays about the geological formations in the canyon and the history of the park, not to mention the trails give hikers a breathtaking view of the canyon as they switchback up rocky ridges.




This 5 ( and come change) miles hike starts at an elevation of 5,856ft and tops out at 8,144ft making for a whopping 2, 288ft of elevation gain over about 21/2 miles. Not for the faint of heart ( but certainly no 14er either) Green Mountain offers hiking enthusiasts a great workout, climbs through lush greenery, and an unrivaled view of Boulder Valley, Indiana Peak Wilderness, and Rocky Mountain National Park to the west. Gregory Canyon Trailhead is your starting point for this out-and-back experience. Though you'll avoid scree ( medium to large sized boulders that must be scrambled across), the trail does shoot up in a few places, so be sure to wear supportive hiking boots with excellent grip.


Chautauqua Park
Photo courtesy of © 2014 City of Boulder Parks & Recreation


This meadow-like foothills park is ideal for a lazy afternoon with a book, a family picnic, bird watching, or a vigorous hike on numerous trails that will suit any skill level. The hiking trails take you into the Flatirons and the Bluebell Shelter or the top of Flagstaff Mountain. A century old community center occupies the middle of the park. Numerous lectures and musical performances are scheduled, including the Colorado Music Festival, which is held each summer. The Royal-Arch and Green Mountain hikes are not-to-be-missed but should only be attempted if you're in good shape, have plenty of water, and have had a few days to acclimate to Boulder's altitude.


Mt. Sanitas


This 3.1 mile moderate to strenuous trail will lead you to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful summits overlooking all of Boulder Valley. Sanitas, which is Latin for health, wellbeing, and clarity of mind, is the perfect day hike whether you're wanting to work out, relax, or just be with nature. For a strenuous workout, take the trail at a fast pace and power to the top. For a more laid back approach, the Sanitas Valley Trail ambles gently along until it shoots up to the summit at the end of the hike. This mountain has several false summits, so be sure to pack a good lunch, plenty of water, and keep truckin' up the trail. Your effort will be worth the view.




The highlight of the 415-square mile park is the Trail Ridge Road. Travel 50 spectacular miles over Trail Ridge Road, the nation's longest continuous road at such a high altitude, and experience incomparable changes in climate, vegetation, and eco-zones. Witness panoramic views of mountain ranges and peaks and close-ups of deer and elk grazing, bighorn sheep, birds, and other indigenous critters. If you're camping, stop off at Moraine campground that boasts a crystal clear view of the Rockies from almost any site, bathrooms, and easy access to hiking. The Cub Lake trail is moderate and perfect for travelers who have yet to acclimate to the high altitude. Pack a camera and get ready to take some amazing shots of pristine creeks, mountain lakes, and wildlife including majestic elk.




Though Bear Peak can be accessed from several different points, the Mesa Trail is one of the best access points and provides you with a grueling 12.7 miles of switchbacks, scenic canyons and, at the top, views of the Rocky Mountains and Indiana Peaks wilderness. With a total elevation gain 3,075t and a max elevation of 8,461ft, this mountain is not for the unfit or faint of heart. Cardio-vascular health is a must, along with strong legs and a willingness to push forward. Be sure to bring plenty of water and proper footwear. Remember: The rewards of the hike are well-worth your efforts.



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Meet Hope Gately

Hope Gately should have a bumper sticker proclaiming "Not a Native...But I Got Here as Fast as I Could!" A transplant from the Midwest, Hope has fallen in love with Colorado's mountains playing...  More About Hope

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