It’s 5:00 PM in Boulder, Colorado. The Flatirons split the late-afternoon sunlight, covering the city in a hazy hue. As thousands exit their offices, they head for trails only 15-minutes away. The streets are jammed as many try to get that last coveted parking spot at the trailhead. Boulder, one of the worlds outdoor meccas, is filled to the brim with world-class hiking, biking, and climbing, just mere minutes of downtown. From the gentle to the strenuous and technical, the city has dozens of short trails that appease every type of difficulty and style. Here are some of the best after work hikes in Boulder.
Easy: Flatirons Vista Trail (3.5 Miles)
Set in the plains between Boulder and Golden, the Flatirons Vista Trail offers a breathtaking panorama of Boulder’s iconic Flatirons on a dog-friendly trail that hosts bikers, runners, and hikers alike. The Flatirons are at their best in the late afternoon and one can see all the way to Eldorado Canyon. The loop steadily rises up a short grade then flattens out for a mile before bending due south through a forested grove of fir, which gives off a wonderful scent especially in the early spring. The flat graveled surface than gives way to a more rudimentary dirt path as it turns east for another mile and a half back to the parking lot. For a longer and more moderate hike, connect with the Doudy Draw and Marshall Mesa Trail for a trek back to South Boulder.
Easy: Flatiron Loop Trail (2.1 Miles)
Starting from Chautauqua Park and it’s magnificent Flatiron panorama, the Flatiron Loop Trail cuts across the Third and Second Flatiron to a scree field that looks across the plains, with Denver seen on a clear day. The trailhead starts at the Bluebell Trail, which steadily ascends uphill past the Bluebell Shelter before following the signs for the Second and Third Flatiron Climbing Access Trails. After getting a close-up view of the formations, cut through the boulders, another popular after-work climbing spot, and head downhill towards the Chautauqua Park Ranger Station. Along the way, there are a number of side trails and moderate uphill options to access nearby peaks or climb the trail to the top of the Second Flatiron.
Moderate: Mt. Sanitas (3.1 Miles)
Set in the foothills just outside of Downtown Boulder, Mt. Sanitas is one of Boulder’s most classic trails, featuring a moderate to difficult climb across a steadily rising trail that arrives at a summit overlooking the city with Denver in the background and the Flatirons majestically rising into the south. The trail starts by climbing a rugged and steadily ascending west ridge with spectacular views of the city below. About a mile in, hikers get a great view across to Sunshine Canyon and the hills to the west. Just before the summit, the trail briefly takes a steep rise, as hikers climb over small, uneven rock ledges before making their way to the rocky top. The viewpoint gives access to one of the best panoramic views of Chautauqua Park, Green and Bear Mountain, and the entire city below. Mt. Sanitas is one of Boulder’s most beloved hikes.
Moderate: Royal Arch (3.2 Miles)
This Boulder icon soars above the city, offering one of the most spectacular vistas in the Boulder peaks. Starting at the Chautauqua Rangers Station, the trail veers south gently rising along the Bluebell Trail. The trail winds through a pine-strewn forest while climbing a grassy hill and across a barren boulder-laden stream. Across the stream, the trail steepens through a series of talus fields and stone steps. To the right, the Flatirons appear in profile, and in the summer, the late afternoon sunset paints them in an almost gold-like hue. The trails weave through high forest ledges and down some tricky minor scrambles, before ascending once more to the sandstone Royal Arch. Stand under the arch and enjoy the sweeping eastern plains and the city of Denver in the distance. For those who are brave enough to climb the east face of the arch and make your way to the top.
Difficult: Green Mountain via Saddle Rock (4.9 Miles)
Green Mountain rises prominently above the Boulder skyline, with a staggeringly beautiful dual view of the Front Range to the West and the Eastern Plains down below. The trail leading up to the summit of Green is a calf-busting experience, which leads from Chautauqua, through a garden of boulders and sandstone walls, up to a steep and uneven stone staircase, and to the welcome flat top-out. Start in the meadows of Chautauqua and follow the Amphitheater Trail through the gently sloping meadows. While appearing mellow, the path soon takes a vicious turn in a section known as ‘the stairmaster’ with a difficult ascent up an uneven and rugged set of stone steps. The Amphitheater Trail intersects with saddle rock for a quick series of switchbacks, which lead to a last steep approach to the top. At the top, you have a view from both sides, plus a plaque that identifies the various peaks that are in view.
Difficult: Bear Peak via Fern Canyon (8.3 Miles)
While the trail up Bear Peak is considerably longer than the other trails we’ve listed, it’s too much of a Boulder Classic to leave out. Simply put, Bear Peak is quite possibly the best hike in Boulder, with a steep climb, a rocky scramble at the top, and views that can stretch all the way to Pikes Peak to the south. The trail starts from the NCAR Building and drops into the valley before twisting through dry streambeds and pine-laden forests. Suddenly the path takes an abrupt turn and the true climbing begins, with a grueling march through stone forests and steep switchbacks. Just as the climbing is getting tough, there is a brief respite at a saddle with views of the Front Range to the west and Green Mountain to the north. After the saddle, veer south and start the final climb up the ridge, through a forest with several sections of exposed trail. The ascent then emerges from the forest onto a rocky ridge, possibly one of the most thrilling experiences of hiking anywhere in Boulder, then traverses the bouldery summit to its high point, overlooking every other peak in Boulder, the Rockies, and the Eastern Plains.