Boulder’s Best After Work Hikes

Chautauqua Park ColoradoIt’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.