Favorite Boulder Hiking Trails

Boulder hiking trails are numerous. As always, I'm including pictures and descriptions for each hike.

And speaking of that, would you like to add your own description of a hiking trail in Boulder that you like? Or write a trail review of any trail in Boulder? If so, you can click here to jump down to the form where you can do that.

One of the nice things about Boulder hiking trails is that for the most part, dogs are allowed. Some trails even let your dog be off leash if you have registered for the City of Boulder Voice and Sight Dog Tag Program.

Otherwise, just keep your dog on a leash and he or she will still be happy to be on the hike with you.

And speaking of dogs, do you need a dog friendly place to stay while you're in Boulder? If so, you can use the below Booking.com search box, which I'm partnering with. Just type "Boulder, Colorado" into the destination box, then put the dates you want into those boxes, and click "search". On the page that shows the various properties, just filter the results for "pets allowed". And if you'd like to see Boulder, but would prefer some cheaper hotel options, try Louisville or Longmont, which are just a short distance away, and generally less expensive.

Mt. Sanitas trail, Boulder, Colorado

Some of the wildlife that you might see on Boulder hiking trails includes Abert's squirrels, fox, coyote, mule deer, black bear, and mountain lions, among others. I've seen foxes, coyote, and mule deer, but have not yet seen black bears or mountain lions. Even so, I know they live in this area because I've seen lots of evidence of black bears, and I've heard stories about mountain lions so keep an eye out for them.

If you like waterfalls, (and most of us do), you should go visit Boulder Falls. It's a short and fairly easy hike to a falls that delivers a lot of spray in the early part of the summer. It's free to go see it and it's located just outside Boulder, in Boulder Canyon. Also, it's the only trail, (of many Boulder hiking trails), that leads to a waterfall.

A few Boulder hiking trails charge a fee to people who are not residents of Boulder County. The Tenderfoot Loop Trail on Flagstaff Mountain is one such trail and it charges a $5.00 fee. So, where necessary, I will let you know if there is a fee, and if so, how much.

Boulder Hiking Trails

Scenery along the Tenderfoot Loop Trail, Boulder

Tenderfoot Loop Trail
Trailhead-Realization Point
Roundtrip distance-2.5 miles
Difficulty level-easy to moderate
Approximate roundtrip hiking time-1 hour and 15 minutes;
Restroom facilities-no
Elevation-6,785 feet at the trailhead;
Dogs-leashed or under voice and sight control;
Fee-yes, $5.00 per day

Directions to Realization Point: from Chautauqua Park in Boulder, follow Baseline Road west. (It merges into Flagstaff Road.) Drive 3.4 miles up Flagstaff Road and look for the sign for Realization Point on your right. It's hard to see the sign from the road so it's best to look at your odometer to know when you're almost there.

Once you find Realization Point, there isn't much parking. I didn't count but I'm estimating that there's room for maybe six or seven cars. There is also another small parking area on the other side of the road from Realization Point.

Anyway, this Boulder hiking trail starts out just beyond the picnic tables that you'll see at the trailhead. Look for the little sign that says Tenderfoot trail. From there, you'll head downhill through a thinly wooded area. In some spots, you'll be able to look through the trees and see the Indian Peaks.

Before long, you'll be out of the trees and in an area where you'll have wide-open views of the mountains. Then you'll come to a short spur trail called the Divide Overlook Trail. If you want, you can follow that short trail to its end for a different view of the Continental Divide. Otherwise, just stay on the main trail to continue the loop.

You'll soon come to a fire road which will start climbing after a short while. But it's not a steep climb and besides that, you'll be in the trees again so if it happens to be a warm day when you go, you'll have the shade of the forest. Just continue on your way and before you know it, you'll be back to the parking area and your car. If you brought a lunch, you can eat it at one of those picnic tables.

Sandstone rock formation along the Mt. Sanitas trail, Boulder

Mount Sanitas Loop Trail
Trailhead-Mount Sanitas
Roundtrip distance-3.1 miles
Difficulty level-moderate to difficult;
Approximate one-way hiking time-1 hour and 30 minutes to summit;
Restroom facilities-no
Elevation-6,863 feet at the summit;
Dogs-leashed or under voice and sight control;

Directions to Mount Sanitas Trailhead: in Boulder, follow Broadway, (CO 93), to Mapleton Ave. and turn west. Drive about 5 blocks and just beyond the Mapleton Medical Center, start looking on your right for the sign that says Mt. Sanitas Trailhead. It's easy to spot and there are maybe 10-12 parking spaces here. If you don't find a space here, there is also a smaller parking area a short ways before the trailhead on the right side of the road.

The Mt. Sanitas trail is a very popular Boulder hiking trail that's close to town and provides a good workout. Bring plenty of water for this one! It starts out steep and rocky, and the first portion is probably the steepest. Once you get past that part, it gets a little easier and the scenery gets better with views of Boulder on one side, and partial views of the mountains on the other.

Also, you'll start seeing some of the sandstone rock formations in various spots along the trail. There are several places along the way where you might think you're almost to the summit, but you'll soon see you're not, so just keep pushing on. The last part of the trail to the top passes through a wooded area so at least you'll have some shade.

Once you reach the summit, you'll see various boulders where you can sit, rest, and take in the views all around you. Although this Boulder hiking trail can be done as a loop by following the East Ridge trail down the other side of the mountain, I recommend, (unless you really want a challenge), that you go back down the way you came.

This is because the East Ridge trail is steeper than the Mt. Sanitas trail. It's also rocky and includes some loose rock as well as some scrambling over rocks. At one point, the trail seems to disappear and unless you know the correct place to go, (straight and then left through the large rocks), you can easily go the wrong direction. So, I leave it up to you. :-)

Wildflowers along the Mesa trail, Boulder

South Mesa, Big Bluestem, and Towhee Loop Trail
Trailhead-Mesa Trailhead
Roundtrip distance-3.7 miles
Difficulty level-easy to moderate
Approximate roundtrip hiking time-2 hours and 15 minutes;
Restroom facilities-yes, at the parking area
Elevation-6,520 feet at the highest point
Dogs-leashed or under voice and sight control;
Fee-yes, $5.00 per day

Directions to Mesa Trailhead: in Boulder, follow highway 93 south to Eldorado Springs Road, (Highway 170), and turn right onto it. Go about 1.6 miles and turn right at the sign for the Mesa Trailhead, which is well marked. Follow the short dirt road into the parking area.

This particular Boulder hiking trail is a good one for wildflowers if you're there at the right time. That's usually from May to July, with mid-May to early June usually being the peak bloom. We also saw and heard different types of birds, including chickadees and one that might have been a spotted towhee, so it seems to be a good birding trail.

Anyway, from the parking area, you want to walk across the good-sized bridge over Boulder Creek. On the other side, turn right and follow the Mesa trail which is the main trail. You'll be in an open area consisting of grasslands, rocks, and shrubs, so have your sunscreen handy. Keep following the signs for the Mesa trail until you see the sign for the Big Bluestem trail on your right.

Follow the Big Bluestem trail and you'll see that it's narrower and a bit rocky. At one point, it splits into the upper and lower Big Bluestem trail. You want to take the upper Big Bluestem trail, under the power lines. Soon, this Boulder hiking trail will take you into some trees, which are always good for shade. Keep going up, and after a short time, you'll join the Mesa trail again.

Turn left and cross over the small creek. Continue along the Mesa trail, and from this point on, the walking will be much easier. Eventually, you'll reach open areas again, and when you do, keep an eye out for the sign on your right that says Towhee trail. It's a narrow trail that heads downhill and will lead you back to the spot where you started your hike.

Boulder Flatirons, Chautauqua Park

McClintock Trail to Chautauqua Ranger Cottage
Trailhead-McClintock Trailhead
Roundtrip distance-2.5 miles
Difficulty level-easy to moderate
Approximate roundtrip hiking time-1 hour and 15 minutes;
Restroom facilities-yes, at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage;
Elevation-5,697 feet at the trailhead;
Dogs-leashed or under voice and sight control;

Directions to McClintock Trailhead: in Boulder, follow Baseline Road west towards the Flatirons. After you pass 9th Street, look for Chautauqua Park on your left. Turn left into the park and park your car wherever you can. (Otherwise, you can park on the street.) You'll find the McClintock Trailhead next to a covered picnic area which is just behind the main auditorium in Chautauqua Park.

This Boulder hiking trail is in an area that is home to black bears and mountain lions, so do keep an eye out for them. We saw neither and the trail itself is popular with people and their dogs, so we felt fairly safe.

So, starting from the trailhead, this Boulder hiking trail takes you down into a thick coniferous forest. Enjoy it while you can, (at least on a warm day), because when you reach the .2 mile mark, you'll meet up with the Enchanted Mesa trail, which is more open. Anyway, turn left onto the Enchanted Mesa trail. It's a smooth, wide path that makes for easy walking.

As you make your way upwards, you'll have views of Boulder off to your left. Continuing along the trail, it won't be long before you reach the trees again. Keep working your way up this Boulder hiking trail, and after a short time, you'll meet up with the Mesa trail. Turn right onto the Mesa trail and follow it to Bluebell Road which brings you down to the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage, and the end of this hike.

As you walk down along Bluebell Road, you'll have nice views of the Boulder Flatirons. And once you reach the ranger cottage, it's just a short walk to the McClintock Trailhead, or wherever you managed to park your car. Have fun and bring your camera. :-)

Bitterbrush Trail on Hall Ranch

Bitterbrush Trail at Hall Ranch
Trailhead-Hall Ranch
One-way distance-2.0 miles
Difficulty level-easy to moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time-1 hour and 15 minutes;
Restroom facilities-yes, at the upper parking lot;
Elevation-5,550 feet at the trailhead
Dogs-are not allowed here, even leashed

Directions to Hall Ranch: from Boulder, follow Hwy. 36 west to Lyons. In Lyons, turn left, (south), on Hwy. 7. Go about 1.5 miles and turn right into the parking area when you see the sign for Hall Ranch.

This is one of a few Boulder hiking trails where you might see a rattlesnake. We didn't see any but someone we met on the trail said he saw one, and almost stepped on it before it slithered away. Another person we saw said it's a good trail for wildflowers. We only saw a few, (in mid May), so I assume there would be more, later in the season.

The Bitterbrush trail is pretty open so it's a good idea to use your sunscreen and wear a hat. Once you start up the trail, you might hear crickets and various kinds of birds, like we did. (Especially meadowlarks.) As you work your way up, be looking for deer along this Boulder hiking trail. Although we didn't see any deer, we did see a good number of their tracks.

Around the half way point of this Boulder hiking trail, you'll come to a ponderosa forest. Parts of it provide some shade as well as a good place to stop and drink some water. Continue your way up the mountain and when you reach the top, it will level out. You'll see a fence line, a power line, and a bench, as well as a prairie dog town a short ways behind the bench.

All of those things are your clues that you've reached the end of this hike. Although this particular Boulder hiking trail does continue on, we chose to make this the turn-around point for the hike. So, unless you want to continue on, we encourage you to sit on the bench, relax, and enjoy the view of the mountains all around you.

Royal Arch, Boulder, Colorado

Royal Arch Trail
Trailhead-Royal Arch
One-way distance-1.5 miles
Difficulty level-moderate to difficult
Approximate one-way hiking time-1 hour and 20 minutes;
Restroom facilities-yes, at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage;
Elevation-6,950 feet at the arch
Dogs-leashed, or under voice and sight control;

Directions to Royal Arch trailhead: first, follow the directions to Chautauqua Park, (in the hike called "McClintock Trail to Chautauqua Ranger Cottage".) Then, from the parking area, start walking up the paved/gravel road. It's open, with no trees. Continue up the road and at one point, you'll come to a split in the road and a sign saying "Bluebell Shelter". Take the left fork, and follow it to the sign that says Royal Arch.

It's about a half mile walk to the Royal Arch trailhead from the parking area, and it took us about 20 minutes to do it since the road is relatively steep. Now, don't let the shortness of this Boulder hiking trail fool you. I overheard someone at the trailhead say it felt like a ten-mile hike, and we felt the same way! Make sure to bring water with you; you'll want it.

The trail starts out innocently enough at a moderate rate through the woods. Before long though, it gets steep and stays that way most of the way to the arch. It's also quite rocky, with many switchbacks on your way to the arch. The only good thing about the trail is that it stays in the forest most of the way to the top.

After what seems like a long time, you'll reach a sign that says: Royal Arch. But unfortunately, you're not finished yet. It does make a good place to stop and rest though. From that point, you're maybe 3/4 of the way to the arch. Now, you have to hike steeply down through some rocks, then steeply back up again. Soon, the trail finally levels out, and the Royal Arch appears straight ahead. Of the many Boulder hiking trails, this is definitely the hardest one we've hiked!

Lichen Loop, Boulder

Lichen Loop, at Heil Valley Ranch
Roundtrip distance-1.3 mile loop
Difficulty level-easy
Approximate roundtrip hiking time-35 minutes;
Restroom facilities-yes, at the trailhead;
Elevation-6,280 feet at highest point;
Dogs-are not allowed here

Directions to Heil Valley Ranch: from Boulder, go north on U.S. 36. Follow it for 4.8 miles past the junction of U.S. 36 and CO 7. Turn left onto Lefthand Canyon Road. (At the Greenbriar Inn.) Follow Lefthand Canyon Rd. for 0.7 miles then turn right onto Geer Canyon Dr. Follow Geer Canyon Dr. for 1.25 miles to the end of the road, and the trailhead.

Luckily, not all Boulder hiking trails are as hard as the Royal Arch trail. The Lichen Loop trail is a short and easy trail that makes a good early season hike. It starts out by crossing a small, seasonal creek on a sturdy bridge. Soon, you start climbing gently to a point where the loop actually starts, and you can decide which direction to follow it. Keep an eye out for deer, because we saw several of them on the way to that point.

Anyway, we followed the loop to the left. It continues to climb gently through a fairly open area but soon, you'll be getting into the trees. Along the trail, you'll see a couple of interpretive signs which make for interesting reading about the area. Before long, the trail turns and heads back down the mountain. Along the way, you'll have some nice views of the mountains in front of you.

Enjoy, and if you brought a snack, you can eat it at one of the picnic tables around the trailhead area. Take advantage of the fact that Boulder hiking trails often have picnic tables nearby. :-)

Foothills/Hogback Ridge Loop, Boulder

Foothills/Hogback Ridge Loop
Roundtrip distance-2.3 mile loop
Difficulty level-easy to moderately difficult;
Approximate roundtrip hiking time-1 hour and 45 minutes;
Restroom facilities-no
Elevation-6,400 feet at highest point;
Dogs-are not allowed here

Directions to Foothills Trailhead: from the intersection of North Broadway and Hwy. 36 in Boulder, follow Hwy. 36 west. Go for 0.4 miles and turn right onto the dirt road immediately after you see the sign on your right that says: North Broadway. (Immediately beyond the dirt road is another sign on your right that says: watch for wildlife.) Follow the dirt road for a short ways to the Foothills trailhead on your left.

Some Boulder hiking trails are home to rattlesnakes, and this is one of them. Luckily, we didn't see any. Still, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for them so you don't step on one. Anyway, the trail starts out by passing through the underpass under Hwy. 36. Then you're walking along an open, (use your sunscreen), easy trail, and if you're lucky, you might hear meadowlarks like we did.

You'll pass by some interpretive signs, and a short time after that, you'll reach your first intersection. From there, you want to go left, (straight), and climb a little more steeply the short distance to the next intersection. At this second intersection, you want to go right. Shortly after this, you will officially arrive at the beginning of the Hogback Ridge Loop trail.

We followed it left, and at this point, the trail is still open but you will see a few scattered trees around you. The trail continues to climb at a fairly gentle pace for a while, and you will start to see more trees around you, although not on the trail itself. Next, you will come to the steepest section of the trail. Steps are cut into the mountain but it's still slow-going.

Once you reach the top, take a break and look all around you. The hardest part of the hike is behind you, and from this point, you will only have a few gentle climbs before you start heading back down the mountain to complete the loop. One thing I like about Boulder hiking trails is that you often have the chance to see deer. And we did see several deer two different times near the trail, so keep your eyes open for them.

South St. Vrain Creek, Colorado

Ceran St. Vrain Trail
One-way distance: 1.92 miles
Difficulty level: easy to moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time: 1 hour
Restroom facilities: no
Elevation: 8,365 feet at the trailhead
Dog friendly: yes
Entrance fee: no

Directions to the Ceran St. Vrain Trail: from Boulder, go about 5.5 miles north on Hwy. 36 to Lefthand Canyon. Turn left onto Lefthand Canyon and drive 8.4 miles to Jamestown. Continue on straight through the town. The road, (which is also known as Overland Road), will turn to dirt about 4.5 miles beyond Jamestown. Go about another .4 miles on the dirt road to the Ceran St. Vrain trailhead sign on your right. Turn right at this sign and you’ll see the trailhead at about .15 miles from this turnoff.

Some Boulder hiking trails can be a little dry, but not this one. The Ceran St. Vrain trail is lush and green, especially in June. Anyway, the trail starts out by crossing a bridge over the South St. Vrain Creek. From there, it tends to go up and down and is sometimes flat. But over-all, it goes in a downwards direction, so you’ll do more uphill hiking on your way back.

This is one of the few Boulder hiking trails that follows a creek the whole way. There are lots of trees, (different types), all along the trail, so it’s a good trail to do on a warm day since you’ll have plenty of shade. We also saw different types of flowers including silvery lupine, black-eyed susans, and fireweed flowers among others.

We saw a couple of other Boulder hiking trails that lead off from this one. So the way you know that you’ve reached the turn around point for the Ceran St. Vrain trail is when you see the sign showing that trail #801 ends, and trail #252 begins. At this point, there is also a trail leading down to the edge of the creek…have fun. :-)

Chautauqua Park, Boulder, Colorado

Chautauqua/Bluebell Mesa Loop
Roundtrip distance: 1.5 miles
Difficulty level: moderate
Approximate roundtrip hiking time: one hour and 10 minutes;
Restroom facilities: yes, at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage;
Elevation: 5,800 feet at the trailhead;
Dog friendly: yes, but must be leashed;
Entrance fee: no

Directions to Chautauqua Park: from the intersection of Foothills Parkway, (Hwy. 36), and Baseline Road in Boulder, follow Baseline Road west towards the Flatirons. After you pass 9th Street, look for Chautauqua Park on your left. Turn left into the park and park your car wherever you can. (Otherwise, you can park on the street.)

The trailhead for this Boulder hiking trail is to the right, and a short ways above the main parking lot that you’ll see when you first drive into Chautauqua Park. At the trailhead, you want to follow the dirt trail to the right, (Chautauqua trail), not the road going up on your left.

Anyway, this Boulder hiking trail starts out fairly steeply, but you’ll have great views of the Flatirons as you make your way up. Before long, you’ll get into the trees which will give you some good shade on a hot day. Soon after that, you’ll reach a trail junction. At this point, you want to follow the Bluebell-Baird trail to the left.

As with a good number of other Boulder hiking trails, this one goes through a pine forest, and in this case, follows a mostly level easy path. In a little while, you’ll come to a sign for the Bluebell Mesa trail. When you see it, you want to follow it left, and down. Parts of it are quite rocky, so watch your step as you go past the ponderosa pine trees.

After heading down the mountain for a short while, you’ll come to an open area where you’ll have great views of Boulder and the surrounding area. When you’re done enjoying the view, continue down this Boulder hiking trail and meet up with the Chautauqua trail again to complete the loop and head back down to the parking lot and your car. Enjoy :-).

I think I have enough Boulder hiking trails on this page, but if you'd like to, feel free to add your own. Or write a trail review for any trail you've hiked in Boulder. Just read on:

Do you know a good Boulder hiking trail you'd like to share?

If so, please include as much information about it as you can, including directions to the trailhead. That way, other people can enjoy it too :-).

Read about other Boulder hiking trails:

Here's what other visitors to this page have said about Boulder hiking trails they liked:

NCAR/Mesa/Bear Canyon loop trail 
We did this Boulder hiking trail after not having hiked at NCAR for a while and it really is a pretty area, especially if you go there on a sunny day! …

Alternate route to
Mount Sanitas
 Not rated yet
Directions: From the parking lot for MT. Sanitas described above, go west on Mapleton/Sunshine canyon for about 2 miles. You'll come to a hairpin turn …

Click here to write your own.

We have shopped at REI for many years to get our hiking gear, and now we are happy to say we are affiliated with them. Whether it's for a good water bottle, a backpack, or good footwear for the trail, we have found that REI has high quality products. If you can think of something you might need before you head out on a Boulder trail, then check out the below link. You never know what you might find :-).

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