Why we live here, why we stay, what we love about Boulder County — it always comes back to the mountains. The geological accident that makes up Boulder County’s backyard is nothing less than breathtaking. Rising to more than 8,000 feet in elevation from the plains, the foothills offer every opportunity you can imagine to exercise, relax, take in nature and restore one’s sense of well-being.
The city owns more than 43,000 acres of open space, while Boulder County owns almost 89,000 acres, from mountain meadows to prairie grasslands. With a combined total of more than 200 miles of trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians, open space and mountain parks lands attract more than a million visitors each year, making the outdoors Boulder County’s greatest attraction.
If you’re new to the area or are perhaps just passing through, you’ll want to take time to explore the abundant trails and views of our city and county parks. Here are some suggestions for ways to spend your summer days. Like our trails, they’re rated green, yellow or red based on difficulty and/or the amount of time required.
Be sure to carry plenty of water, as well snacks and sunscreen. Rocky Mountain sun can give you an unforgettable burn. And if you’re from the lowlands, you’ll want to watch for any sign of altitude sickness: shortness of breath, headache, nausea, fatigue and dizziness. Take it easy during your first few days in Colorado and work your way up slowly.
Chautauqua/Flagstaff summit tour — If you’re just in town for a few days or have guests for whom mobility or altitude pose a challenge, you might want to stick to your car. Head west on Baseline Road until you reach Chautauqua Park. Take a left and make a loop around the actual park. You’ll pass cottages, some of which have stood at Chautauqua since a group of teachers from Texas used the land for summer learning and adventure. Chautauqua Auditorium is a National Historic Landmark and has been home to concerts, lectures and films for more than 100 years.
Continue west on Baseline as it winds up Flagstaff Mountain, stopping at the scenic overlooks along the way. In the summer months, you’ll find park rangers on duty to give you information about everything from park rules to flora and fauna to the geology of the Flatirons. If you’re not from Boulder County, you’ll need to pay a fee to park.
At the top of Flagstaff, you’ll be able to enjoy awe-inspiring views, Flagstaff Amphitheatre and the Flagstaff Nature Center, which offers exhibits and information about the natural environment of this area and which is engrossing for audiences of all ages.
Royal Arch — The Royal Arch Trail begins along the old access road behind Chautauqua Park and twists and turns its way through a little gulch that rises up to forested slopes and carries you to a natural sandstone arch overlooking the plains. As you hike along, listen for the cascading song of the canyon wren, which likes the shady parts of the trail. This trail isn’t long, but it is steep and rocky. Reaching the arch requires some quick scramble. But if women in long dresses and heeled boots can hike it (as they did back in the 19th century), then most of us can, too. Be sure to bring your camera. Set aside about two hours for this hike.
Bear Peak — Bear Peak is the pointy peak in Boulder’s backyard.
This is not a climb for beginners or small children. Be prepared to spend five to seven hours on this climb. The effort is well worth it.
Start at the Walter Orr Roberts trailhead behind NCAR. When it connects with the Mesa Trail, head south (right) until you meet the Bear Canyon cut-off, which heads west up Bear Canyon. You’ll pass through a wide variety of foothills landscapes — meadows with yucca and chokecherry bushes, little creeks, rock formations and much more. Ponderosa pine forest gives way to other evergreens, as well as groves of aspen.
When the trail intersects with the one coming down off the south side of Green Mountain, follow it along the west ridge of Bear Peak, enjoying the views of higher peaks to the west. The last bit of the hike turns into scramble, as you climb over rocks to reach the summit.
Again, be sure to bring plenty of water. And because summer in the Rockies often means afternoon thunderstorms, get an early start so that you can be off the summit before 2 p.m.
BOULDER PARKS & RECREATION
Basically responsible for an entire city’s fun, Parks and Rec is in charge of ball fields, soccer fields and tennis courts, three recreation centers and two outdoor pools, the skate park, the pottery lab, the golf course, Boulder Reservoir and the five-and-a-halfmile Boulder Creek Path.
5565 51st St. 303-441-3461 www.bouldercolorado.gov
Boulder Reservoir has a 600-acre lake and is available for kayaking, fishing, volleyball, motor boating and water skiing. For directions, regulations and a listing of available activities, visit the city’s website.
BOULDER OPEN SPACE & MOUNTAIN PARKS
Boulder became the first city to tax itself to preserve land as open space. The city’s mountain backdrop receives more than a million visits each year from locals and tourists alike, offering more than 144 miles of trails for biking, hiking and rock climbing for all ability levels. Rich in flora and fauna, Boulder’s parks and open space lands are one key factor in the health of the city’s population, which has been called the most fit in the nation. Here are some of the OSMP’s highlights:
900 Baseline Rd. 303-413-7200
This local landmark has beautiful scenery, outstanding hiking trails and is the location of one of the premiere cultural venues in the state of Colorado. Chautauqua Park and surrounding areas act as a hub for many mountain trails, including Chautauqua, Mesa, Baseline, Bluebell-Baird, Royal Arch, Woods Quarry and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Flatiron Climbing Access trails.
0.3 mile south of Hwy 128 on Hwy. 93
This trail system offers access to the Flatirons Vista, Prairie Vista, Community Ditch, Doudy Draw, Spring Brook Loop and Goshawk Ridge trails. If you cross Hwy. 93 at the stoplight, you can reach the Greenbelt Plateau, High Plains and Marshall Mesa trails.
West end of Baseline Road
Alive with marmots, canyon wrens and a variety of beautiful flora, this area provides access to the Gregory Canyon, Saddle Rock, Bluebell-Baird, Amphitheater, Flagstaff and Crown Rock trails.
0.5 mile west of 4th Street on Mapleton Avenue
One of the city’s most popular trails, the Mount Sanitas system connects you to the Valley, Mt. Sanitas, E. Ridge and Dakota Ridge trails.
National Center for Atmospheric Research
West end of Table Mesa Drive
A short distance to the west of NCAR, you can catch the Mesa, Skunk Canyon, Mallory Cave, Bear Canyon, Bear Peak West Ridge, Green Bear and Fern Canyon trails.
BOULDER COUNTY PARKS & OPEN SPACE
Provides almost 90 miles of beautiful trails in Boulder County where visitors can hike, bike, snowshoe, cross-country ski or ride horseback through the gorgeous Colorado terrain. Bring lots of water, and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Bald Mountain Scenic Area is located five miles west of Boulder on the south side of Sunshine Canyon Drive (County Road 52).
Located at the junction of Boulder and Fourmile Canyons, Betasso Preserve is a 773-acre preserve managed by the county. Check the county website for mountain biking regulations. It is located six miles west of Boulder off Sugarloaf Road.
Caribou Ranch is a pristine patchwork of wetlands, meadows, woodlands and streams. Off limits to dogs, the 2,180-acre property is open to hikers and horseback riders. Seasonal closures protect sensitive wildlife. Off-trail use prohibited.
Caribou Ranch can be accessed north of Nederland or south of Ward on County Road 126 off of the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway.
Access to the property is from the park entrance off of Flagg Drive, east of 120th Street and south of Baseline Road. Head east on Baseline Road, then turn south on Flagg Drive. Turn east into the parking lot for Flagg Park. The property address is 12400 Flagg Dr. in Lafayette.
Preserving crucial wildlife habitat, Hall Ranch includes 3,206 acres of background and 12 miles of multiuse trails. The entrance to Hall Ranch is found on Highway 7, one mile west of Lyons.
Heil Valley Ranch
With a variety of ecosystems, including prime breeding habitat for many species of birds, Heil Valley Ranch consists of 4,923 acres of backcountry with a picnic shelter and almost seven miles of multiuse trails. The entrance to Heil Valley Ranch is located on Geer Canyon Road off of Left Hand Canyon Road northwest of Boulder.
This 116-acre reservoir offers nesting habitat to pelicans and is located 2.5 miles southwest of Longmont. Fishing is allowed on Lagerman Reservoir. See the county’s website for restrictions. The entrance to the reservoir is located about three miles north of Niwot on the west side of North 75th Street.
Legion Park is located east of Boulder on Arapahoe Road one half mile west of 75th Street.
Mud Lake Open Space comprises 233 acres of open space surrounding a scenic 4-acre lake near Nederland. The park offers three miles of trails, including a loop system for mountain bikers and equestrians and trail connections with Nederland and Caribou Ranch Open Space, and rewards hikers with scenic views. The new trail connections to Caribou Ranch provide extra mileage for a total round trip of about 5.5 miles. The Mud Lake trailhead can be accessed off County Road 126, one mile north of the turnabout in Nederland, off the Peak-to-Peak Highway.
Rabbit Mountain Open Space is one of the few places in Boulder County where golden eagles still nest. With five miles of multiuse trails, as well as picnic tables, Rabbit Mountain is located on North 53rd Street, about 15 miles north of Boulder off of Highway 66 approximately two miles east of Lyons.
Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat is located five miles northeast of Boulder, one half mile south of the Jay Road and North 75th Street intersection, on the west side of North 75th Street. Providing crucial breeding and feeding habitat for everything from waterfowl to bats, it’s often used as an outdoor classroom for students from the Boulder Valley School District.
Walker Ranch can be accessed from either the Meyers Homestead Trailhead on the west side of Flagstaff Road, or the Walker Ranch Loop Trailhead on the east side of Flagstaff Road, about 7.5 miles west of Baseline Road in Boulder. The Walker Ranch Loop can also be accessed via the Eldorado Springs State Park, with parking at the Crescent Meadows lot.
Attracting more than 11 million visitors per year, Colorado’s 42 State Parks not only play an important role in the state’s economy, but also contribute to Coloradans’ quality of life, offering some of ß the highest quality outdoor recreation destinations in the state.
Here are two state parks within easy driving distance of Boulder. For a complete listing, go to parks. state.co.us.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
9 Kneale Rd. Eldorado Springs 303-494-3943 parks.state.co.us/Parks/eldoradocanyon
El dorado Canyon, known affectionately by climbers as Eldo, offers more than 500 technical rock climbing routes, some of the most classic climbing in the country. In addition, it offers trails hiking, mountain biking, picnicking and fishing. No camping. For information about trails, regulations, fees and activities, visit the state website.
Lory State Park
Larimer County Road 25G, west of Fort Collins 970-493-1623 firstname.lastname@example.org
From rolling valleys to mountainous hillsides, Lory State Park’s 20 miles of trails rarely exceed a 12 percent grade. The variety of trails makes the park suitable for short or long hikes, mountain biking, horseback riding and jogging. Safe drinking water and restroom facilities are not available on the trails, so fill your canteen and pack a few snacks. Or fill your water bottle near the park entrance.
NATIONAL PARKS Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36 Just outside Estes Park Visitor information: 970-586-1206 Campground reservations: 877-444-6777 www.nps.gov/romo/
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of America’s national treasures. Woodrow Wilson declared it a national park in 1915, setting aside 265,769 acres of rugged, pristine mountain wilderness. Featuring hiking trails, camping grounds, picnic areas, parking and wildlife viewing, it draws millions of visitors each year. Backpackers are required to get a backcountry permit. User fees are charged for park entry — passes are good for a week — and for backcountry use. Scenic Trail Ridge Road bisects the park, crossing over the Continental Divide, but is open during the summer only (roughly Memorial Day through mid-September). Take Highway 36 (28th Street) up through Estes Park and follow the road signs.