Calling Boulder home means a few different things: Access to more coffee shops than was ever thought possible for a city of 100,000 people, easy and convenient access to a wide array of Tibetan prayer flags and, of course, several clinics that will treat your back issues with a substance that is a key plot point for the Harold and Kumar movies.
For many, the best part of living in Boulder is the Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) system, which features peaks over 8,000 feet, abounds with wildflowers in the spring, and has trails that range the spectrum from easy strolls to challenging jaunts that can take most of the day to complete. The Open Space system is a reason why many Boulderites still call the People’s Republic home.
There are many miles of trail to be found in Boulder, but here a few highlights.
Trail runner’s delight
The 6.5-milelong Mesa Trail begins at Chautauqua and ends near Eldorado Canyon in south Boulder.
This trail is the backbone of the open space system and leads to many other runs or hikes, such as the challenging Mallory Cave Trail. Famous throughout the country for being a premier trail run, this trail also makes a good introductory hike to open space, with its moderate and rolling terrain and good views of Boulder below and the peaks above.
A little bit of Moab in Boulder
The Royal Arch Trail is a moderately challenging trail that starts near the top of the old Chautauqua access road and ends at a natural arch that looks over Boulder below.
No red rocks, but this arch is still visually impressive, and you don’t have to make a multi-hour drive to enjoy it.
Watch out for poison ivy along the trail, and listen for the lilting downward spiral of notes that make up the song of the tiny canyon wren, which lives in the gullies along this trail.
The after-work challenge
Mt. Sanitas is only three miles round trip, but with a 1,400-foot gain in the first 1.5 miles, it provides a challenging hike that has great views at the summit.
Sanitas is on the site of an old sanitarium. Trail runners will often whiz by on the uphill, leading some to wonder if the sanitarium may still exist.
The trail is located near downtown, which makes for convenient post-hike dining out. Mt. Sanitas is also a popular trail for those who like to exercise rather than eat during their lunch hour.
An all-day hike
For many, the Bear Peak-West Ridge hike is the favorite hike in the open space system. Gaining nearly 3,000 feet and 8 miles round-trip, this strenuous hike — one of the toughest in OSMP — is a challenging one for most people, so come prepared with lots of water and snacks, as well as sturdy boots.
Start at NCAR and head up the Mesa Trail to Fern Canyon, where the words “stair stepper” will spring to mind. Enjoy the view on the 8,500foot summit all the way to Pikes Peak on a clear day. Go down to the West Ridge and enjoy views of the Continental Divide, and then head back to NCAR. A good, solid hike right here in town.
The Sunday stroll
The eastern part of the Open Space system is often ignored in favor of the higher peaks to the West. Which is fine. That leaves little gems such as Walden Ponds less crowded.
Stroll around the reclaimed gravel pits that now harbor marshes and many varieties of birds and animals, such as herons, osprey, foxes and beaver. Enjoy the cottonwoods and views to the Continental Divide. Or just sit on a convenient bench and read a book.
Some hikes are better enjoyed at a slow Sunday pace.
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For more information about hikes in the area, route information and topography, any local outdoor store will have the highly recommended Boulder-Nederland map by Sky Terrain. Also be sure to check out the city of Boulder’s website at 1.usa. gov/4nUfJW. The site offers much info on trails, dog regulations and ways to have a car-free hike among other useful info.