If you’re pretty down about not having big spring break plans, or you’re just trying to lay low and relax in Boulder, have no fear, your trail guide is here.
Before you dismiss this as just another list of the same old trails winding up the Flatirons, let me just say from personal experience that these trails aren’t the same. They don’t lead you up to the Royal Arch, nor do they take you to the short Flatiron summits. These trails are the real deal and may not be for the once-every-few-months hiker.
Enchanted Mesa Trail. (James Bradbury/CU Independent File)
Chautauqua Park is the most popular launch point for these and other hikes in the foothills area, but its not the only one, nor is it always the best. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) can cut your hiking time significantly depending on your destination and is located along a main trail, Mesa (on the west edge of Table Mesa Drive).
Another option is the south end of 20th Street at Green Mountain Memorial Park, which is located just west of Broadway between Baseline Road and Table Mesa Drive. Though the map below doesn’t recognize the trail, the park is pinpointed and you’ll see the trail start winding to the top of the hill. There is no public parking, but parking on the street is permitted.
See that tall, pointy shape looming over the southern-most flatiron? That’s Bear Peak and its name is well deserved. At 8,461 feet, it offers spectacular views of Boulder and Denver from the top and an even better view of the Rocky Mountain range. The trail has only recently been reopened and cleared for the season after being closed last summer due to wildfires.
The way to the top is strenuous, but manageable. There are two possible routes: Fern Canyon trail or Bear Canyon trail. If you want to make it to the top in a hurry, Fern Canyon is the route for you, but don’t be fooled, this doesn’t make it easier. Fern is a steep incline along the front side of the peak leading to the summit. Bear Canyon is a much more scenic route; it gradually increases in elevation, bringing the trail around to the peak’s back, but this is significantly longer.
Though the two routes begin differently, there is a summit at the end either way, so be prepared for a climb. If you decide to do Bear Peak over break, wear comfortable boots and bring gloves because the snow hasn’t had a chance to melt.
Slightly smaller than Bear Peak, Green Mountain stands at 8,144 feet and is nestled neatly just behind the flatirons. The summit offers particularly nice areas to sit, relax and enjoy the views. One particularly nice feature is the cairn-topped viewfinder that identifies several peaks, and their elevations surrounding the area. The views of Boulder and Denver alone are worth some extra time at the top.
There are a number of routes to the top of Green Mountain, but my two favorites are Bear Canyon trail and Amphitheater trail. Bear Canyon trail is the same start to the summit of Bear Peak, but there is fork splitting the trail in two directions to each summit, Green Mountain is to the right. This route will take you up the left side and around the back of the summit.
Amphitheater trail begins just north of Chautauqua Park and leads along the right side. There is no wrong way to go because both routes offer spectacular views and scenery. If you’re a climbing enthusiast, Amphitheater offers a number of opportunities for both bouldering, and traditional rock climbing.
Mesa is the skeleton key for trails in the foothills; it connects them all. Whether you start at NCAR or at Chautauqua Park, Mesa is the trail that will take you to both Bear Canyon and Fern Canyon trails, as well as many others. However, if you start from Chautauqua and want to reach Mesa trail, you’ll need to connect from Bluebell-Baird trail in order to reach it. The one trail you don’t need Mesa to get to is Amphitheater trail; it starts at the north side of Chautauqua Park.
Any one of the trails listed above or on the map are great hikes on their own. The splendid scenery and stunning views of the surroundings are simply breathtaking, even if they didn’t have summit destination to their ends.
View Foothills Trail Guide in a larger map
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Nick Stollings at Nicholas.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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