While it is safe to say that all climbers hike, not all hikers climb. Some of us (ahem) may even be afraid of heights. Some of us have tried climbing and ended up paralyzed in fear. Some of us are hoping you won’t bring that up at the next happy hour.
So what’s a non-climbing hiker to do when you live in a rock climbing paradise? You do the next best thing and hike to the most iconic rock formation in town. The First/Second Flatiron Trail is no stroll in the park. It’s a rocky, steep, switchback-filled journey ending just below the First Flatiron. Reach out and touch the massive sandstone slab as you wind your way up, and at the top you’ll be rewarded with the same views as if you had climbed it.
The First/Second Flatiron Trail is your ticket to feeling like a climber, even if the mere thought of hanging precipitously from a steeply angled rock makes you woozy. (Again, some of us would prefer if you could just let that slide.) Get ready for a challenging workout, stellar views, and the chance to get up close and personal with Boulder’s famous rocks.
Always consult OSMP.org for trail conditions and closures before you head out.
The First/Second Flatiron Trail is accessed from the Chautauqua Trailhead. Head west on Baseline and turn left just past 9th Street. There are multiple parking lots at the trailhead plus nearby street parking.
The trail itself is 0.7 miles one way, with an approach of 0.6 miles. There are several loop options ranging from 2.6 to 3 miles total. Overall elevation gain is approximately 1,400 feet.
Head west on the Chautauqua Trail. The trail steepens immediately as you make your way through the meadow and into the forest. Continue ascending through the ponderosa pine as you pass two junctions. At each junction, follow the signs toward the 1st/2nd Flatirons.
At the halfway point, there is a small bridge with a sign that reads “1st Flatiron Climbing Access.” Walk over the bridge and touch Boulder’s iconic sandstone formation. Lean against it for a moment or two. Take a selfie. Look at you, on the First Flatiron! Is this the same thing as climbing it? Technically, no. Not at all. But let’s not split hairs over semantics. You are on the First Flatiron!
Walk back over the bridge and resume ascending the trail. Be prepared for a steep, rocky stretch that’s about 25 feet long. You’ll need to do a little light scrambling here (which is no big deal for you, now that you’ve been on the First Flatiron). There are hand and foot holds carved into the rock to help along the way.
Continue to switchback up, until you top out in between both flatirons. Follow the trail as it bends to the right, west of the First Flatiron. You’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Second Flatiron and the Continental Divide. Sit down. Have a snack. Enjoy.
To return to the trailhead, you have a few options. For the quickest route, return exactly the way you came. For a little variation, turn right or left at the junction with Bluebell-Baird Trail. If you turn right, you’ll connect with Bluebell Road to return to the trailhead. If you turn left, you’ll connect with either Ski Jump or Baseline Trail to return to the trailhead.
Non-climbing hikers of the world, rejoice! Now you can experience the majesty of the flatirons without ever taking your feet off the ground. Happy trails, Boulderites!