Yet again, the seasons have turned in Boulder. Spring’s unpredictable weather and ever-changing trail conditions have given way to summer’s dependably warm air, sunny skies, and dry ground. It feels good to finally hang up that traction, stow away the parka, and hit the trails with ease.
Boulder’s open space is paradise in the summer. Wildflowers and songbirds provide both scenery and soundtrack. Seemingly infinite blue skies offer stellar views and fantastic photos ops. Shorts and sneakers are the only “gear” you’ll need. But summer hiking is not without its challenges. Rising daytime temps, relentless sun, and crowded trailheads can quickly kill those sweet summer vibes.
Experienced Boulder hikers know how to maximize summer’s goodness while avoiding its pitfalls. Follow these simple strategies for successful summer hiking:
- Start early. An early start helps you avoid both the heat and the crowds. It’s worth setting your alarm to be able to park with ease, enjoy some solitude on the trails, and breathe the crisp morning air.
- Go off the beaten path. On any given summer weekend, the majority of out-of-towners and newbies will be at one of two trailheads: Chautauqua (aka the Flatirons) or Mount Sanitas. You, the experienced local, will be elsewhere because you know better. Save Boulder’s most popular trailheads for off-peak times and choose lesser-known areas for weekends and holidays.
- Choose trails that will help you stay cool. The perfect summer trails offer shade and access to water. Forested areas provide shelter from the sun while nearby creeks or lakes are great for a quick dip. (Be sure to adhere to local regulations for swimming.)
A little planning goes a long way when it comes to summer hiking. With these strategies in mind, below are 3 perfect summer hikes in Boulder County. These hikes showcase the beauty of a Boulder summer while ensuring that you stay cool, comfortable, and away from the busiest crowds.
As always, please check the City of Boulder and Boulder County websites for trail conditions and closures before heading out. Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks has a number of restoration projects lined up this summer that impact multiple areas within the system.
Bobolink/South Boulder Creek Trail (Easy)
This flat, easy-going trail meanders along South Boulder Creek while offering dramatic views of the mountains to the west. Animal lovers will delight in wandering through fields of cows, an active prairie dog town, and underpasses lined with swallows’ nests. The first half of the hike is shaded while the second half is more exposed, but most of the trail allows access to the creek for a quick cool down.
Begin at Bobolink Trailhead near the intersection of Baseline and Cherryvale Roads. Those with time and energy can tackle the entire out-and-back trail for a 6.8-mile hike. Those looking for shorter hike can turn around at South Boulder Road for a 2.8-mile hike.
Bear Canyon Trail (Intermediate)
Access to this trail has been limited for several months while OSMP crews worked on repairing flood damage in the area. Fortunately, the majority of that work has now been completed and this trail is open to the public once again.
Bear Canyon is one of the most beautiful trails in our open space system, yet it remains relatively unknown beyond neighborhood hikers and trail runners using it to ascend or descend Bear Peak. With its moderate elevation gain (940 feet), ample shade, and proximity to Bear Creek, it’s the perfect antidote to the summer heat. It’s also a fantastic spot for wildflowers.
Begin at NCAR Trailhead at the end of Table Mesa Drive.
Take the NCAR Trail west to connect with Mesa Trail. Head south on Mesa Trail to the junction with Bear Canyon Trail. The trail rolls into the canyon for 2 miles, ending at the junction with Bear Peak West Ridge and Green Bear. When combined with the approach from NCAR, the entire hike is about 7 miles.
Walker Ranch Loop (Difficult)
This extremely pleasing loop takes you through a variety of terrain and scenery, while providing shady refuges, creek side picnicking, and a small but exhilarating waterfall. This is a multi-use trail popular with bikers, so stay alert.
With everything that Walker Ranch has to offer, this is a hike best enjoyed with ample time. You’ll want to linger along the inviting creek and savor the cool spritz of the falls. There’s a lot to soak in as you hike through meadow, forest, and riparian zones.
Begin at Walker Ranch Trailhead approximately 7 miles up Flagstaff Road. The loop is well marked and easy to follow, clocking in at 7.8 miles with approximately 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Those looking for even more trail time can connect to the Meyers Homestead or the Eldorado Canyon Trail.
Happy summery trails, Boulderites!
Photo credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com — all rights reserved