Imagine a quiet, peaceful forest without a soul in sight. The only sounds are your breath and the chirping chickadees. You feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of town. Believe it or not, this is Chautauqua.
Boulder’s busiest trailhead is typically bursting with people, tourists and locals alike, for much of the year. Those seeking solitude on the trails would do well to hike elsewhere. But hikers-in-the-know have a little secret up their parka sleeve: Chautauqua is an entirely different place in the wintertime.
Hiking Chautauqua in winter is a true delight. The crowds have shrunk, parking is ample, and blankets of snow have magically transformed the trails. While colder temps scare away fair weather hikers, experienced hikers can bundle up and enjoy a quieter hike right in the heart of town.
With Chautauqua’s network of short, interconnected trails, the area is ideal for moderate loop hikes or just simple meandering. You may even choose to bring your snowshoes or Nordic skis, depending upon conditions. So grab a map, layer up, and head out the door for one of Boulder’s best winter secrets. It’s time to experience Chautauqua in a whole new way.
As always, please consult the interactive map at OSMP.org for up-to-the-minute trail conditions and temporary closures. Remember that it is always best to hike with a buddy in winter. If you’re heading out solo, be sure to let someone know where you’ll be hiking and when you expect to return.
To access Chautauqua Trailhead, head west on Baseline and turn left just past 9th Street. The trailhead features a Ranger Cottage, restrooms, and picnic areas. Chautauqua Dining Hall, just steps from the Ranger Cottage, is the perfect spot for a warm drink after your hike.
Chautauqua is Boulder’s most popular hiking spot for good reason. A vast assortment of trails may be accessed here and they connect easily to a larger portion of the system. The trails at Chautauqua can take you to sweeping summits, geological curiosities, and unique historical sites.
In the winter, snow and ice make trail time much more physically demanding. Fewer daylight hours can impose time constraints. With that in mind, here are three moderate Chautauqua loops for you that are perfect for winter wandering. Please consult the Chautauqua area map for additional loops and routes.
The “I just want to go out for a little while” Loop
Feeling tired? Short on time? A little apprehensive about the weather? When you just want to go out for a little while, this is your loop.
Head west up the main Chautauqua Trail toward the looming Flatirons. This trail is deceptively steep and a somewhat harsh way to begin a hike, but on the bright side you’ll warm up quickly. Continue for 0.6 miles until you reach the top. Then turn left (heading south) onto Bluebell-Baird. Stay on Bluebell Baird for about 0.3 miles till it turns east and becomes Bluebell Road. Enjoy the gradual downhill slope of Bluebell Road as you return to the trailhead. This hike is approximately 1.5 miles long with 640 feet of elevation gain.
The “I’m in the mood to explore” Loop
This loop includes several classic Boulder trails and hits a few interesting sites along the way. You can easily make it shorter or longer to fit your needs. As is, this loop will take you through meadow, riparian zones, and forest. It also encompasses the site of a former quarry and an historic cabin.
Begin hiking west on Baseline Trail for 0.6 miles to the junction with Bluebell-Baird Trail. Turn left (south) onto Bluebell-Baird. Bluebell-Baird gently climbs for 0.7 miles to Bluebell Road. At Bluebell Road, you’ll briefly descend past the shelter and the outhouse to turn right onto Mesa Trail.
Mesa Trail is beautiful any time of year, but especially in winter. Follow the trail through a drainage and up into the forest again. In 0.4 miles, turn right onto the Woods Quarry loop. There is a little bit of a climb here, but it’s fairly short. When you’ve reached the old quarry, enjoy the views and maybe take a rest on the stone “lounge chairs.” Then backtrack to the loop and descend via the narrow trail to the right. (This is easily missed, so pay attention.)
As you descend Woods Quarry, you’ll pass the historic Roosa Cabin on the left. Continue back to the junction with Mesa, but this time take Enchanted Mesa Trail back to the trailhead. For nearly a mile, Enchanted Mesa winds through a sparse pine forest with views to the southeast. When you exit the trail, you’ll be behind the Auditorium. To return to the Ranger Cottage and main parking lot, simply head northwest through the cottage roads and it will come into view. This hike is approximately 3.5 miles round trip and about 650 feet of elevation gain.
The “I want some elevation… but not too much” Loop
So you’re in the mood to climb steps. There are plenty of options here, but many are strenuous and long. If you’re looking to gain some elevation but want to keep it at a moderate level, the Ski Jump and Amphitheater Trails have you covered.
Begin hiking west on the main Chautauqua Trail for 0.2 miles and then bear right onto Ski Jump Trail. Ski Jump will get your heart pumping as it ascends sharply into the forest. At the top, you’ll connect with Bluebell-Baird Trail. Turn right (north) onto Bluebell-Baird and continue till it ends at Baseline Trail. From here, turn left and begin heading up Amphitheater Trail on your left.
Amphitheater is short but steep. Don’t be fooled by its unassuming length. In 0.4 miles, it climbs for 540 feet. Enjoy the beautiful rock formations along the way. At the top, take a sharp right to descend via Saddle Rock Trail (which is equally steep). At the bottom of Saddle Rock, cross over Gregory Creek and return to the trailhead via Baseline Trail. This hike is approximately 2.2 miles with 1,100 feet of elevation gain.
Happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo credit: Alli F. for YourBoulder.com — all rights reserved