Thanksgiving in Boulder is ideal for spending quality time with friends and family. While many locals leave town for travel or skiing, those who stay (or come out for a visit) will be rewarded with a quieter, more peaceful Boulder. It’s a wonderful time to enjoy all that Boulder has to offer, especially our vast network of trails.
A hike with loved ones is the perfect way to connect and give thanks. Crisp air and physical activity is an excellent antidote to a hefty Thanksgiving meal. Uninterrupted time on the trail allows for both deep thoughts and playful banter. The change of scenery is an instant refresher. Suffice it to say, it’s a win-win for the whole gang.
The key to a crowd-pleasing Thanksgiving hike is choosing trails that are stimulating but accessible. A variety of landscapes, views, and wildlife will keep everyone engaged. A mellow pace and easy-to-moderate grade will suit a range of ages and fitness levels. Read on for 3 Thanksgiving Day hikes (plus one night hike) that fit the bill.
As always, please check with City of Boulder and Boulder County for temporary closures and trail conditions.
Bald Mountain Scenic Area
The Pines to Peak Loop at Bald Mountain Scenic Area is a true all-level hike. This 1.5-mile loop is gentle, well marked, and features fantastic views of the Boulder range and Indian Peaks Wilderness. Bald Mountain is a mere 10-minute drive from downtown Boulder, but it feels as though it’s a hundred miles away.
Take Mapleton Avenue west to Sunshine Canyon Drive. Continue on Sunshine Canyon for about 5 miles and the trailhead is on the left. The trail leaves from the far end of the parking lot and is very easy to follow.
While you hike, look to the ponderosa pines for chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers. Herds of mule deer frequently pass through here as well. Be sure to keep small children in sight and within your pack. Mountain lions reside in the area, though sightings and interactions are very rare.
May’s Point Hike
May’s Point is a small offshoot of the Boy Scout Trail located near the summit of Flagstaff Mountain. This hike is only 3 miles with less than 500 feet of elevation gain, but it provides a lot of bang for your buck. The views are some of the best in Boulder County.
Begin at Realization Point Trailhead, approximately 3.4 miles up Flagstaff Road. From here, take the Ute Trail to the intersection with the Sensory Trail. Continue along the Sensory Trail (which bends to the east) to the seasonal bathrooms and you’ll see Boy Scout Trail on your left. Boy Scout briefly dips down before a gentle rise to the sign for May’s Point. Turn left and continue to the end. The rocky outcrop at May’s Point is a fun place for scrambling, picnicking, or just savoring the vistas.
Return the way you came or consult the map for a variety of other options in this area.
Mallory Cave Hike
The hike to Mallory Cave is slightly more challenging than Bald Mountain or May’s Point. There’s also an extra credit option at the end, which makes it ideal for a mixed level group with a few daredevils.
This 2.5-mile hike has less than 800 feet of elevation gain and it includes an actual bat cave. The cave itself is permanently closed to protect bats from the spread of white-nose syndrome. The approach to the cave is open, however, from November to March.
This hike is traditionally accessed from NCAR Trailhead. Begin hiking on the NCAR Trail to Mesa Trail. Mallory Cave Trail extends west from Mesa. You’ll enter the forest and begin a gradual climb to the base of the cave area. Interpretive signs tell the story of the Townsend’s Big-Eared Bats that roost here in the summer.
The final 100-foot scramble to the actual cave is not for the faint of heart. If your hike stops here, that’s perfectly fine. If you or others in your group are up for the challenge, then continue up the large rock slab, through the narrow crevice, and on to the mouth of the cave. The panoramic view from the cave is worth the extra work.
Flagstaff Star Hike (Bonus Night Hike)
Though it’s a bit unconventional, a night hike is a phenomenal Thanksgiving Day finale. Luckily for us, the Flagstaff Star has just been lit. Boulder’s festive star shines brightly over the city annually from Veteran’s Day until after New Year’s. Late November is the perfect time to check it out before winter weather sets in.
While many choose to drive up Flagstaff Road, park nearby, and then walk a few feet up to the star, it’s great fun (and very Boulder-y) to hike it from the base of Flagstaff Mountain. The hike is 2.4 miles round trip with about 900 feet of elevation gain. Though the trek will challenge little legs or sea level lungs, it can be taken slowly and makes for a very memorable evening. This guide to hiking the Flagstaff Star (we shared it yesterday!) details both approaches, complete with landmarks and turn-by-turn directions.
Happy Thanksgiving and happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com — all rights reserved