Fourteeners, schmourteeners. As it turns out, the most epic summer hike is right here in our own backyard. In this hyper-athletic town, where it seems as though everything’s been done before, there is one challenge that has yet to be overdone: The 5-Peak Boulder Traverse.
Sometimes called the Sanitasobo, the 5-Peak Traverse is a hike that encompasses every major peak in the Boulder range. From north to south, the peaks are Mount Sanitas, Flagstaff Mountain, Green Mountain, Bear Peak, and South Boulder Peak. If you’re like most Boulderites, you’ve probably hiked a couple of them already. Maybe you’ve hiked them all. But the majority of Boulderites haven’t hiked them all in one day, and yet most wouldn’t think twice about jumping in a car, driving two hours, and climbing a fourteener. Save your gas money. The 5-Peak Traverse provides a physical and mental challenge equal to or greater than many of the fourteeners, while giving hikers a unique glimpse into Boulder’s most beautiful nooks and crannies. This guide will tell you everything you need to know. So grab a couple friends, dust off that pack, lace up your trail shoes, and get ready for 16.4 miles and 6,300 vertical feet of bragging rights.
The 5-Peak Traverse certainly isn’t for everyone, but the beautiful thing about hiking is that you control the pace and the intensity. If you can walk, you can hike. If you’re a novice hiker, give yourself a few months to build up to this hike. If you’re a seasoned hiker, then you’re ready to go.
Ah, logistics. The 5-Peak Traverse can be done north to south or south to north. The former is a more classic climb, as each peak you hit is higher than the last. You’ll feel like you’re on the top of the world when you max out at 8,549 feet on South Boulder Peak. The reverse direction, ending at Mount Sanitas, is less climactic but may be preferable to some since you’ll get the steepest climbs out of the way early on.
Be sure to check with Open Space and Mountain Parks for trail closures due to wildlife, trail conditions, or restoration. Just because a particular trail was open when you hiked it two weeks ago doesn’t mean that it’s open right now, so do your research and plan accordingly.
Arrange to drop a vehicle off the night before at the finishing trailhead, unless you plan to turn around and hike back to where you started (in which case, you’re my hero).
What (to pack)?
You’re going to be out on the trails for most of the day, so you’ll need to bring some gear. Here is a suggested list of supplies:
- Water, water, water (approximately 8-10 ounces for every hour that you’ll be out there, plus extra because you’re smart)
- Lunch and snacks
- Waterproof jacket
- Basic first aid kit
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Maps and compass
- Toilet paper and baggies
- Cell phone (ideally a portable charger, too)
- Traction for shoes (October – May)
This hike will take 9-12 hours to complete. Much of the timing is dependent on fitness level and pace. Some will want to turn this hike into a no-holds-barred speed challenge; others will want to take photos along the way and enjoy a 45-minute lunch break.
Regardless of your pace, an early start is recommended. Beginning at or shortly before sunrise will ensure plenty of time to do the hike in whatever style you choose.
Summer is an ideal time of year for this hike, with its long days and dry trails, but be prepared for the heat and possible afternoon thunderstorms.
Below is a suggested route for the 5-Peak Boulder Traverse (Classic North to South). Please refer to the Open Space and Mountain Parks interactive trail map for further details and options.
Mount Sanitas (6,863 ft): Goat Trail to East Ridge to summit. Descend via the Mount Sanitas Trail, crossing Mapleton Avenue to Centennial Trailhead. Continue south on Red Rocks Trails to Eben G. Fine Park.
Flagstaff Mountain (7,283 ft): Cross Arapahoe Avenue and access Viewpoint Trail from the dirt road. Take Viewpoint to Panorama Point and continue up Flagstaff Trail to summit area. Head south on Ute Trail to Realization Point.
Green Mountain (8,144 ft): Cross Flagstaff Road (this is the last piece of asphalt your feet will touch for the rest of the hike) and continue toward Ranger Trail. Take Ranger to Green Mountain West Ridge and turn east to access the summit. From the summit, head back down the West Ridge toward Green Bear Trail.
Bear Peak (8,461 ft): Green Bear to Bear Peak West Ridge. Take the West Ridge to the summit. (This is the steepest, most humbling part of the hike!)
South Boulder Peak (8,549 ft): Head back down the way you came and continue south on the saddle to South Boulder Peak summit. Enjoy what is arguably the most breathtaking view in Boulder! You’ve earned it! Descend via Shadow Canyon to Mesa Trail to South Mesa Trailhead. (Take it easy on this trail – the flood has changed it considerably.)
So there you have it! Embark on the ultimate hiking adventure without even having to leave town. And because you’re still in Boulder at the end of your journey, you can finish it off with an equally epic celebration at one of our many breweries. (Psst, Southern Sun is particularly convenient.) Happy trails, Boulderites!