Each season in Boulder brings its own challenges for hikers. Winter delivers snow, ice, and fewer daylight hours. All trail outings are prefaced with decisions regarding traction, snowshoes, and outerwear. Spring ushers in surprise snowstorms and extreme mud. Trail conditions change from day to day. And summer is an entirely different animal. No snow. No mud. Longer days. It sounds great in theory, until you get out there…
Boulder summers are hot, sunny, and dry. That’s because Boulder is, in fact, a semi-arid high desert climate. This makes our winters very tolerable because the sun is out and snow melts quickly, but it makes our summers a bit more challenging. Toasty temperatures and incessant sunshine can quickly spell trouble for the unprepared hiker. In the wintertime, we can always add more layers, but in summer there’s only so much you can take off, legally speaking.
So what’s a hiker to do? Fortunately, there are several things we can do to make summer hikes easier and breezier. Here are some pro-tips for safe, enjoyable summer hiking here in Boulder:
- Bring plenty of water for you and your party (this includes dogs)
- Consider electrolyte replacement drinks and extra food, especially salty snacks
- Wear lightweight performance clothing (avoid cotton) and a hat
- Apply sunscreen liberally and re-apply every 2 hours
- Hike in the morning or evening – avoid midday
- Choose trails with shade and access to water
- Know the signs of heat exhaustion/stroke and seek help if needed
Now you know what to do, but where to go? To beat the heat, you need trails that offer plenty of shade and access to an icy cool creek. Higher elevations help, too, by providing slightly cooler temps. Here are 3 Boulder hikes that will leave you feeling cool as a cucumber this summer.
Bear Canyon Trail (1.7 miles one way with 940 feet of elevation gain)
In Boulder and beyond, there are few trails more beautiful than Bear Canyon. Bear Canyon is lush with vegetation and ripe with views of nearby peaks. It may be accessed from NCAR Trailhead or the Bear Mountain Drive access point. The approach from either point is a little over one mile.
Yes, it’s gorgeous. But the best part of hiking Bear Canyon in the summer is the delightfully cold creek that winds alongside the trail. You’ll cross it several times, and don’t fight the urge to dip your feet in it… or your entire body. This trail and its accompanying creek are a true delight for any hiker in the hot season.
Mesa Trail (6.9 miles with over 1,000 feet of elevation gain)
Beginning at South Mesa Trailhead and ending at Chautauqua Trailhead, the Mesa Trail rises and falls as it takes you from south to north in the shadows of Boulder’s mountain range. You begin and end at roughly the same elevation, but you’ll do quite a bit of work in between.
Mesa is the spine of the western trail system, connecting our three busiest trailheads (South Mesa, NCAR, and Chautauqua). This trail provides unique vantage points from which to view both the mountains and the plains. It’s also home to an astonishing array of wildlife. Everything from bears to rattlesnakes may be encountered, and wildflower junkies will want to bring their cameras. For those needing to chill out, Mesa encounters several creeks as it meanders along. With so much to see, ample shade, and plenty of creek crossings, it’s the quintessential summer hike.
Walker Ranch (7.8 miles with 892 feet of elevation gain, counter clockwise)
Walker Ranch is a challenging loop just west of town. To get there, head west on Flagstaff Road for about 7 miles to the Walker Ranch Trailhead. This multi-use loop is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians.
Like the Mesa Trail, Walker Ranch rolls up and down as it winds through meadow, forest, and riparian zones. It features a combination of shaded and exposed trails, but all at a higher elevation, which makes for cooler temps. Even at its lowest point, the loop is a full 1,000 feet higher than the city of Boulder.
Walker Ranch is a breathtaking, otherworldly type of hike. This is due, in large part, to its location adjacent to South Boulder Creek. And South Boulder Creek is no measly trickle. This is a rushing torrent of a creek, even late in the summer, and its wild waters are as beautiful as they are cold. When you reach The Falls, be sure to stop and stay a while. This is the perfect place for taking a dip, enjoying a picnic lunch, and taking photos.
Staying cool in the summer is no small feat for Boulder hikers, but with a little thought and planning, it’s a piece of cake (ice cream cake, of course). Be safe, chill out, and happy trails, Boulderites!