School’s out for summer! Local parents can pat themselves on the back for having survived another year of bag lunches and homework headaches. Summer brings a more relaxed schedule, fewer responsibilities, and gorgeous weather. It’s the perfect time of year to get outside with the kids.
Boulder County is full of easy going hikes for little legs (some of the most popular can be found here and here). Short, flat trails with nice scenery are ideal for building up a young hiker’s confidence and fitness level. But when they’re well into elementary school and beyond, many kids are eager for more of a challenge. Mentally, they’re no longer satisfied with the same old, same old. Physically, they’re able to tackle trails that are longer, steeper, and offer greater reward. When your brood has reached this stage, it’s time to step it up.
This is your guide to the coolest Boulder hikes for adventurous kids ages 8 & up. We’re talking 100-year old ruins, a bat cave, an abandoned quarry, and one jaw-dropping summit. These are not toddler hikes – they’re big kid hikes. And your big kid is going to thank you for taking them on some of the coolest trails around.
Rattlesnake Gulch (3.8 miles round trip, 1,400 feet of elevation gain)
Rattlesnake Gulch in Eldorado Canyon State Park has some of the most unique features of any trail in the vicinity. Head west on Highway 170 and follow the signs to the park. If you don’t have an annual pass, you’ll need to pay the $8 daily fee. The trailhead for Rattlesnake Gulch is 0.6 miles beyond the entrance on your left. There is parking at the trailhead (with overflow options nearby).
With 1,400 feet of elevation gain, this hike will be a reach for some, but the rewards provide plenty of motivation. About halfway up, you’ll reach the ruins of the old Crags Hotel. The hotel burned down under suspicious circumstances in 1912. Remnants of the fireplace, water fountain, and foundation are all that remain. Interpretive signs tell the story of this once thriving mountain resort.
Continuing past the hotel site on the upper loop, you’ll top out near the railroad tracks. The Denver & Rio Grande Route still runs here. If you’re lucky, you may see a train emerging from the tunnel above.
Rattlesnake Gulch offers incredible views and an exciting history lesson for your big kids. And as the name suggests, rattlesnakes are prevalent here. Keep kids close by and be vigilant.
Mallory Cave (2.2 miles round trip, 940 feet of elevation gain)
Mallory Cave is a moderate hike that ends at an actual bat cave. It doesn’t get any cooler than that. To access this trail, take Table Mesa west to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). There is ample parking. From the NCAR trailhead, take the Mesa Trail to the connector with Mallory Cave. This is an out-and-back hike.
Enjoy hiking through meadow and forest as you switchback up to the cave. Townsend’s big-eared bats roost here seasonally. To prevent the spread of white nose syndrome, the cave itself is permanently closed. In the summer, you can hike right to the bottom of the cave. The final stretch (a steep, 25-foot rock scramble) is closed from April 1st to October 1st to protect the bats while roosting. If your kid likes to climb and isn’t afraid of heights, come back with them in October to tackle that last stretch of rock. At the top, they’ll be able to peer into the cave while savoring an incredible view to the east.
Woods Quarry (2.6 miles round trip, 960 feet of elevation gain)
Woods Quarry is a pleasant ramble to the site of an old stone quarry. This hike leads out of Chautauqua Trailhead. Take Baseline Road west and turn left into the Chautauqua parking lot just past 9th Street. From the trailhead, hike south on Bluebell Road to Mesa Trail and follow the signs to Woods Quarry.
At the top of Woods Quarry, you’re greeted with a beautiful panorama of Boulder and the plains beyond. Large slabs of sandstone are everywhere and people enjoy creating chairs, chaise lounges, and sofas out of them. Your kids will love to try them out and perhaps make their own creation. Let them explore, play, and enjoy lunch with a view.
Green Mountain West Ridge (2.6 miles round trip, 600 feet of elevation gain)
Green Mountain is a challenging summit for most adults. To approach it from the bottom would be a far reach for most kids. Enter Green Mountain West Ridge. This trail begins high up on Flagstaff Road and makes the summit accessible for most levels.
Head west on Flagstaff Road for about 5 miles. The trail begins on the left, just past the sign that reads “Leaving City of Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks.” There is street parking for several vehicles. This hike is an out-and-back.
Green Mountain West Ridge provides unique views of the Boulder range from the backside. The trail begins rolling gently through a wildflower-dotted meadow. In late summer, keep your eyes open for wild raspberries. Soon you’ll enter the forest and begin switch backing up to the summit at 8,144 feet. The trail steepens considerably in the last quarter mile, but you’ll be at the top before you know it.
This summit is a real stunner. Kids will be proud to share it with both day hikers and elite athletes. The final scramble up a giant boulder to the summit marker is exhilarating. Spend some time reading the metal disk that identifies the high peaks to the west. Relax with the butterflies and ladybugs, have a snack, and return the way you came.
Happy summer and happy trails, Boulderites!