Boulder is full of well-loved holiday traditions and events. From downtown to the university to our own neighborhoods, there’s no shortage of good cheer and community gatherings. And each year we kick off the festivities with the lighting of the Flagstaff Star.
Boulder’s famous star shines brightly over the city from the eastern flank of Flagstaff Mountain. Since 1947, the star has been lit annually to commemorate the holidays. Although the lighting used to occur much later in the season, in recent years it’s been lit during the second week of November.
It’s become tradition for locals to visit the star, where the city views are stellar and the ambiance is ethereal. Most drive up Flagstaff Road at dusk, park nearby, and then walk up the short slope to the star’s interior. But that doesn’t sound like much of an adventure, does it? By far the coolest way to see the star is to earn it by hiking up from the bottom of the mountain.
This moderate night hike has two possible approaches. Each one is about 1.2 miles (one way) with roughly 900 feet of elevation gain. Cold temperatures and icy trails call for a little extra gear and preparation, but that’s just part of the fun. Read on for your guide to the most exhilarating hike of the holiday season.
Given the time of year, this hike is likely to be a cold and icy one. Plan accordingly for your comfort and safety. Dress in warm layers with a waterproof outer layer. Foot traction is highly recommended. A headlamp is a must. As always, check with OSMP.org for trail conditions and temporary closures.
Option A: Begin at Flagstaff Trail, just a few feet north of the Gregory Canyon Trailhead. Take Baseline Road west until it meets with Flagstaff Road. The trail is marked with a sign. There is ample street parking on Baseline.
Option B: Begin at Viewpoint Trail. Head west on University Avenue until it dead-ends just past 5th Street. Park on the street and walk up University to where it meets with Marshall. The trail is marked with a sign.
Option A: Take Flagstaff Trail up the hillside through a densely vegetated area. The thick shrub soon opens up and gives way to a rocky trail climbing steadily to a popular bouldering area. Just beyond the bouldering spot, about a half-mile up, there is a junction. Turn right (north) to head toward the Flagstaff Halfway House and the star. Here the trail descends briefly and then rises again as you pass through the ponderosa pine forest.
You’ll pass a junction where you can take a left or continue straight. Continue straight (north). Then the trail begins to bend east. As you near the star you’ll emerge from the forest and pass a stone outhouse on the right. At the outhouse, turn left (per the sign) to head north again toward the Halfway House and the star. Once you’ve reached the Halfway House, the star is clearly visible. From here, carefully walk the road for a short stretch till you get to star’s base.
Option B: Take Viewpoint Trail up the north side of Flagstaff. There are two junctions in the first quarter-mile. Be sure to stay to the left to continue up. (Turning right at either junction takes you down the other side of the trail toward Eben G. Fine Park.)
The trail begins to climb steeply while providing views to the north and the east. Continue switch backing up until you reach Panorama Point. From here, cross the road carefully and head toward the stone outhouse. At the outhouse, heed the sign and turn right toward the Halfway House and the star. Once you’ve reached the Halfway House, the star is clearly visible. From here, carefully walk the road for a short stretch till you get to star’s base.
At the Star: The final stretch from the base of the star is short but extremely steep. To prevent further erosion of the area, stick to the well-worn paths that already exist. Carefully scramble your way up the grassy slope. Find your spot, have a seat, and enjoy. Congratulations! You got up here the hard way and that makes the experience so much sweeter.
Happy trails, Boulderites!