Imagine the aroma of a thousand wildflowers, the sound of icy waters cascading over well-worn rocks, the feel of a steadily rising trail under your feet, and the view from precarious perches on airy cliffs. This is the full sensory experience of hiking Gregory Canyon in the summertime. And luckily for us, it isn’t a far away place. No road trip or airfare required. Gregory Canyon is a mere 2 miles from downtown Boulder, but its untouched beauty will transport you to a place that feels much, much farther.
Before Gregory Canyon had its namesake trail, it contained an old mining road. John Gregory built this road in the 1860’s. It was the main route to Black Hawk for many years, but it made for difficult travel and was often impassable. Eventually the road was closed and replaced with the more travel-friendly Flagstaff Road. All the better for today’s Boulderites, as Gregory Canyon is now a protected habitat and offers a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of town.
The Gregory Canyon Trail isn’t very long, but it’s steep enough to make for a solid workout. It can be done as an out-and-back or made into a loop by connecting to a number of nearby trails. It can be incorporated into two different summit hikes. And its location in this pristine canyon makes it a trail that you’ll want to experience (eyes, ears, and nose) again and again. This is your guide to one of Boulder’s most treasured trails.
Gregory Canyon Trailhead lies just west of Chautauqua. Take Baseline Road to the point where it becomes Flagstaff Road. Instead of heading up Flagstaff Mountain, turn left onto the Gregory Canyon access road. If parking at the trailhead is full, street parking is available on Baseline.
The trail clocks in at 1.1 miles long with nearly 900 feet of elevation gain. Begin heading west up the trail from the parking lot. The first stretch takes you through a dense canopy of vegetation alongside Gregory Creek. Poison ivy is prevalent here, so be sure to stay on trail and watch your step.
As the trail rises above the creek, it opens up and becomes quite rocky. Continue ascending while you savor the views of Green Mountain to the north and the plains to the east. Keep your eyes open for any wildlife. Bear, deer, and wild turkey are regulars here. Songbirds are also in abundance, particularly the bright and colorful Western Tanager. And don’t forget to look down. Gregory Canyon is home to an impressive array of wildflowers. Peak time is in June, but there’s always something blooming here from late spring to fall.
The trail levels out as you near the top. You’ll enter the forest, cross a small creek, and finish at a junction with Ranger Trail. Realization Point Trailhead is just a few steps to the north. From here, you can turn around and return the way you came or create a loop hike with one of the options below.
If a longer loop hike is what your heart desires, Gregory Canyon can be incorporated into several options. Here are three local favorites:
Gregory Canyon – Saddle Rock Loop (3.7 miles, 1,380 feet of elevation gain): From the top of Gregory Canyon Trail, head south on Ranger for 0.5 miles to the junction with EM Greenman Trail. Turn left on EM Greenman for 0.6 miles to arrive at Saddle Rock. Saddle Rock is a steep but incredibly gorgeous trail with unique views. It also features our open space’s only “trail ladder.” Remain on Saddle Rock Trail for 1.2 miles and you’ll descend back to Gregory Canyon and your starting point.
Flagstaff Summit Loop (3.5 miles, 1,350 feet of elevation gain): From the top of Gregory Canyon Trail, head north to Realization Point. Cross Flagstaff Road to access Rangeview Trail. Take beautiful Rangeview with its Indian Peaks panorama for 0.6 miles to the junction with Flagstaff Trail. Flagstaff Trail descends for 1.5 miles to the Gregory Canyon access road.
Green Mountain Summit Loop (5 miles, 2,300 feet of elevation gain): From the top of Gregory Canyon Trail, turn left to access Ranger. Take Ranger for 1.4 miles to the saddle just below Green’s summit. Head east for the final push up a series of switchbacks. Enjoy the 360-degree views from one of Boulder’s most popular peaks. Descend via EM Greenman to Saddle Rock and in about 2.5 miles you’ll be back at the trailhead.
Happy trails, Boulderites!