Boulder’s most famous rocks are undoubtedly the Flatirons. The five sandstone slabs, rising up over the city from the eastern flanks of Green Mountain, are visible from nearly every part of town. Their iconic image has become synonymous with Boulder, gracing everything from tourism posters to business logos. But there’s another set of rocks that’s been quietly attracting Boulderites for over 150 years.
The Red Rocks at Settlers Park (not to be confused with Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater in Morrison, CO) may not be as famous as the Flatirons, but they’re just as worthy of a visit. This historic area provides a myriad of all-level hiking and scrambling opportunities. The best part? It’s just a stone’s throw from downtown. Read on for everything you need to know about Boulder’s second most popular rocks.
The Red Rocks Trail at Settlers Park is most easily accessed from the Settlers Park Trailhead or the Centennial Park Trailhead.
It may also be accessed from Eben G. Fine Park. Simply head toward the west end of the park, go over the bridge, and enter the tunnel marked “Settlers Park.”
Dogs are permitted at Settlers Park and may be off-leash if they have a Voice and Sight tag.
This hike is gentle enough for most ages and fitness levels. It can be enjoyed any time of year, but it’s especially nice in the winter. The sundrenched south- and east-facing trails dry out quickly after a snowfall. When the rest of the trail system is icy or muddy, Red Rocks is often in perfect condition.
The Red Rocks Trail is actually a network of short trails that can be combined in any number of ways. Beginning at Settlers Park Trailhead, head up the rocky trail toward the towering sandstone fins. It’s only 0.5 miles to the top with about 300 feet of elevation gain. The city view from the hilltop is a local favorite. Enjoy it from the bench or turn west and scramble up the rocks for an even better view.
Settlers Park is the site of the first permanent camp of white settlers to the Boulder region. Pioneers arrived here in 1858 with hopes of striking gold, although they were unsuccessful until they moved a bit farther west to Gold Hill. The land at Settlers Park was purchased by the city in the 1920s.
Short trails encircle and intersect the rocks. After you’re done scrambling and exploring, head west down the slope into the small valley between Red Rocks and Anemone Hill. Turn left on the trail that descends toward the drainage. Cross the small wooden bridge and continue southeast until you’re back at Settlers Park Trailhead. A loop through Red Rocks is about 1.5 miles depending on your exact route.
Red Rocks is a quick hike that’s ideal for beginners, out-of-towners, children, or anyone short on time. But you can easily tack on any of these nearby trails to make for a longer, more challenging hike. Consult the map for these and other variations.
Anemone Trail: From the west side of the rocks, continue heading west to Anemone Trail. This out-and-back trail will add an extra mile to your hike and about 500 feet in elevation gain. Anemone offers great views of Boulder Canyon and Indian Peaks.
Sunshine Canyon Trail: From the west side of the rocks, hike down the slope and then head north on the wide flat trail leading toward Centennial Park Trailhead. Just before you reach the trailhead, turn west onto Sunshine Canyon Trail. This out-and-back trail adds a total of 2.6 miles to your hike with very little elevation gain.
Mount Sanitas: From the rocks, hike west to Centennial Park Trailhead. Cross Mapleton Avenue and follow the signs for Sanitas. This network of trails will add over 3 miles to your hike. Climb the mountain via the south ridge (nearly 1,300 feet in elevation gain) or do a less strenuous loop up Dakota Ridge and down Sanitas Valley (600 feet in elevation gain).
Happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo Credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com — all rights reserved