Every day in Boulder we have the opportunity to hike, but life’s responsibilities often get in the way. Maybe your workday has left you short on time. Maybe you’re feeling a little low on energy. Maybe you’ve got kids who aren’t fond of steep trails. Maybe you’ve got out-of-town guests who aren’t accustomed to the altitude. Maybe it’s all of the above. (If so, virtual hugs to you.) Whatever your obstacles may be, you can still get your fix with the Dakota Ridge – Sanitas Valley Loop.
This popular easy-to-moderate hike has everything you want and nothing you don’t. Located right in town? Check. Enough trail to get your legs and lungs revving? Check. Gentle rise and descent that works for kids and out-of-towners? Check. Certainly there’s a time and place for strenuous treks that take up the whole day. But when you need the complete opposite of that, the Dakota Ridge – Sanitas Valley Loop is ready and waiting. Read on for your guide to this classic Boulder hike.
As always, please consult OSMP.org for trail conditions and closures.
This begins at the Mount Sanitas Trailhead. Head west on Mapleton Avenue. The trailhead is on the right, just past 4th Street. This is a very popular spot. If parking is full, try Centennial Trailhead just a bit farther west. Street parking is available as well.
This loop is part of the Mount Sanitas network of trails. Dakota Ridge is the rocky spine that lies just east of the mountain. And while Mount Sanitas itself is a beautiful hike, it’s fairly strenuous. Clocking in at 2.2 miles and less than 500 feet of elevation gain, the Dakota Ridge – Sanitas Valley Loop offers a gentler alternative in the same area.
Begin at the trailhead and head north on the Sanitas Valley Trail. This wide, graveled trail was heavily damaged during the 2013 flood. Mud slides and rushing water filled the trail with debris and created deep gullies. It has since been repaired and is now better than ever.
At approximately 0.2 miles up the Sanitas Valley Trail, turn right for the Dakota Ridge Trail. Proceed up the ridge and into the ponderosa pines. Enjoy the views of Mount Sanitas to the west and the Flatirons to the south. Keep your eyes open for wildlife. Even though these trails are well traveled, they are known for deer and mountain lion activity (particularly at dawn or dusk).
Shortly after turning onto Dakota Ridge, you’ll come upon the only steep climb in the entire hike. And though it’s steep, it’s very short. Children, out-of-towners, and novice hikers will want to take their time and watch their footing. Once you’ve ascended that short stretch, the rest of Dakota Ridge rolls along pleasantly without any fuss.
At 1.2 miles into the hike, you’ll reach the “summit.” This is not an actual summit, of course, but it is the high point of the hike and offers beautiful views of the city. Take a rest on the bench and enjoy.
From here, the trail turns west and connects with the top of the Sanitas Valley Trail. Sanitas Valley is such a joy to walk or run. Wide, flat, and airy, this trail oozes with serenity. Even when it’s filled with people and dogs (as it often is), you’ll still feel its peaceful effects.
Sanitas Valley descends very gradually back toward the trailhead. There is a seasonal ditch near the bottom, which is very popular with dogs. Throughout the summer and into the fall, an array of wildflowers turns the valley into a cornucopia of color.
If you are looking to extend this hike, one option is to include Mount Sanitas. Head up the Mount Sanitas Trail, connect with East Ridge, and then descend via Sanitas Valley or Dakota Ridge. This adds another mile and over 1,000 feet of elevation.
Another option is to do the original loop, cross Mapleton Avenue, and then hike the Red Rocks Loop. This adds about a mile and another 500 feet of elevation.
Please consult the OSMP map for additional variations. Happy trails, Boulderites!
Image Credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com — all rights reserved