School’s Out! Boulder Hikes for Kids of All Ages

boulder hikes kids colorado
Spring moves quickly in Boulder. One day it’s snowing, the next day the wildflowers are popping up, and then suddenly it’s summer. In a mere 3 weeks, Boulder area schools will close and summer vacation begins.

Ah, yes, summer vacation. As any parent will tell you, it’s both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you’ve got a lighter schedule, lazier days, and the opportunity for family travel. On the other hand, you’ve got TIME – lots and lots of time with kids who now have absolutely nothing to do.

Fret not, local parents! Boulder’s 145 miles of trails are here to help. Our open space is full of opportunity for adventure, fun, and enrichment. The best part? It’s open every single day and it’s free. You and the kids can explore rambling rivers, abandoned quarries, and sweeping summits, and it’s all right here in our own backyard. 

Please consult the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks for trail conditions and temporary closures. Before bringing dogs, be sure to read about area dog regulations.

Basic Checklist for Family Hikes

The key to a successful hike with kids of any age is anticipating needs and potential issues. If the kids aren’t comfortable, your well-intentioned hike can quickly turn into Whine Fest 2017. Thankfully, a little preparation goes a long way. Choose a day with nice weather (if it’s 100 degrees or pouring rain, reschedule!) and pack the following:

  • Plenty of water for all
  • Plenty of snacks, including a special treat for “motivation”
  • A bathroom kit (toilet paper, wipes, baggies)
  • Basic first aid (band-aids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen)
  • Maps for each kid (many kids enjoy trying to navigate and lead)
  • Phones/cameras for older kids to take photos

Hikes for Kids Ages 3-5

Kids in preschool or kindergarten are just growing their hiking legs. Rather than long and strenuous outings, most do better with shorter trails that allow for ample exploration and free play.

Red Rocks/Settlers Park: Located just steps from downtown, this is Boulder’s prime hiking spot for little tykes. The recent Sunshine Fire burned several acres here, but most trees survived and already the grasses and shrubs are coming back to life. Several trails wind around the Red Rocks and a variety of short loops (all under 1.5 miles) are possible. Kids love scrambling on the rocks and enjoy the bird’s eye view of Boulder down below. Expect a couple of steep but short inclines.

South Boulder Creek Trail: This 1.5-mile out-and-back trail is pleasantly flat, well groomed, and offers plenty to see. South Boulder Creek runs alongside the trail and provides several areas for children to dip their toes in and explore. Views of the Flatirons are visible through the mature, leafy trees. Cows are often grazing close by and a small prairie dog town lies at the trail’s end. Upon your return, plan a stop at the peaceful picnic table near the parking lot. This is a beautifully calming place to end your hike (and a great spot for a picnic lunch).

Hikes for Kids Ages 6-10

Kids in elementary school are ready for something a little more challenging – as long as it comes with a reward. These hikes are perfectly sized for bigger kids and each one offers something special in exchange for their effort.

Woods Quarry Loop: This fun and historic hike is most easily accessed from the McClintock Trailhead at Chautauqua, behind the Auditorium. The loop itself is a mere 0.4 miles and, when combined with the approach, it amounts to approximately 2 miles round trip. From Upper McClintock Trail, turn left onto Mesa Trail, and then bear a slight right to continue up to Woods Quarry. The quarry is a fantastic spot for snacks or lunch. Hikers have taken the giant stone slabs from this now-defunct quarry and arranged them into chairs and sofas. The views to the east are stunning.

Lion’s Lair Trail: Bigger kids want to bag summits, but they might need to work up to it. Lion’s Lair offers a gorgeous route to the summit of Mount Sanitas that is much easier than the classic approaches. This newly finished trail switchbacks gently to the summit over the course of 2.2 beautiful miles. Herds of deer are very common. Wildflowers are abundant. At the top, kids will enjoy the sweeping views from one of Boulder’s most popular summits.

Hikes for Kids Ages 11 & Up

Tweens and teens may act as though they’re less interested in hikes at this age, but time spent in nature is critical for adolescents dealing with increasingly busy lives amidst an onslaught of physical and emotional changes. A hike helps them to recharge and refocus while offering a “no distractions zone” for you to interact with them.

1st/2nd Flatirons Trail: This trail is a bit of a lung buster, but most tweens and teens can handle it and the payoff is huge. From Chautauqua Trailhead, begin hiking up the meadow. After a left turn onto Bluebell-Baird Trail, turn right to continue on the 1st/2nd Flatiron Trail. It’s about 1.5 miles and 1,400 feet of elevation to the top, but boy is it worth it. Look to the left for a gorgeous view of the 2nd Flatiron, then be sure to walk around the back of the 1st Flatiron and come out the other side (facing northeast). Even though it takes some energy to get here, your kids will ask to do it again.

Eldorado Canyon Trail: This 7-mile round trip hike is quite challenging, but it provides an incredible experience for the ambitious tween or teen. Although the trail itself is maintained by the City of Boulder, it is located in Eldorado Canyon State Park. Teens will enjoy watching rock climbers on the big walls and crags lining the first half of the trail. The second half descends into a forest adjacent to South Boulder Creek. It is one of the most breathtaking trails in Boulder County, with views in all directions. At the end of the trail, turn left and continue toward Walker Ranch for just a few steps to go over the bridge and enjoy the raging falls of the creek. This is an exhilarating spot for a picnic.

Happy trails, Boulderites!

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Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia is a hiking guide, naturalist, and community volunteer. Originally from New England, she and her family have settled down in Boulder for the long haul. When she's not hiking or running on Boulder's trails, Alli is hitting the water with her standup paddleboard. She writes to inspire others to get outside and play. Alli serves on the board of the PLAY Boulder Foundation and she's the co-founder of Boulder Hiker Chicks.
Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia is a hiking guide, naturalist, and community volunteer. Originally from New England, she and her family have settled down in Boulder for the long haul. When she's not hiking or running on Boulder's trails, Alli is hitting the water with her standup paddleboard. She writes to inspire others to get outside and play. Alli serves on the board of the PLAY Boulder Foundation and she's the co-founder of Boulder Hiker Chicks.

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