In recent years, the Boulder 5-Peak Traverse (also called the Skyline Traverse) has become increasingly popular as the ultimate backyard trail challenge. What was once an obscure hike or run known only to the hardcore crowd has since become a mainstream challenge for locals and visitors alike. And it’s no wonder why – the route is more challenging than many 14ers and yet it’s right in town.
While the 5-Peak Traverse’s newfound popularity is sure to last, it’s only natural that Boulderites would find a way to up-level this already epic hike. Enter the 7 Summits Challenge. You may be thinking, “7 summits?! There are only five main peaks in Boulder!” Of course, you are correct. Boulder’s five peaks are (north to south) Sanitas, Flagstaff, Green, Bear, and South Boulder. The 7 summits route consists of summiting all five peaks and then backtracking to hit Bear Peak and Green Mountain again before descending.
Why hike 7 summits in Boulder? Well, the name is a play on the “Seven Summits” to which many mountaineers aspire – summiting the highest peak on each continent around the globe. Boulder’s 7 summits are not quite that challenging (nor do they require airfare), but after bagging over 20 miles and 7,200 feet of elevation gain, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world.
One of the best things about the 7 Summits Challenge (as opposed to the 5-Peak Traverse) is that you finish in lovely Chautauqua. The benefit here is amenities galore. Instead of descending to a trailhead with vault toilets (such as South Mesa), you descend to Chautauqua Trailhead where real bathrooms, an ice cream shop, and a full-service restaurant are waiting for you. At the bottom of the trail, simply walk a few more feet (you’ve made it this far – you can do it) to civilization and comfort. You’ll be sipping a celebratory beer in less than 10 minutes.
Read on for your guide to the newest Boulder mega hike, the 7 Summits Challenge.
Be sure to check with the City of Boulder’s Open Space & Mountain Parks for trail conditions, possible closures, and dog regulations.
This hike is slightly over 20 miles with 7,200 feet of elevation gain. At a moderate pace with a few breaks, you can expect it to take about 11-13 hours. (Super speedsters or trail runners can obviously do it even faster.) An early start is highly recommended to ensure that you’re finished well before sunset.
Bring plenty of water (at least 3 liters) and ample food for the day. Expect some aches and pains with this kind of mileage, even if you’re very seasoned. Be prepared and throw some ibuprofen, bandages, and moleskin into your pack. Don’t forget your phone or camera because you’re about to experience all of Boulder’s most beautiful vistas in one stellar day.
The ideal starting point for this hike is the Goat Trail in North Boulder. This tiny trailhead lies at the intersection of Forest Avenue and 3rd Street and provides a very direct route to the summit of Sanitas without having to repeat any trails. Please be respectful of the surrounding neighborhood.
Consult the interactive map at OSMP.org to view this route. Be aware of “exit points” in case you need to abort mission and descend early due to weather, injury, or fatigue.
Summit #1, Mount Sanitas: Beginning at the Goat Trail, head up the rocky hillside to the junction with Sanitas Valley and East Ridge. Turn right and continue up East Ridge to the summit of Mount Sanitas. Enjoy your first summit of the day and then descend via the Mount Sanitas Trail. You’re just getting started.
Summit #2, Flagstaff Mountain: Connecting Sanitas with Flagstaff is a little tricky. Cross Mapleton Avenue to Centennial Trailhead. Skirt past the trailhead and continue south on Red Rocks Trail through the valley. The fins of the Red Rocks will be to your left while Anemone Hill is to your right.
When you reach Settler’s Park Trailhead, turn right for Eben G. Fine Park. After the bridge, bear left to exit the park at Arapahoe Avenue. Head up the fire road to Viewpoint Trail. Continue on Viewpoint Trail to Panorama Point.
From Panorama Point, cross the road to Flagstaff Trail and take Flagstaff Trail to the summit area where it meets with Ute Trail. Flagstaff’s true summit is unmarked and somewhat anti-climactic, so feel free to celebrate your second peak at the junction with Ute. Yay!
Summit #3, Green Mountain: Take Ute to Realization Point. Cross the road (this is your last road crossing of the day) and head toward Green Mountain Lodge. Continue on Ranger Trail to the saddle and turn left to reach Green’s summit.
You will now be faced with the sobering reality that this is only the first time your feet will touch Green Mountain’s summit today. The hardest part lies ahead. With this in mind, take a break and fuel up.
Summit #4, Bear Peak: Descend from Green’s summit the way you came. Continue on Green West Ridge Trail to Green Bear Trail. Turn left onto Green Bear and enjoy the gently descending switchbacks and gorgeous views. Don’t miss the right turn for Bear Peak West Ridge at the bottom of the canyon. This is where the suffer fest begins.
Bear Peak West Ridge is a long, grueling stretch of trail and it feels particularly brutal when you’ve already summited three peaks. Dig deep. You’ve got this. Follow signs to the summit and celebrate!
Summit #5, South Boulder Peak: Return to Bear Peak West Ridge and follow the sign toward South Boulder Peak. It’s a short and direct hike to the summit, but you’ll be feeling those last few switchbacks. Give yourself a pat on the back when you get there. You are now at the highest point in Boulder (8,549 feet) and you’ve completed a 5-Peak Traverse! But you’re not done yet, because this is the 7 Summits Challenge.
Summit #6, Bear Peak (again): After some celebrating, head down and return to Bear’s summit exactly as you came. This is a quick one with very little elevation gain, so you’ll be pumped and ready for the big finale.
Summit #7, Green Mountain (again): Retrace your steps from Bear to Green. Head down Bear Peak West Ridge and take the hairpin left turn onto Green Bear. Up you go to the junction with Green West Ridge. Turn right onto Green West Ridge and continue to the summit.
Upon arrival, high five every single person you encounter. Take some photos, scarf some food, and get ready to finish this. Return to the saddle and take Ranger Trail to Gregory Canyon. Descend gorgeous Gregory Canyon to Baseline Trail. You are now at Chautauqua where running water, toilets, food, and libations await. Enjoy. You’ve earned it!
Happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo credits: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com unless otherwise noted — all rights reserved