Fall is arguably the best season for hiking in Boulder. The summer heat has mellowed, the winds have picked up, and nature’s changing colors provide fresh scenery. Many will hop in their cars to hike amongst the fiery aspen trees of the high country, but vibrant fall colors can be found right here in town.
Blazing red sumac lines the trails in central and south Boulder, while golden cottonwood trees adorn the trails to the north and the east. Prairie grasses turn into ripples of green, yellow, and even red. The deciduous trees planted over a century ago in historic neighborhoods like Mapleton Hill and University Hill produce colors that rival those found in New England. Don’t let anyone tell you differently – Boulder is a pretty sweet spot in the fall.
This annual spectacle cannot be fully appreciated from a car or office window. You’ve got to get out there and soak it all in. You need to see the colors, smell the leaves, hear the grasses blow, and feel the wind on your face. Read on for your guide to the best fall trails in Boulder.
Sawhill and Walden Ponds
This hike is customizable. The trail around Sawhill Ponds is 2 miles, while the trail around the adjacent Walden Ponds (including the Heatherwood Trail) is 3.5 miles. Choose one or hike both for a longer 5.5-mile sojourn. Both trails are mostly flat. There is ample parking at each trailhead.
The wetlands habitat at Sawhill and Walden Ponds supports a variety of prairie grasses as well as looming cottonwood trees. The cottonwood’s yellow fall leaves create a breathtaking golden vista as you hike along. Wildlife is abundant in this area, so keep your eyes open for foraging bunnies, hunting foxes, and grazing deer.
Homestead – Towhee Loop
This hike is accessed from the South Mesa Trailhead. The trailhead is quite popular, so arrive early if hiking on the weekend. If the lot is full, try the Doudy Draw parking lot across the street.
The Homestead – Towhee Loop is approximately 2.5 miles with less than 500 feet of elevation gain. Begin on Mesa Trail and turn left onto Homestead. Follow Homestead for 1.3 miles till it ends at a junction with Mesa Trail. Turn right on Mesa and then right onto Towhee soon after. Towhee connects back with Mesa and returns you to the trailhead.
Dogs are not permitted on Towhee Trail. To make this hike dog friendly, simply skip Towhee and stay on Mesa to return.
The number one reason to do this hike in the fall? One word: sumac. Sumac is a shrubby tree with leaves that turn a flaming red in late September/early October. (This is not poison sumac, which grows primarily in the Eastern US below elevations of 4,000 feet.) Sumac is abundant in the southern quadrant of our open space, and there’s no better place to view it than from this loop. The combination of boldly red sumac and the mountains rising up behind is simply stunning. Bonus: This hike will wow your children and out-of-towners, too.
Panorama Point Hike
Begin at Viewpoint Trail, which is most easily accessed just west of University and 5th Street. There is plenty of street parking. This hike is a 3.5-mile loop with approximately 900 feet of elevation.
The Panorama Point hike allows you to view fall colors from three unique vantage points. Start by heading up Viewpoint Trail for 1.2 miles to Panorama Point. At Panorama Point, you’ll have the entire city spread out before you. Boulder’s historic neighborhoods and its leafy trees are in full view from here.
From Panorama Point, cross Flagstaff Road and take Flagstaff Trail as it skirts past the outhouse. You’ll hike through two junctions. Stay to the left. After the second junction, the trail descends. You’ll soon pass through an area densely covered with that beautiful red sumac. Views of Chautauqua meadow and the First Flatiron beckon from the south.
Flagstaff Trail bottoms out at the intersection of Baseline Road and Flagstaff Road. Cross the street and take Baseline Trail to the 6th Street access point. From here, it’s a one-mile stroll through one of Boulder’s prettiest neighborhoods. Maples, oaks, and other deciduous trees will be on full display. When 6th Street hits University Avenue, turn left and you’ll be back where you started.
Happy autumn and happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo Credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com — all rights reserved