School’s (nearly) out for the summer! If you’re a parent, these words may fill you with excitement or leave you stricken with fear. While it’s true that Boulder has no shortage of summer activities and camps for kids, many of them cost money, have wait lists, or (gasp!) require forms.
Yes, forms. It’s been scientifically proven* that filling out forms is one of the most dreaded aspects of parenting. That parkour astronaut fusion camp sounded like the perfect thing for little Emma… until you got the 32-page PDF attachment that’s due back this Friday. Physician signatures? Six emergency contacts? Wait… does this thing need to be notarized? Serenity now.
Take a deep breath, let go of the pen, and put away your wallet. Organized summer activities certainly have their place, but sometimes you just want to kick it old school — no forms, no wait lists, no worries.
Fortunately, Boulder’s open space has you covered. With 145 miles of trails at your beck and call, you’ll be having fun with the kids faster than you can say “Social Media, Photography, and Video Release Form.”
These kid-friendly hikes have everything you want and nothing you don’t. Shared experiences and teachable moments? Check. Fresh air and exercise? Check. Paperwork? Heck no.
This is it, parents: your guide to summer goodness with the kids, no forms required.
As always, please consult OSMP.org for trail conditions and closures.
*Or at least that’s what people say
For the Animal Lovers
Wildlife watching opportunities are plentiful in these rare Colorado wetlands. Osprey and great blue heron soar overhead while turtles warm themselves on sunny logs. Frogs are seen and heard along the pond edges. Dragonflies dart over the water’s surface and bull snakes lounge lazily right in the middle of the trail.
The trails at Sawhill and Walden are almost entirely flat and easy to navigate. Both trails can be taken in their entirety or shortened into smaller loops or out-and-backs. Views of the Bounder range peek out between looming cottonwood trees. There are picnic tables and restrooms at the trailheads.
For optimal wildlife viewing and optimal comfort, visit these trails in the morning or the evening. Mid-day can be hot and buggy, especially in August.
For the Scramblers and the Climbers
Some kids prefer flat trails they can maneuver easily, and other kids just want to CLIMB! If your kid is happiest when standing triumphantly on top of a boulder, then head over to one of these trails:
Red Rocks Trail (approximately 1 mile round trip): Close to downtown with beautiful views, Red Rocks is quite possibly the most popular kid trail in Boulder. In exchange for a mere 500 feet of elevation gain, you will be transported to the top of a hill where the aptly named sandstone formations rise up over the city. Enjoy a picnic, take some photos, and watch the kids have a blast on the rocks. There are some steep sections to avoid, but plenty of low-risk, parent-approved areas, too.
Bonus: After a couple hours of hiking and scrambling, head over to Eben G. Fine Park (just to the south) to cool off in Boulder Creek and watch the tubers.
Crown Rock Trail (0.5 miles one way): This Flagstaff Mountain trail is short and sweet with multiple hike options. Drive up to the trailhead on Flagstaff Road and it can be a simple out-and-back. (Or head out on the main trail and return via the Climbing Access Trail.) For older kids, access it by hiking up Flagstaff Trail and then descending through Gregory Canyon. Elevation gain ranges from negligible to about 1,000 feet depending on which option you choose.
Crown Rock is a well-known bouldering spot for adults, but there are several areas that are safe and fun for little ones, too. The trailhead is perfect for picnicking and the rocky outcrops offer gorgeous panoramas of the city.
For the Mini-Peak Baggers
Maybe your kid has a topo map hung up in their room and a summit list to check off. Or maybe they just like the idea of saying they climbed a whole mountain by themselves. Whatever the attraction, mini-peak baggers will love these trails that put them on an actual summit without putting them through the ringer. These pint-sized hikes will elicit huge props from your kid.
Bald Mountain (1.5 miles round trip): Just off Sunshine Canyon Road, about 5 miles west of town, the Pines-to-Peaks Loop is one of Boulder County’s best kept secrets. This gentle trail (only 200 feet of elevation gain) is great for all ages and features some unique views of the Boulder range and Indian Peaks. The peaceful bench at the summit is perfect for a sharing a snack and taking photos for the grandparents.
Sugarloaf Mountain (2 miles round trip): This hike is a real gem. Though not technically right in our backyard, the extra time you’ll spend getting there is worth it if you’ve got an eager peak bagger. The Sugarloaf Trail gently switchbacks to the summit with less than 500 feet of elevation gain for one of the best views in the county. You’ll both be awed over the 360-degree vista from the windswept summit at 8,917 feet.
Happy trails, Boulderites (and mini-Boulderites)!