If you’re new to town, you’re probably eager to explore Boulder’s 145 miles of trails. But when you ask Boulderites to recommend an easy hike, you’re likely to get a wide range of responses. After all, “easy” is relative and many long time locals have lost the ability to define it. In a town where extreme athletes are the norm, what feels easy to many Boulderites may be difficult for newcomers who are still growing their hiking legs.
So what’s a newcomer to do? Well, instead of taking recommendations based on feelings, let’s look at the facts. As a brand new Boulderite, you need hikes that are easy to find. (There’s nothing worse than getting lost before you even get to the trailhead!) You need trails that are well marked and easy to navigate. You need hikes that aren’t too long or too steep because you’re still adjusting to the altitude and building your fitness. You need hikes that will help familiarize you with different parts of the trail system. And finally, you need hikes that give you the opportunity to DO MORE… when you’re ready.
Be wary of recommendations from that guy in your office who just completed his fifth Leadville 100. His perception might be just a tiny bit skewed. Instead, read on for your guide to 3 newcomers’ hikes that fit the bill. These hikes are easy to find and easy to navigate. Each one is less than 2.5 miles with minimal elevation gain. One is in the North, one is in the West, and one is in the South. And all three connect to longer, tougher trails for when you’re ready to tackle more. Welcome to Boulder, new friends! Now let’s hit the trails…
Please check OSMP.org for trail conditions and possible closures before heading out. Dogs are permitted on all of the below trails EXCEPT Towhee Trail. To learn more about dog regulations in Boulder’s open space, click here.
The Dakota Ridge Loop (2.2 miles, less than 500 feet of elevation gain)
Just north of downtown, the Dakota Ridge Trail is the perfect introduction to the Mount Sanitas network of trails. It is most easily accessed from the popular Mount Sanitas Trailhead. Take Mapleton Avenue west past 4th Street and the trailhead is on the right. Parking is available at the trailhead, on the street, and at nearby Centennial Trailhead.
Head north on the Sanitas Valley Trail for a quarter mile to the junction with Dakota Ridge Trail. Bear right (east) onto Dakota Ridge. The trail rises steeply at first (but only for a matter of feet) and then rolls along pleasantly to a beautiful overlook. Enjoy the views of the city to the east and Mount Sanitas to the west. Then turn left (south) to return to the trailhead via the Sanitas Valley Trail. Enjoy the gentle decline on this wide, well-groomed trail.
Dakota Ridge Trail lies just east of Mount Sanitas. When you’re ready for a much tougher challenge, consider connecting to the East Ridge Trail from the top of Sanitas Valley. This rocky, scrambling trail takes you to the summit of Sanitas in 0.6 miles. Consult the Sanitas area map for additional options.
The Ute-Rangeview Loop (1 mile with negligible elevation gain)
Flagstaff Road, everyone’s favorite white-knuckle drive, will lead you to this beautiful gem of a hike. Take Baseline Road west and continue on Flagstaff Road as it winds up the mountain. The well-marked Realization Point Trailhead is approximately 5 miles up the road.
From Realization Point, take Ute Trail as it gently rises through a ponderosa pine forest. This area is well known for wildlife activity. You are likely to see mule deer, Abert’s squirrels, Steller’s jays, and more. At about 0.5 miles, you’ll arrive at the junction with Rangeview. Turn left (west) onto Rangeview for 0.6 miles to return to the trailhead. As you hike along, don’t forget to look to the north for fantastic views of Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park beyond.
The Ute and Rangeview trails form a loop that encircles the unmarked summit of Flagstaff Mountain (7,283 feet). When you’re ready to explore more, try adding the Boy Scout Trail to this loop. In less than a mile, Boy Scout Trail leads you to May’s Point and one of the best scenic overlooks in all of Boulder County. Consult the Flagstaff summit area map for this and other variations.
The Homestead – Towhee Loop (2.5 miles, less than 500 feet of elevation gain)
South Mesa Trailhead is the hub of South Boulder’s incredible network of trails. To get there, take Highway 93 (Broadway) south to Highway 170. Turn right on 170 toward Eldorado. In 1.7 miles, the trailhead is on your right. Additional parking is also available at nearby Doudy Draw Trailhead.
Begin heading north on the Mesa Trail and rather quickly you’ll arrive at the junction with Homestead. Turn left (west) onto Homestead, which gradually rises while offering views of South Boulder Peak and Eldorado Mountain. In 1.3 miles, you’ll reach the top of the trail. Turn right onto Mesa Trail and continue for 0.2 miles, then take a hard right onto Towhee Trail. Animal tracks are abundant here. After 0.6 miles on Towhee Trail, bear right back onto Mesa Trail to return to the trailhead.
These South Boulder trails offer a lot of bang for your buck, with sweeping panoramas and ample opportunity for wildlife watching. When you’re ready to do more, consider adding lower Shadow Canyon to this loop. Or if you’re ready to do a LOT more, you can add upper Shadow Canyon and continue all the way to Boulder’s highest peak, South Boulder (8,549 feet). For these options and more, consult the South Mesa area map.
Happy trails, brand new Boulderites!