Every spring in Boulder feels vaguely familiar and yet entirely new. Pearl Street Mall bursts with the sight of colorful tulips and the sound of fervent buskers. The Farmer’s Market offers up stand after stand of delicious produce and sweet-smelling goodies. Boulder Creek changes from a calm trickle to a rushing torrent of snowmelt. Spring hits your eyes, ears, nose, and fingertips at every turn. And one of the best places to soak it all in, of course, is on our open space trails.
When we go for a spring hike, things look drastically different than they did just a few days ago. The meadows have gone from yellow-brown to vivid green. The trails are lined with a rainbow of wildflowers. Formerly quiet summits are now bustling rest stops for insects and birds. Springy-ness abounds, and you might be a little sad to see it go in a matter of weeks. But don’t worry – it’ll happen all over again next year. In the meantime, here are some suggestions for making the most of it.
As always, please consult OSMP.org for trail conditions and possible closures.
Best for Wildlife
Flagstaff Trail (3 miles round trip, 1,300 feet of elevation): Flagstaff Trail is often overlooked because of its frequent intersection with Flagstaff Road. Indeed, road traffic and tourist activity can interfere with your moment of zen. Fortunately, the local wildlife is thoroughly undeterred by this and is quite plentiful here.
As you hike, look up to the sky for turkey vultures. Look to the trees for our two native squirrels, the Chickaree and the Abert’s. Look to the ground for lizards and snakes. Scan the forest and fields for foraging deer and wild turkeys. You may even spy a black bear munching on choke cherries or a mountain lion napping in a tree (hopefully from a safe distance). Flagstaff offers a myriad of spring wildlife watching opportunities close to town.
Sawhill Ponds (1.8 miles round trip, mostly flat): This human-made wetlands habitat is a hotbed of spring activity. In fact, it’s one of the most bio-diverse areas in our open space. Take a hike on this gentle trail in the morning or evening and you’ll discover why.
Each spring, migratory birds like swallows, warblers, and osprey set up temporary shop here. The trill of red-winged blackbirds is almost constant. Western chorus frogs make their voices heard, as they search for a mate along the ponds’ edges. Rabbits scamper along the brush. Grasshoppers hum as they navigate the tall grasses. Not to be outdone, the cattails and other marsh plants rustle in the wind. A spring hike around Sawhill Ponds is like going to the symphony. Be prepared to hear some of the sweetest sounds in town.
Best for Wildflowers
Gregory Canyon Trail (1.1 miles one way, 900 feet of elevation gain): Gregory Canyon is a gorgeous hike year-round, and particularly in the spring. The trail winds up through a variety of terrain and microhabitats. You’ll begin in the canopied woods along the creek, ascend a series of airy, rocky outcrops, and end at a drainage near Realization Point. You can hike this as an out-and-back, or connect with Ranger or Ute to loop back down.
Gregory Canyon Trail is widely considered to be one of the best spots in the county for wildflowers. From creeping mahonia to orchids and everything in between, you’ll find endless beauties as you hike through. Flora enthusiasts will want to come back frequently as new things are popping up throughout the season and into the summer. Bonus: This trail also features unbeatable city and mountain views.
Goshawk Ridge Trail (3.1 miles round trip from Fowler Trail access, 700 feet of elevation): This trail is a relatively new addition to our open space system. Construction was completed in 2009. Because of its newness and its remote location, solitude is one of its biggest draws. This is the trail to hit when you want to get away from it all. On the weekend, you may only encounter one or two other people. During the week, it may be all yours.
And solitude is not all that Goshawk has to offer. What this trail may lack in visitors, it makes up for in wildflowers. Thousands of them: pasque flowers, paintbrush, blanket flowers, golden banner, poppies, and many more. Clear your calendar, pack a lunch, and bring your camera. Once you set foot on Goshawk Ridge on a spring day, you’re going to want to stay a while.
Best for General Springy-ness
Mesa Trail (6.9 miles one way, 1,400 feet of elevation): Mesa Trail is essentially the “spine” of the western section of the trail system. It connects three main trailheads (Chautauqua, NCAR, and South Mesa) and intersects with over a dozen trails in the process. The best way to experience Mesa is to begin at South Mesa and end at Chautauqua. You’ll need a ride at your end point, or you may turn around and go back to the start. But if this seems a little time-consuming, there are countless loops that will enable you to hike smaller portions of this trail.
Mesa cuts through our open space in the exact place where the Great Plains rise abruptly to meet the Rockies. With these two ecosystems coming head-to-head, you’ll find flora and fauna from both… as well as wildlife that exists only here and nowhere else in the world. When spring rolls around, get ready. You’ll see it, hear it, smell it, and feel it. This trail is overflowing with an incredible array of plants and animals. The views are some of the most unique in our system. Spring on the Mesa Trail is the real deal.
Here in Boulder we tend to go big or go home. Go big with spring this year. Soak it up, roll around in it, and make it memorable. Happy trails, Boulderites!
Photo Credit: Alli Fronzaglia for YourBoulder.com – all rights reserved