It doesn’t take living in Boulder for very long to realize that being a Boulderite is synonymous with enjoying hiking on the trails amongst the area’s landscape. It seemed logical, if a little cliché, that one of my first shopping trips I’d make once arriving in Boulder would be to REI, trading in my pea coat for a fleece jacket and buying myself a durable Nalgene water bottle.
My adjustment to the altitude, however, is still a work in progress. The extent of my “hiking” experience in New York was the occasional walk from Penn Station to the corner of Lexington Avenue & 53rd Street, but nonetheless I was eager to immerse myself in the new locale and culture even when that meant experimenting with a hobby that I am a complete novice in. In this post I’ll highlight a few of the beginner trailheads that I’ve visited so far and some of the qualities that I think make each ideal from a novice perspective.
Located on Highway 170 west of Highway 93, the South Mesa Trailhead is the southernmost end of a huge network of trails that stretch up through Boulder. The paths sprouting from this trailhead are very clearly marked, and there are numerous options for hikers in terms of length of trails and loops. While some loops are quite short, such as the one consisting of the Towhee and Homestead trails, the interconnected paths are quite dense close to the trailhead, making for an area where you could easily test yourself by going on slightly longer loops each trip to stagger your hiking progression.
While slightly wooded with bushes and long grass on either side of the trail in certain areas, this network was also very populated with hikers and some horseback riders. This gave the main trailhead area and the paths themselves a community park kind of feel, and I felt very safe and secure hiking here.
Right across the road from the South Mesa Trailhead, the Doudy Draw trail is more of an out-and-back trip versus a loop. This is likewise a nice way to test yourself as a novice to see how far you can go into the trail before turning back.
I encountered more mountain bikers on this trail than other walkers, and the trail overall seemed a little less populated more remote. The trail itself was very smooth, flat and extremely open, the path surrounded on either side mostly by short grass and bushes, and I took comfort in always being able to see what was coming up, both immediately and farther ahead, as well as what lay behind.
At the intersection of Highway 93 and Highway 170, the Marshall Mesa Trailhead is a nice middle ground between South Mesa and Doudy Draw. There are two main options for your hike, the option that keeps you closer to the trailhead being a loop that consists of the Coal Seam Trail, Marshall Valley Trail and either the Marshall Mesa or Community Ditch trails. This hike gives you the satisfaction of completing a slightly longer loop, but you can also very easily vary the length of your hike depending on which signs you follow.
The path itself is more challenging on these trails, uneven in many places and with quite a few scattered rocks. It is the most densely wooded of the three areas discussed in this post, so I would suggest having a companion if you are uncomfortable at first. However, it is also the most populated of the three and is a common dog-walking trail, so you can expect to see quite a few canines enjoying their walks along with their humans.
There were a few apprehensions that I had about hiking before starting out, but being conscious of those natural inclinations helped me to judge what I liked best about each of the aforementioned trails. General comfort level was the biggest intangible that I looked for in each area. Even after taking the basic hiking precautions, such as always telling someone where I was going, it was important for me not to feel too daunted by the trail I was trying out in terms of its length, the intricacy of its network of paths, how secluded the trail felt overall and its surrounding landscape. An easy way for me to feel comfortable at the onset was to reference a guide book, specifically The Colorado Mountain Club’s “Pack Guide,” The Best Boulder Hikes, to ensure that I was in fact about to go on a trail classified as “easy,” not accidentally find myself embarking unknowingly on my first “fourteener.”
Whether your goal is to complete a novice loop or to test yourself to go a little farther on each trip, these trails were great first hiking experiences for me and are ones I intend to frequent and get to know.