flatirons in boulder colorado along hike with spruce tree in foreground

Chautauqua Loop Trail in Boulder

The Chautauqua Trail is an easy 3.6 mile loop hike along Boulder's Flatirons. The trails pass several historical sites: a quarry, cabin, shelter, and ski area as it weaves through the meadows and ponderosa forest of Chautauqua Park. About 40 minutes from Denver, the Chautauqua Loop hike makes for a great hike for visitors who are looking for stunning landscapes without the long drive or elevation gain.

Trail Snapshot: Chautauqua Loop Hike

view of the chautauqua meadow at the base of boulder's flatirons

Parking & Trailhead Information for the Chautauqua Loop

The trailhead for Chautauqua Park is located downtown in the City of Boulder. The park's 58 parking spaces fill quickly, so plan to arrive early. Alternatively, when the lot is full, hikers can park along Baseline Road and side streets, just be sure to respect the neighbors by parking at least 5 feet from driveways. There are bike racks at the trailhead, so you can bike in from other lots in town, or take the Park-to-Park Shuttle that operates on the weekends and on holidays from the Saturday around Memorial Day to Labor Day Weekend. Here's a map of the free parking lots and shuttle stop locations.

Get a map, fill up your water bottle, and get trail advice from locals at the Ranger Cottage, which is located at the trailhead. See the Ranger Cottage site for current hours and closure information.

The Hike: Chautauqua Loop

Beginning at the Ranger Cottage, head south on the Bluebell Road Trail. This first segment leads up a gentle slope to its intersection with the Mesa trail. The Mesa trail takes us into our first lollipop loop and to Woods Quarry. After about 0.2 of a mile, you'll come to another trail intersection. Heading right, takes you on a counter-clockwise loop and up to Woods Quarry. The quarry was used in the early years of Boulder for building homes and sidewalks out of its iconic red and orange sandstone.

After the quarry, the trail will bend north and return to the Mesa Trail. At the intersection, notice an old stone structures, the Roosa Cabin.

Continue north on the Mesa Trail back up to the Bluebell Road Trail. Go west (left) onto Bluebell Road. Soon you'll encounter another stone structure, the Bluebell Shelter (pictured below). Built in the early 1900's and preserved in the 1930's by the CCC, the historic shelter has become a Chautauqua landmark, undergoing some more recent restoration. This is a great place to have a picnic, and can be reserved for special events.

shelter along the bluebell road trail in chautauqua park boulder with flatirons in background

Now we begin heading into the northern and larger loop of this hike. The Bluebell Road Trail becomes the Bluebell-Baird trail and weaves its way north along the base of the Flatirons. If you are interested in hiking the Flatirons, explor our trail profile for the First and Second Flatirons Hike. You'll enter tall stands of Ponderosa pines with views out to the meadows of the northern meadows.

view of the flatirons in boulders chatauqua park with meadow in foreground and fog lifting

Notice the interpretive signs along the full hike and stop to read the history of the old ski jump that was in operation post WW2 into the early 1960's. Pass by the Ski Jump Trail and continue northwest until you come to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead. Gregory Canyon is also a beautiful hike (see our Gregory Canyon trail profile for details). Take a right (heading east) onto the Baseline Trail. This will take you past the old ski jump and the site of a CCC camp that operated here during the years of the Great Depression.

view from chautauqua park looking north toward settlers park red rock formations in boulder colorado

The Baseline trail will lead back to the trailhead to complete this 3.6 mile hike.

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Chautauqua Loop

  • Bring Snacks and Water: It probably goes without saying, but be sure to bring food and water to refill your tank. This hike demands it.
  • Bring Your Camera: This area along the Flatirions is picturesque, especially in the early morning light.
  • Keep and Eye on the Weather: Talking to one of the rangers, he shared that storms can come up quickly along the Flatirons, which will catch hikers unawares. The Flatirons area is like a lot of other mountain hikes, storms typically roll in during the early afternoon.
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Loop: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Dave Dugdale for sharing his photograph of the Bluebell Shelter.
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder, Colorado

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mesa trail on the way to mallory cave NCAR near boulder

Mallory Cave Hike in Boulder

Mallory Cave is a 1.4-mile, moderate hike up into red rock formations of the Boulder Flatirons to a gated cave. Just 40 minutes from Denver, the trail to Mallory Cave was one of the earliest established recreational trails along the Front Range of Colorado. Explore the full trail profile for trail map, driving direcitons, photos, and tips for his hike in Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Mallory Cave

beginning of mesa trail near NCAR looking toward bear peak and bear canyon on way to mallory cave

Parking & Trailhead Information for Mallory Cave

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Trailhead is located about 40 minutes North of Denver. From Denver, follow U.S. Route 36 to Boulder. Take the exit for Table Mesa Drive and follow it West. It will wind through a neighborhood to the end as it winds through the neighborhood and past Bear Creek Elementary School. The road will turn into the Drive for NCAR which winds up and around to a large parking area at the lab.

The Hike: Mallory Cave

The hike to Mallory Cave begins on the Watler Orr Roberts Trail on the west side of the NCAR parking area. Take the trail west for about 1/2 a mile until it intersects with the Mesa Trail. The Mesa trail runs along the base of the foothills and is the north/south major artery for most of the trails in the Flatirons. For a more detailed trail profile of this southern segment Mesa Trail, check out our South Mesa Trail to Bear Canyon trail profile.

intersection of mesa trail and mallory cave trail in boulder with flatirons in background and trail sign in foreground

Take a left (heading south) onto the Mesa Trail. Soon you'll encounter the Mallory Cave Trail on your right (west). The Mallory Cave trail is uphill all the way to the cave, becoming more demanding on your legs as it climbs the broad rigde into the Flatirons. You'll encounter red rock formations along the trailas it makes its way deeper and higher up into the foothills.

keyhole in rock formation along the mallory cave trail hike near boulder

The trail is well-marked, so be alert for signs. The last segment of the hike is a scramble, and one that can be quite dangerous if there is snow, ice, or or water on the rock. Be sure to test the grip of the shoes, just like you might test your braking and tires on your car in snowy or icy weather. And remember, the scramble down is almost always more difficult than the way up. Signage will point you in the right direction (see photo below).

final scramble up granite rock on mallory cave trail

At the cave, you'll be able to peer into the gated entrance. Why is Mallory Cave Closed? Many caves across the state have been closed because of a strange fungal disease that's had an adverse impact on the bat populations of Colorado and the West. It appears humans are the ones somehow bringing the disease into the caves. (Cave entrance pictured below).

looking into entrance to mallory cave on hike near boulder colorado

Hike back to NCAR via the same route you took up to Mallory Cave. Give care to your scramble down the slick rock. A final note: we don't recommend hiking this with your dog because of this final scramble up to the cave.

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south mesa trail hike with ponderosa pines in foreground and flatirons mountains in background near boulder colorado

Mesa Trail to Bear Canyon Creek

The Mesa Trail south of Boulder, Colorado, rambles across wild open country at the base of the iconic Flatirons. Hike a 4.1 mile loop or an 8.4 mile out-and-back option through pine woods, verdant creek draws, and flowering meadows. Explore the full Mesa Trail profile for this southern segment of one of our favorite dog-friendly hikes near Denver.

Trail Snapshot: Mesa Trail South

south mesa trailhead near boulder

Parking & Trailhead Information for the South Mesa Trailhead

Access to South Mesa is from the South Mesa Trailhead off of Eldorado Springs Drive just South of Boulder. From Denver, drive North on interstate 25 to 36 toward Boulder. Take the McCaslin Blvd exit and then go south/west onto McCaslin. At the intersection of McCaslin and Marshall, take a right onto Marshall Road. Marshall will intersect with Eldorado Springs Drive. Here, take a left onto Eldorado Springs Drive. About two miles down the road, you’ll find the South Mesa Trailhead on your right. The South Mesa Trailhead is a part of the Boulder County Open Space and requires a daily parking fee, or an annual pass. I went online and bought an annual parking pass through the Open Space website. This gives you access to all the southern fee parking areas as well as the parking areas on Flagstaff Mountain. There are restrooms at the trailhead.

Alternatively, you can park at NCAR and hike south to the South Mesa Trailhead. If you want to hike this one-way without a return, you can park a car at NCAR or the South Mesa Trailhead. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Trailhead is located about 40 minutes North of Denver. From Denver, follow U.S. Route 36 to Boulder. Take the exit for Table Mesa Drive and follow it west. It will wind through a neighborhood to the end as it winds through the neighborhood and past Bear Creek Elementary School. The road will turn into the Drive for NCAR which winds up and around to a large parking area at the lab.

south boulder creek at south mesa trailhead flowing under bridge and tunnel of willow trees

Waypoints and Hike Options for the South Mesa Hike

  • South Mesa Trailhead to NCAR Trailhead 4.7 Miles - One-Way
  • South Mesa Trailhead to Bear Canyon Creek and Back - 8.4 Miles
  • South Mesa to Bluestem Loop 4.1 Miles - One-Way
  • South Mesa to Chautauqua Park 6.75 Miles - One-Way

The Hike: Mesa Trail to Bear Canyon Creek

From the South Mesa Trailhead just East of Eldorado Springs, this hike begins along the banks of Boulder Creek (pictured above). Cross the bridge and pause to take in the willow trees bending over the creek and creating a tunnel of green above the silver waters. You'll cross another footbridge and emerge onto a broad trail. Soon, you'll come to the first trail junction with the Towhee and Homestead Trails. The Towhee cuts off a bit of distance and will take you back to the Mesa Trail, or just keep following the signs for the Mesa Trail as it wraps around to the west. Either way, the trails will both merge back onto the main Mesa Trail.

The Homestead trail heads west to Shadow Canyon and takes hikers up toward South Boulder and Bear Peaks. Both are more challenging hikes and provide incredible views out to the plains and west to snowcapped peaks.

trail signs for mesa trail

This area of the South Mesa has a lot of side trails and options, so the most important thing to keep in mind is that the Mesa Trail, over its course runs north/south all the way up to Chautauqua Park.

Before you hike, be sure to review the map to get a feel for the area. The trails weave round, so it's easy to just meander around and take in the meadows and surrounding peaks. The trails are all well-marked, so when in doubt, just look for signs indicating the Mesa Trail and continue hiking north (with the foothills on your left). There are a lot of options for shorter hikes, but we will detail the journey up the Bear Creek Canyon and back.

view from mesa trail of sunlit eldorado canyno during morning hike along mesa trail

Early on, you'll gain a great view down into the entrance to Eldorado Canyon. The morning light brings out the pink granite of this range of sharp and angular foothill rock.

The Mesa trail then heads west and up along a gentle slope, then bends north to run parallel with the eastern flanks of the Flatiron range. Along the foothills to the left, you'll see Devils Thumb and the summit of Bear Peak.

As the Mesa Trail continues north, open sky gives way to the shade and scents of ponderosa pine trees then opens back to meadows again. In the Spring, wildflowers push up through the meadow grasses and unique fuana thrives in the unique zone where the foothills of the Front range meet the meadows. It feels humind in verdant creeks draws and dry when you emerge back onto the open Mesa.

Bear Peak in background and meadow in foreground along mesa trail near boulder colorado

If you would like to shorten your hike and make this into a loop hike, at around mile 2, you can take the Bluestem Trail back toward the trailhead. Otherwise, continue north on the Mesa Trail.

This is one of our favorite dog-friendly hikes near Boulder, and it's quite popular with dog owners on the weekends. In fact, just south of the intersection with the Bluestem, just shy of mile 2, there is a spring you'll find a small spring. It's a great place for your pup to get a drink to refuel for the rest of the hike. These trails also allow you to hike with your dog off-leash, if you've taken the Voice and Sight class and have a current Voice and Sight tag issued by Boulder county. You can get more info on this at the Boulder County Open Space site.

south mesa trail winding through meadow and pines at the base of bear peak

The trail will go up and down through several draws, then eventually cross Bear Creek. Here you are about a mile from the NCAR parking lot. If you've parked a car at NCAR, you can then shuttle back for your other vehicle, making this a 4.7 mile hike.

Bear Creek is the turn around point for this trail profile, making it an 8.4 mile out-and-back journey. However, if you want to add a cave to your adventure, continue north, then west for about 1.2 miles following the signs to Mallory Cave. If you have your dog with you, I would not recommend this extra jaunt as the terrain is rocky and steep.

south mesa trail hike with ponderosa pines in foreground and flatirons mountains in background near boulder colorado

Return south on the Mesa Trail and take the Bluestem Trail to cut off a bit of extra hiking.

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Mesa Trail

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morning light on flatirons mountains near boulder taken from ncar on bear canyon loop hike

Bear Canyon Loop Hike at NCAR

The Bear Canyon Loop Hike near Boulder, Colorado is a beautiful trail that spans wide open spaces and meadows near National Center for Atmospheric Research. The Bear Canyon Loop is a relatively easy 3.3-mile loop that features some of the best views of the Flatirons in Boulder. Explore the full NCAR Bear Canyon Loop hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure near Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Bear Canyon Loop Trail in Boulder

Parking & Trailhead: Bear Canyon Loop Trail

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Trailhead is located about 40 minutes North of Denver. From Denver, follow U.S. Route 36 to Boulder. Take the exit for Table Mesa Drive and follow it West. It will wind through a neighborhood to the end as it winds through the neighborhood and past Bear Creek Elementary School. The road will turn into the Drive for NCAR which winds up and around to a large parking area at the lab.

The Hike: NCAR Bear Canyon Loop Trail

From the NCAR Parking area, hikers can pick up the NCAR trail just West of the main entrance to the building. The trail heads West, over a small ridge, past a water tank, then to a fork in the trail. Both the left and the right fork are considered the NCAR trail and both will lead to the Table Mesa Trail--but the left fork is shorter. At approximately 0.7-mile into the hike, the NCAR Trail will intersect with the Table Mesa Trail. Straight through takes hikers up on a 0.8-mile hike up to Mallory Cave, but for this loop hike, the correct way is to go left/South onto the Table Mesa trail. This first stretch provides some incredible views of the magnificent Flatirons Formations of Boulder. This trail segment heading south goes in and out of a forest grove, then the trail comes to its second important intersection.

At the Bear Canyon Trail intersection, take a left onto the Bear Canyon Trail which follows Bear Creek as it descends East. At about 1.5 miles into the hike, you'll encounter another fork. You can cut off about 1/4 of a mile of the trail by taking the left-hand segment. But the right-hand trail provides more pleasant scenery along the creek. The trail will near a neighborhood then bend to the North. This straight 0.7-mile stretch follows along the Eastern boundary of NCAR. Eventually, it meets up with the NCAR trail, which will lead back on a 1/2 mile stretch to the parking area.

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girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background


realization point view to front range snow capped mountains on hike near boulder colorado

Gregory Canyon Hike to Realization Point

The trail up Gregory Canyon is a moderately challenging hike to Realization Point Trailhead where hikers can pick up two different loop trails. Both loops offer expansive views of the Rocky Mountains in the West and wildflowers along the trail. Explore the full Gregory Canyon-Realization Point hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure in Boulder, Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Gregory Canyon to Realization Point

Parking & Trailhead Information for Gregory Canyon

Hikers have several parking options for the Gregory Canyon Trail: 1) the Gregory Canyon Trailhead, 2) Parking at Chautauqua Park, or 3) along permitted stretches of Baseline Road. The Gregory Canyon Trailhead can be reached by following Baseline Road in Boulder west past Chautauqua park. Gregory Canyon Road is located on the left/South about 1/2 mile West of the park. Parking is allowed along most of the south side of Gregory Canyon Road and there is room for 7-8 vehicles at the trailhead. Both the roadside parking and the small parking area at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead require an access fee. Because of the fee and because this parking area fills quickly most mornings, many hikers opt to park along Baseline or at Chautauqua Park. Another option is to park at the Realization Point Trailhead (another fee parking area) and to hike down through the Canyon.

The Hike: Gregory Canyon Trail to Realization Point

In addition to its proximity to Boulder, this hike sports a number of options and a variety of landscapes. The stretch between Gregory Canyon Trailhead and Realization Point Trailhead is the main artery of all the options in this profile. Because most hikers will begin their adventure at Chautauqua Park, there are a couple 1/2 mile (one-way) approaches: the Baseline Trail or the Meadow Trail. On the upper end of the hike, at Realization Point Trailhead, there are two different loop options that offer beautiful views to the West of seasonal snowcapped peaks. These are the Rangeview/Ute Loop and the Tenderfoot Loop. You can review each of the hike options below to decide which trail combination is best for you.


View of the Flatirons from the Baseline Trail between Chautauqua Park and Gregory Canyon Trailhead

Gregory Canyon Trailhead to Realization Point Trailhead - 2.4 Miles Round Trip

This segment constitutes the main artery for all the hike options below. The Gregory Canyon Trail begins in the shade along Gregory Canyon Creek and climbs gradually to 0.5 mile where it crosses another small creek. Here the trail becomes more steep, making its way up a ridge via a set of switchbacks. Then the trail descends to a junction. At the junction, the Northern (right) segment leads a short distance up to Flagstaff Road and the Realization Point Trailhead (the destination for this hike as described here), or South (left) to the Long Canyon and Ranger Trails. After hiking the short segment to Flagstaff road, Realization Point Trailhead will be located across the street to the North. Be sure to watch for both cars and cyclists before crossing. If starting at Chautauqua Park and taking the Baseline or Meadow Trails to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead, add approximately 1 mile to this hike, making it 3.4 miles Round Trip.

looking out to boulder and the plains from gregory canyon

A View down into Boulder from the Upper Reaches of the Canyon

Gregory Canyon Trailhead to Realization Point Trailhead + Rangeview/Ute Loop - 3.2 Miles Round Trip

After traveling the 1.1 miles up through the canyon to Realization Point, hikers will find two loop options. The first is the shorter Rangeview/Ute Loop. This loop makes a 0.8-mile clockwise circuit around Flagstaff Mountain then joins back up to the trailhead. The loop offers views to the mountains in the West and great viewpoints to take in the changing aspens in the Fall. If starting at Chautauqua Park, add approximately 1 mile to this hike, making it 4.2 miles Round Trip.

realization point sign and parking area along flagstaff road
Realization Point Trailhead Across Flagstaff Road

Gregory Canyon Trailhead to Realization Point Trailhead + Tenderfoot Loop - 4.7 Miles Round Trip

From Realization Point Trailhead, the Tenderfoot Trail bears to the left (Northwest) and makes for a more demanding loop when compared to the Rangeview/Ute Trail because of both the added distance and the additional elevation loss and gain. At its most northern point, hikers will find a short spur trail leading to a small peak that affords expansive views to the West. If starting at Chautauqua Park, add approximately 1 mile to this hike, making it 5.7 miles Round Trip. By adding the spur trail, it becomes closer to 6 miles total.

trail junction at realization point

Trail Junction for the Two Loop Hikes at Realization Point Trailhead

Both loop hikes afford multiple opportunities for taking in views out to the Rocky Mountains. The photo below was taken along the beginning segment of the Rangeview Trail.

view to snowcapped peaks realization point in boulder colorado

Views of the Front Range from the Rangeview Trail

Video of Gregory Canyon Hike

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green meadows along trail leading to gregory canyon and green mountain ascent in chautauqua park hike in boulder colorado

Hiking Green Mountain Near Boulder

Green Mountain in Boulder, Colorado is a strenuous hike that offers fantastic views of the Front Range, Flatirons, and a wide panorama at the top of Green Mountain. The trails around Chautauqua park offer a several options to summit Green Mountain, letting you take your trail of choice, but in the trail profile below, we'll point out the most direct route. Explore the full Green Mountain hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to conquer this hike near Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Green Mountain via Gregory Canyon Trail

Green Mountain Near Boulder Trail Profile

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Parking was EXTREMELY busy when I visited on a Sunday morning, I had to park along Baseline road and many people were parking along residential streets. Don’t be turned off by this though, many come for the lower hikes, and visitors noticeably thin off as soon as you enter Gregory canyon to make your way up to the summit of Green Mountain. Gregory Canyon has its own trailhead parking area which requires a fee.

The 2013 flooding has closed the Gregory Canyon parking lot, but it's a small lot anyway and most hikers will need to park along the road as I did--unless you plan to hit the trail before 7am. You can also begin your hike at Chautauqua park, and take the ski jump trail to the bluebell trail which will lead you to the Gregory Canyon trailhead. This will add 1.2 miles round trip to your hike, but will afford you great views of the Flatirons at the beginning of the hike.

Another option is to park along Flagstaff road near Realization Point, and to completely bypass Gregory Canyon and take only the Ranger Trail up. However, this trail profile of Green Mountain will feature a loop hike taking the following trails: Gregory Canyon to the Ranger Trail to the Summit, returning via the E M Greenman trail, then back down via Saddle Rock for a total of around a 5.5 mile hike. See the map link above to get a visual of the route.

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Starting at the Gregory Canyon trailhead, you'll notice that the first portion of the hike is very sun exposed. However, the Gregory canyon and Ranger and Greenman trails are probably ~80% shaded. There is some flood damage from 2013 floods, but the trail markings have been updated and are very clear (just make sure you read all posts at each intersection). The Gregory Canyon trail, like many others in the Chautauqua park area, has an orchard-like aroma because of all the flowers and fruit growing along the trail.

I noticed several families with children hiked Green Mountain from the Flagstaff Rd parking area, but noted that the smaller kids had to be carried at some points.

For Summiting Green Mountain you have two choices, Ranger or Greenman. Ranger has more carved steps and is mostly switchback in nature. Greenman seems to be fewer switchbacks, in favor for a more gentle climb. For this loop hike, take the Ranger trail up, and descent via the Greenman trail.
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At The Summit of Green Mountain

green-mountain-boulder-summit-peaks-dial
The summit of Green mountain gives you a panorama view to both into Boulder in the East, and to the Rocky Mountains in the West. There is a unique bronze disk set into the granite at the summit. It points out and identifies the different peaks in the distance. Most of the year, except in July through most of September, you'll be able to take in the snow-capped ridges and peaks of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area.

The Return Hike Down Green Mountain

Of course, you could descend the way you came, but why not take in some new trails and views. You can make this a loop hike by descending the Greenman trail. After about 1 mile, the trail will intersect with the Saddle Rock Trail. Take the Saddle Rock Trail back down to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead.
green-mountain-boulder-summit-view
We want to thank Joe Quintana, a member of our Dayhikes Pathfinder Team, who hiked Green Mountain, gathered the information for the trail profile, wrote portions of this post, and took the photos for this hike. Thanks, Joe!

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enchanted mesa hike in boulders chautauqua park

Enchanted Mesa Trail Near Boulder, Colorado

Boulder's Chautauqua park boasts some of the best hiking in Colorado, especially if you are looking for accessibility--many of the trailheads are right in town. The Enchanted Mesa trail lives up to its name. The dense pine forest and the wide curving path looks like something out of a fairy tale. It's a fairly easy hike, with a surprising amount of shade, great views of the Flatirons, and close to Denver. Before you launch out to explore Enchanted Mesa, be sure to check out our detailed description of the hike, the Chautauqua Park trail map, and our hiking tips for this great Boulder Hike.

Trail Snapshot: Enchanted Mesa Trail - Chautauqua Park

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado

Start your hike at parking lot near the Chautauqua Auditorium Trailhead. There is limited parking at the trailhead picnic shelter, but you can find more space around the auditorium and in side streets. Keep in mind that parking in the Chautauqua park area fills up fast.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Header Trailhead Parking

There are a few options you can consider before starting the hike.

1# Enchanted Mesa - McClintock Loop - 1.4 mile loop

Your first possibility is to hike the trail clockwise by taking the Enchanted Mesa trail out, then returning on the McClintock trail, making it into a loop. You'll head out on the wide path of the Enchanted Mesa Trail which leads you gradually uphill, across a stone bridge, and onto the Mesa. Once you get on the Mesa, walk into a pine forest. The trees get thicker and taller as you go until you feel like you have walked into an enchanted forest. My kids, who are six and 3, hiked this early one Saturday in April (you'll see our muddy shoes at the end of the post), when snow still covered parts of the trail and the city was still asleep. It did feel like stepping, just for a moment, into another world.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Forest

When you get to where the Enchanted Mesa Trail intersects with the McClintock trail, turn right and take the the McClintock Trail. Because it's so narrow, this part of the trail doesn’t allow dogs. The return trail at least one steep section, but you'll find stairs cut into the hillside to help you on your way. The Mclintock trail was very muddy coming down, so we expect this trail to be muddy in the warmer days of winter, a lot of spring, and after the Summer rains. We've got a great tip below to help you with that.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado go down not up

About halfway back along the McClintock trail, you’ll encounter an intersection where a rough set of steps lead up to the right, and on your left, you’ll see the path leading back down toward the creek valley. Go left/down (see the photo) to stay on the McClintock trail. On the way down, you will see the flood damage in the ravine caused by the 2013 flood.

2# - McClintock to Enchanted Mesa - Loop - 1.4 mile loop

This is simply hiking the same loop, but counter-clockwise. The benefit to this is that you get better views of the Flatirons hiking West on the McClintock trail. The McClintock Trailhead starts right from the picnic pavilion behind the Chautauqua Amphitheater. It is 0.7 miles long and ascends 335 feet to where it ties in with Enchanted Mesa.

Wood Quarry Hike

#3 - Enchanted Mesa + Quarry Loop - 1.8 miles

Quarry Loop is beautiful little jaunt off of the top of the Enchanted Mesa trail. If you wish to add 0.4 mile to your hike and enjoy the more of the mesa forest, follow either of the directions above, and look for the Quarry loop near the intersection of the two main trails. This turns your hike into a figure-eight. You will head uphill until you see an old stone cabin. When you get to the cabin, turn right and enter the short and steep stair-step climb to the quarry. When you get on the top you can relax in the hand-crafted chairs and take in the scenery of Chautauqua park.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Woods Quarry trail

If you add the Kohler Mesa trail to option #3 you can make your hike close to 2 miles long, giving you the chance to explore even more of the mesa.

This is a great hike any time of year, but is especially great in the Spring. We always find the people of Boulder very friendly, so expect good company. People will be out with their dogs, trail running, and talking with friends. Particularly in the early hours of the morning, it's idyllic.

Tips & Hiking the Enchanted Mesa Trail:

  • It Can Be Muddy: Bring an extra pair of shoes or sandals, so that you’re not getting mud all over the floor of your car. There are bags at the trailhead for disposal of dog poop. Our kids shoes were covered with mud, and we used the bags to keep from getting mud all over the back of the car. An even better solution would be to bring plastic shopping bags with you.
  • Dog Restriction: Dogs are not allowed on the Lower & Upper McClintock Trail. So, you'll have to return on the Enchanted Mesa trail with Fido, or check the map for other options.
  • No Bikes: Bicycles are prohibited on the trails in the Chautauqua area.
  • Bring a picnic or a snack: There are some great picnic spots along the Enchanted Mesa hike.
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Lollicup Boulder Coffe&Tea

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado muddy shoes

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royal arch red rock formation in boulder's flatirons chautauqua park red rock arch with ponderosa pine in foreground

Royal Arch Trail

The hike up to Royal Arch in Boulder's Chautauqua Park is a serious workout, but the beauty of Bluebell canyon and the view of Royal Arch make it worth the journey. Our most important tip for making this an enjoyable hike is to go when it's not so crowded, during the early morning or on weekdays. Scroll down to get all the details you need for this hike in Boulder, Colorado: trail map link, driving directions, weather forecast, and more tips.

Trail Snapshot: Royal Arch Trail in Chautauqua Park

If you talk with someone who has hiked the trail up to Boulder's Royal Arch, they will tell you two things: 1) The Royal Arch, though not as grand as some of the arches in Utah's backcountry, is really a beautiful sight, and 2) That the hike is a real challenge.

While the trail is relatively short - 3.5 miles round trip - the hike up through Bluebell Canyon to Royal Arch has a lot of uphill and downhill, making the elevation gain around 1400' over the course of the trip. Because the trail has a lot of rock steps and is heavily used, the latter half of the hike requires some negotiation. It's still a good trail, just don't expect a walk in the park.

royal arch trail chautauqua park

The Hike to Royal Arch

Beginning at the Chautauqua Park Trailhead, take the Bluebell Road Trail through the meadows and up to the Bluebell Shelter (see trail map here). You'll come to a junction near the Bluebell Shelter, and will see signs pointing you to the Royal Arch Trail.

Soon, you'll enter Bluebell Canyon. The Royal Arch trail will descend before beginning its climb to the top. This section of the hike is especially alive and enchanting during the early morning hours. Bluebell Canyon is home to raptors and is seasonally protected when the birds are hatching. The trail is still accessible during those times, but signs are posted to keep the canyon drainage clear of hikers.

flatirons through bluebell canyon on royal arch trail

The higher you hike, the more stairs you'll encounter. It's nothing like hiking the Incline in Colorado Springs, but it's still a real workout. If you hike to the Royal Arch on the weekend, this is where you'll begin to experience the trail congestion. In fact, I'd have to say that this was the most overcrowded trail I've hiked in Colorado. A lot of hikers had stopped to rest, huffing and puffing trailside. Others gathered right in the middle of the trail. I overheard several people deliberating whether or not to keep going, and watched others turn around without making it to the top. So, our first and most important tip would be to hike to Royal Arch early in the morning by getting on the trail before 8AM, or hiking the Royal Arch trail on a weekday.

 

royal arch rock formation in the flatirons near boulder colorado

After pushing up to Royal Arch, be sure to walk around it and go through it. The views of Boulder are incredible. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Denver. I'd recommend taking a picnic or at least a snack, and kick back for a while. There is supposedly a way to make this hike more of a loop by taking a trail down the backside of the arch, but it's an unmarked trail and one hiker who took it warned against it. So, we recommend taking the marked Royal Arch trail back down to the shelter. From there, you have some trail options.

 

chautauqua park meadows on way back from royal arch

On my way back, I decided to take the Bluebell Mesa trail down to the Chautauqua trail, which led me home to the trailhead and ranger cottage. I'd highly recommend this route back. It takes you through a stand of pines on a mesa above the meadows of Chautauqua Park. You can pick up the Bluebell Mesa trail near the Bluebell Shelter soon after you exit the canyon.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Royal Arch in Boulder:

  • Leave Fido At Home: I love dogs; in fact, I took our Dog, Francine, on the hike up to Royal Arch. But it was so congested that it made it difficult for her and I to navigate the trail together. Other dog owners with long leashes nearly tripped several hikers along the trail. If you want to bring your dog on this hike, I'd recommend going early or going on a weekday.
  • Bring Snacks and Water: It probably goes without saying, but be sure to bring food and water to refill your tank. This hike demands it.
  • Bring Trekking Poles: The trail up to Royal Arch can be hard on the knees--especially the descent--so bring trekking poles if you have them. The trail is heavily shaded, so my guess is that it will ice up in the winter. Just another reason to bring something that will help you get traction.
  • Take Time at the Top: Build time into your hike to rest and maybe have a picnic under the Royal Arch.
  • Keep and Eye on the Weather: Talking to one of the rangers, he shared that storms can come up quickly along the Flatirons, which will catch hikers unawares. Because you are hiking through a densely wooded canyon and are so close to the mountain, it makes it difficult to really judge the skies. But the Flatirons area is like a lot of other mountain hikes, storms typically roll in during the early afternoon.
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder, Colorado

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Weather

Map & Driving Directions


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dirt trail leading toward the flatirons of boulder colorado in chautauqua park wooden fence in foreground and broad meadows

First and Second Flatirons Hike in Boulder

Hiking the Flatirons near Boulder, Colorado is a must. The trail draws you across an green meadow, then up through a notch between the First and Second Flatiron. You'll find the best part of this hike in the Flatirons at the end of the trail: some breathtaking and unmatched views of Colorado's Rocky Mountains. There's even more though. Explore the trail profile below to get links to the Flatirons map, hiking tips, trail details, and driving directions to the Chautauqua Park trailhead.

First and Second Flatiron Hike Trail Snapshot

The Flatirons are the most prominent feature of Boulder Colorado's landscape. They are beautiful to take in from a distance, but they are even better to explore. Here I'll give you a some options on how to make the most of the First and Second Flatiron trail, and some details on what to expect.

The Flatirons Trailheads at Chautauqua

#1 - Chautauqua Trailhead: You can start your hike from a couple different places. I chose Boulder's Chautauqua Park trailhead. The parking lot will fill up fast, by 8:30 on the weekend, but you can park along Baseline Road. The city of Boulder is doing some improvements on the parking area beginning September 3rd, 2013 and it looks like the lot will be closed. Here's a link for construction updates. But don't let that deter you, just park out on Baseline. The Chautauqua trailhead features an historic Ranger Cottage (link for hours of operation), and you'll find free trail maps for the flatirons in a box attached to the sign at the entrance to meadow.

#2 - Enchanted Mesa Trailhead: This is a lesser known trailhead (but probably well known by locals). Here's a google map to help you find it. From here, you can walk across to Chautauqua Park and pick up the Chatauqua Trail, or you can make a longer trip out of it by following the McClintock Upper Trail in. See the Chautauqua Area Hiking Map for details.

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Get our Dayhikes Near Denver Hiking Guide. It includes our favorite hikes near Denver, packing lists, hiking food and snack ideas, and tips for hiking the Front Range of Colorado.

The Flatirons Panorama:

In the panorama video above, you'll see that the first flatiron is the most prominent. It's on the far right (North) and the second and third flatirons follow it to the south. There is an impressive canyon between the second and third flatirons that you'll get to peer down into towards the end of the trail. But let's start this hike profile at the trailhead.

The First Flatirons Trail Sequence

Here's the basic set of trails I'd recommend just because it's the most direct approach: Chautauqua Trail to First and Second Flatiron Trail. On the way back, I'd recommend the Bluebird Mesa trail; it takes you through a pine glade along the spine of a Bluebird Mesa, then gently drops back down to the Chautauqua trail near the trailhead. This makes for a roughly 2.5 mile hike.

Make it a loop. Deb Stanley details an interesting loop by taking a little known trail down the back side of the flatirons that hooks back into the Saddle Rock Trail. Looks like fun, but it also looks like it could be easy to get turned around in there if you're not careful. Check out the details on her loop trail profile if you're interested in taking this route.

First and Second Flatirons Hike Details

This photo gives you the best overview of the Flatirons one and two trail. Basically, once you break out of the meadow and start on the 1st and 2nd Flatirons trail, your going to ride the ridge of the 2nd flatiron up to a notch between the 1st and 2nd Flatirons. The trail continues behind the flatirons, then bends north and takes you up into a canopy formed by the back of the first flatiron.

map of route between first and second flatiron in boulder colorado chautauqua parkStarting at the Chautauqua Trail, you'll hike through the spectacular meadows at the base of the flatirons. If it's after a rain, be prepared for a lot of rain along what is essentially a fire road. The sides of the trail here have a good bit of poison ivy that tries to reach out and touch your calves, so keep an eye out for it. What I found most interesting about this section of the trail was the diversity of both plants and trees along the trail. There is a greater variety of deciduous trees and shrubs that I've seen anywhere on the front range.

After taking the Bluebird-Baird Trail (left), you'll encounter a fork in the trail. Follow the signage towards the 1st and 2nd Flatirons trail (see photo below). Soon the trail will fork again and you'll want to take the 1st and 2nd Flatirons trail. The signage is really good in the Chautauqua/Flatirons area.
trail marked on photo up to first flatiron chautauqua park in boulder colorado

Emerging from the woods, you'll hike up through a long talus field, but the trail is well-constructed through this gigantic pile of rock. Be sure to look back at the views that open to Boulder.

talus field below first and second flatiron in chautauqua parkThe trail goes in and out of the shade, over a lot of rock, and eventually to a short scramble over some larger rock to regain the trail. The next landmark you'll reach is the notch between the first and second flatiron; you'll see the angled outcrop of the second flatiron just below the notch (photo below). This is a great place to stop and relax.

first flatiron hike near boulder looking up toward first flatiron formation in chautauqua parkThe notch between the first and second flatiron offers more views of Boulder and a birds-eye view of the CU campus, it's terracotta roofs against the green of the city lawns.
family resting on hike between first and second flatiron in boulder colorado

But the better place to take a break is just behind the notch. Here, you'll be able to look down into canyon that runs between flatiron two and three, and you get a great view of the imposing profile of flatiron three.

view of third flatiron from the notch between first and second flatiron hike in boulderThen take the trail up a few switchbacks as it bends north. You'll hit a saddle but the trail will continue to bend to the right, until you find yourself in the shade of the massive top of the first flatiron. Back here you'll find all kinds of rock shelves and nooks to sit and take in some of fantastic views of Colorado's Rocky Mountains to the West.

view toward indian peaks western front range of colorado from first flatiron alcoveTips & Resources for Hiking the First and Second Flatirons:

  • TIP: This hike gets really crowded, so start early (before 8:30 AM).
  • TIP: Take a lunch or breakfast and coffee with you. The first flatiron nooks are perfect for just sitting and enjoying a picnic.
  • TIP: Weather can come up fast on the flatirons in the summer. Just be aware that it can change fast and bring a rain jacket.
  • TIP: Dogs are allowed if they are leashed. Boulder does have a special tag you can get for your dog to allow it off leash in the park. It's called the Voice and Sight Control tag and you can get more information here.
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee Roasters in Boulder
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions

Weather

Driving Directions to First Flatiron Trailhead


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