Best Hikes Near Boulder

Boulder, Colorado, is often considered one of the top outdoor recreation hubs of the Front Range. With easy access to city life, restaurants, hiking, biking and the high mountains, visitors flock to the area. There are roughly 155 miles of hiking trails in the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks system alone, which covers a wide range of terrain, from easy family outings to strenuous summit hikes. Not only is there easy access to trails in town, but getting to the alpine trails, such as those in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, only requires a short drive up State Highway 119 through Boulder Canyon.

On nice weekends, the trailhead parking areas both around town and in the mountains can fill up quickly, so try to get out early before the crowds. Keep in mind that while some of the parking areas in town are free, others require a fee if your car is not registered in Boulder County. And although the area can feel a bit crowded at times, the endless stoke for the outdoors is intoxicating.

This list is merely a sampling of the best hikes to be found in the Boulder area, and there are plenty of other fantastic trails to explore in nearby areas such as Rocky Mountain National Park, Golden and Lyons

Welcome to Chautauqua Hike

  • Location: Chautauqua Park, 1.8 miles southwest of downtown Boulder
  • Length: 1.3-mile lollipop loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: An easy stroll for the family
  • Dogs: Leashed

Chautauqua Park is an ideal place for out-of-towners to visit if they’re looking to hike. The park offers an introduction to hiking on the Front Range, has nice views of the Flatirons—the iconic rock formations that form the backdrop of the park—and is a good option for getting acclimated to the altitude.

Even locals flock to the park to work out and it makes a lovely option for getting outside with the family on a warm summer evening. With hiking trails, events, picnic areas, restrooms and rock climbing access, it’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular, and by extension, crowded, parks in town. Parking is limited, so it’s best to arrive early.

This hike is not too long at just over a mile but does have a fair amount of climbing considering its length. It is great as a warm-up loop, family hike or lunchtime stroll. Only the upper part of this hike is shaded, so the trails can get very hot in the summertime—wear sunscreen and other sun protection. Begin this hike from the main Chautauqua parking area and head up the Chautauqua Trail, a wide dirt path that heads straight up the middle of the park. Keep following this past all of the trail junctions, and you’ll eventually duck into the woods. As you wind along the path, the sweet smell of butterscotch wafts from the ponderosa pines. After a little over a half mile, you’ll reach the junction with Bluebell-Baird Trail and Flatirons Loop Trail. Turn right onto Bluebell-Baird to descend the other side of the loop. When you reach the junction with Ski Jump Trail, turn right to keep descending back to the trailhead. This trail is named for the Chautauqua Mesa Ski Area which operated off-and-on on this slope from 1949 to 1963. About halfway down the trail, you’ll pop out of the trees and will be in the sun for the rest of the hike. At the junction with the Chautauqua Trail, turn left to head back down to the trailhead.

A light dusting of snow drapes the rocky Flatirons and surrounding trees.

The iconic Flatirons are the backdrop to Chautauqua Park (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Eli Zabielski)

Hessie to Lost Lake

  • Location: Roosevelt National Forest outside of Eldora, CO, 22 miles west of Boulder
  • Length: 4.4-mile lake loop out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A mellow hike outside of town
  • Dogs: Leashed

Located up Boulder Canyon, west of Boulder, is the small mountain town of Eldora, home to Eldora Mountain Resort. Along the dirt road that heads west of town is the lower Hessie Trailhead located on the edge of Roosevelt National Forest.  Respect the residents of this small town by obeying the speed limit and watching for pedestrians and bikes as you pass through—and keep an eye open for the unexpected stop sign in the middle of town. Over the years, this area has become more and more popular as an awesome day hiking and backpacking access point. With that, however, comes crowded parking. If you don’t arrive early, you will likely end up far down the line of cars that park along the south side of the road, adding distance to your hike. Do not park in the emergency vehicle turn around spot.

Located at the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, this hike is stunning year-round, though after particularly heavy snowfalls, the road to the trailhead may be unpassable. There is a trailhead farther up from where this hike starts, but you will need high clearance and possibly 4×4 to reach it—plus chances are, it’s already full. Your best bet is to park along the road with the majority of other cars. From this trailhead, you’ll start down a wide, dirt doubletrack, which, during high-water flows, may be flooded in places. Use the Hessie Road Bypass to avoid this section. This bypass drops you out onto the dirt road past the water.

The forest begins to close in a bit as you continue on, and just past the second parking area, you’ll cross a small bridge to start the Devil’s Thumb Trail #902. The trail winds in and out of the forest as it climbs, at times steeply, up the valley. Just after passing the junction with Devil’s Thumb Bypass Trail, you’ll cross a bridge over Casper Creek. The trail ascends next to the creek for a bit, passing a beautiful cascade not long after the bridge. After about 1.7 miles of hiking, turn left at a junction to take Lost Lake Trail. This ascends a steep hill through tight woods for about 0.2 miles before opening up at Lost Lake. Here the trail splits and you can follow it in either direction around the lake to enjoy views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This is a picturesque spot for a picnic and a break before heading back the way you came.

Long Lake Loop

  • Location: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, 33 miles northwest of Boulder
  • Length: 3.6-mile lollipop loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy/intermediate
  • Best For: A mellow hike to enjoy the mountains near Boulder
  • Dogs: Leashed

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is located in Roosevelt National Forest and is a hub for trails leading into the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This area is accessible all year but is especially beautiful in the spring and summer when more trails are open to hiking—the Mitchell Lake Trailhead parking area opens around June or July, depending on snowpack. The Pawnee Campground is open from July through early September if you want to make an overnight visit. In the summertime (June to October), there is a daily use fee at Brainard Lake (cash or checks only) or you need to have a valid pass. There is no fee if you visit during the winter.

From the Long Lake Trailhead on the west side of Brainard Lake, take the Niwot Cutoff Trail heading west. You’ll be climbing for the first 0.3 mile but this is as steep as the trail gets—after this, the gradual ascent is much more pleasant. Continue straight at the junction with the Long Lake Dam Connector to head onto Jean Lunning Trail; here you will be entering the Indian Peaks Wilderness, so familiarize yourself with and follow all wilderness rules. This trail winds up the south side of Long Lake with sporadic openings in the forest offering views of the lake and surrounding mountains. The trail reaches the high point of the hike as you pop out into the riparian meadow. You’ll have some views of the surrounding mountains here as you cross South Saint Vrain Creek. Keep an eye out for moose in this area, too.  

From here, the trail dips back into the woods as you turn right onto Pawnee Pass Trail. This is a more heavily trafficked trail and, as such, is fairly wide and flat. Follow it along the north side of the lake enjoying occasional lake views. At the north end of the lake, turn right onto Long Lake Dam Connector and take in the views as you cross the creek heading back to Niwot Cutoff Trail. A left here will return you to the trailhead.

Sunshine Lion’s Lair Loop

  • Location: Sunshine Canyon, 2 miles from downtown Boulder
  • Length: 5.3-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: A longer in-town hike with views of Boulder
  • Dogs: No dogs

Another great option right in the town of Boulder is Mount Sanitas. This summit is a classic destination in Boulder and, as such, is often very crowded. This route takes you up to the classic Mount Sanitas viewpoint the back way, avoiding the rather steep and deflating stair climb and many of the crowds of the traditional route. From the Centennial parking lot at the Sanitas Trailhead, jump onto the Red Rocks Trail briefly before taking a right onto Sunshine Canyon Trail. The trail crosses a small ravine, then follows a nice bench-cut paralleling Sunshine Canyon Road. The surface of this trail is mostly smooth and the grade is relatively mellow. The trail ends at a somewhat busy section of Sunshine Canyon Road, which you will need to cross and follow a very short distance to link up with Lion’s Lair Alternate. Follow the signs and be careful on this road as there are blind corners where cars often forget to watch for pedestrians.

The trail starts up a set of steps then continues along a ridgeline dotted with fir trees. Pass the spur trail that would take you down to the road and a few parking spots and continue onto Lion’s Lair Trail. The trail continues climbing, but never steeply. There are a few drainage crossings and several switchbacks that lead up the north side of Mount Sanitas to the top of the ridge.

You’ll be navigating along dry, rocky outcrops to reach the summit with views along the ridge. The last push to the top climbs a set of rock stairs. From here you can see all of Boulder and up and down the Front Range, including views of the Flatirons. Make sure you take a break before descending the Mount Sanitas Trail. This is where the hiking can be a little more challenging, but at least you’ll be descending.

Begin down the steep and rocky spine, over roots, rocks and large (12”+ tall) steps. In addition, there’s often a lot of traffic on this trail, including runners, hikers and dogs. Even on weekdays it is unlikely you will have this trail to yourself. And although the descent can be stressful on the legs, there are a few spots to step off the trail and enjoy the views, including sights of the mountains to the west. After passing a few chalk-covered rocks popular with rock climbers, there is a set of tall log steps. You’ll then cross a ditch and enter a meadow. Stay right to pass through a picnic pavilion (follow the signs). Cross the road (carefully) and head back up the hill to reach the parking area.

Snow covered mountains behind the foothills.

Looking west from Lion’s Lair Trail (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Judah Gaioni)

Mitchell Lake Trail Out and Back

  • Location: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, 33 miles northwest of Boulder
  • Length: 5.4-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
  • Best For: Getting out of town to hike to some alpine lakes
  • Dogs: Leashed

Even though it’s about an hour outside of town, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area gets busy on summer weekends, so be sure to arrive early to avoid the crowds. There is a fee to use the recreation area during operating season, so remember to pay at the entrance station if you don’t have a valid access pass. Head to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, which can hold up to 60 vehicles. From the east side of the parking lot, take the Mitchell Lake Trail No. 912 east into the woods. The trail is fairly mellow and well-maintained. After a short distance, you’ll enter the Indian Peaks Wilderness and cross Mitchell Creek via a bridge. About 0.7 miles into the hike, the trail pops out of the dense forest and you’ll have views of Mitchell Lake. The rocky slopes that surround the area are impressive and even a little intimidating.

From here, the trail continues to ascend a mellow grade as it winds through open forest and riparian meadows. At about 1.5 miles, the trail beings to follow the creek, passing several ponds along the way. Near the end of the trail, the forest drops away and you’ll be traversing shrubby alpine meadows as you make your way up to Blue Lake. The official trail ends near the north end of the lake, but you may see some unofficial paths leading to the ridges above. Use these at your own risk as the terrain becomes increasingly dangerous. This hike ends at Blue Lake where there are numerous picnic spots with fantastic views of the lake and surrounding mountains, including the cone-shaped Mount Toll. Remember, weather can change quickly in the alpine, so keep an eye on the clouds and head back if they start to build. Take your time enjoying this spot before returning the way you came.

Royal Arch Out and Back

  • Location: Chautauqua Park, 2 miles from downtown Boulder
  • Length: 3.3-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: Views of a unique rock feature on a hearty in-town hike
  • Dogs: Leashed

From the main parking area in Chautauqua Park, head south on the half-dirt, half-paved doubletrack Bluebell Road. For the first 0.3 miles, you will pass some houses on the left that are generally well-obscured by fences. From here, the trail starts to ascend a somewhat steeper grade. There is a single pit toilet about 0.6 miles into the hike, just past the junction with Mesa Trail, so this is a good place to take a break if you need it. Continue on Bluebell Road, and where it splits near the Bluebell Shelter, take a left onto Royal Arch Trail.

The grade steepens again as you climb the gully. There are scree and talus along the trail, so watch your footing in these sections as some of the rocks can be wobbly. About a mile into the hike, the grade steepens yet again and the trail begins to climb in earnest via switchbacks and large steps. Near the base of the Third Flatiron, the trail levels out (and even descends slightly) for a brief moment. Don’t relax just yet, as there is one more very steep section ahead before you reach your goal—Royal Arch. The arch is a rather unique formation for this area and there are some views of Boulder if you navigate below the feature. Be sure to take a well-earned break before retracing your steps to the trailhead.

Bear Peak Out and Back

  • Location: NCAR, 5.5 miles south of downtown Boulder
  • Length: 5.7-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A strenuous hike to an amazing vantage point
  • Dogs: Leashed

From the parking lot at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), head down the sidewalk toward the northern building. From the walkway north of the buildings start on the NCAR Trail. This wide dirt and gravel trail is generally obstacle free as it ascends the small hill behind the building and crosses onto Boulder County Open Space land. After 0.6 miles of hiking, the trail ends at the junction with the Mesa Trail and the Mallory Cave Trail. Turn left onto the Mesa Trail and descend slightly into the gully to cross Bear Creek. As you hike up and out of the drainage, the trail begins to ascend a steeper grade.

About 1.8 miles into the hike, at the junction, turn right onto Fern Canyon Trail and get ready. The trail immediately begins to ascend a steep grade through the woods. You’ll climb a series of switchbacks and water bar stairs, stepping over rocks and roots. The trail is well-worn, but not easy. As you climb, there are a few viewpoints along the way. A small saddle about 2.3 miles into the hike makes for a nice rest spot. Don’t let your body cool down too much, however, as the grade only gets steeper the higher you go. Additionally, the trail gets rockier as you climb and becomes more of a rocky scramble than a trail in places.

Continue up the boulders and rock outcrop to the true summit of Bear Peak to take in the 360-degree views. On clear days you can see east past Denver into the plains and west all the way to the Continental Divide. If it’s not too windy, enjoy a long break up top; otherwise, you can head back down the way you came and find a more sheltered place to enjoy a snack on the way back down.

The City of Boulder sprawls out below the rocky summit.

Looking east from Bear Peak (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Caleb Joyce)

South Arapaho Peak

  • Location: Indian Peaks Wilderness, 26 miles west of Boulder
  • Length: 8.6-mile out-and-back
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A beautiful day out hiking in the alpine
  • Dogs: Leashed

The Indian Peaks Wilderness covers over 76,000 acres within the Roosevelt National Forest and sits adjacent to the southern border of Rocky Mountain National Park. This area encompasses everything from alpine meadows, rocky alpine vistas, abundant and varied wildlife, lakes, forests and a plethora of hiking trails. Make sure you’re aware of all rules before you venture into the wilderness area, and if you plan on staying overnight, submit your permit early. To reach the start of this hike at the Fourth of July Trailhead, you will need to drive up the rather rough Fourth of July Road. After passing through the town of Eldora, once you reach the lower Hessie Trailhead, stay right to continue on the Fourth of July Road. Low clearance vehicles will likely have trouble making it up this road, but most standard cars should be fine as long as you drive slowly to avoid the potholes and rocks. You can always park at the lower Hessie Trailhead and hitchhike up the road.

From the Fourth of July Trailhead, hike toward the start of the Arapaho Pass Trail, which heads northeast out of the parking area, but quickly turns west and winds through the woods. At just over 10,000 feet, the trailhead is already quite high in elevation, and you will quickly enter sub-alpine environments as you skirt along the upper edge of the woods. In the spring and summer, you will be greeted by gorgeous wildflowers along the trail. After a bit over a mile, you’ll reach the junction with Diamond Lake Trail. Stay right to continue on the Arapaho Pass Trail. From here, you will continue to climb—there are a couple steeper sections—out of the woods and into the sub-alpine meadows and marshes.

The grade levels off for a bit as the trail reaches the junction with Arapaho Glacier Trail. The trail crosses a marshy area and may initially be difficult to find, but once you locate it, take a right to begin the Arapaho Glacier Trail. After the initial marshy sections, you’ll begin climbing again via some large switchbacks. Despite the turns, the grade is still steeper than before. Once above treeline, the views become even better with vistas toward Mount Neva and Mount Jasper.

Though steep, the trail is well-worn, and you will be awash in color as you ascend through the vibrant wildflower-filled alpine meadows. As you reach the junction with South Arapaho Peak Southeast Ridge Trail, there is a brief respite from the climb. However, when you turn left onto South Arapaho Peak Southeast Ridge Trail, you’ll begin the steepest ascent that you’ve seen thus far. Follow the cairns and be careful picking your way across some loose rock as you navigate your way to the top. The summit of South Arapaho Peak is 13,397 feet and from the top you will have stunning 360-degree views, including Longs Peak to the north. To the east you can spot the Front Range eastern slopes and the plains beyond, plus Winter Park Ski Resort (and on a clear day, Pikes Peak) to the south. The sighting disk at the summit can help you identify the major peaks around you. After enjoying the views and taking a well-deserved lunch break, return the way you came.

Purple Columbine flowers in the foreground of a mountain landscape.

Views along Arapaho Pass Trail (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Ellen Jardine)

High Lonesome Loop

  • Location: Indian Peaks Wilderness, 22 miles west of Boulder
  • Length: 15.7-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A long day hike or a manageable backpacking adventure
  • Dogs: Leashed

This loop can be done as a long day hike or a more leisurely backpacking trip—since it’s within the Indian Peaks Wilderness, you’ll need a permit if you plan on staying overnight. If you opt to do this as a day hike, make sure you start early to avoid being up high on the Continental Divide when the summer afternoon thunderstorms roll in. Park at the lower Hessie Trailhead and venture down the road (if flooded, take the side Hessie Road Bypass Trail). Once you reach the upper trailhead, you’ll head west on Devil’s Thumb Trail No. 902 and begin ascending the trail as it winds in and out of the woods. Take a right onto the Devil’s Thumb Bypass Trail at the junction just before the bridge over Jasper Creek. You’ll climb a steep but short section and, after that, the grade eases as you enter a meadow—in the spring and summer this area is filled with wildflowers.

After a little over 2.5 miles, the trail ends back at the Devil’s Thumb Trail No. 902. Turn right at this junction, and you’ll once again begin climbing high above Jasper Creek. The trail might be a little rocky at first but smooths out as you near the lakes where the trail levels off for a bit. The views of the lakes tucked below the mountains are amazing. As you pass Jasper Lake and then Devil’s Lake, you will notice several designated campsites around. If you’re backpacking, these are great places to set up camp and enjoy the afternoon. The sites around Jasper Lake have a bit more greenery and tree cover if you’re worried about the sun or rain.

After passing Devil’s Lake, the grade of the climb steepens significantly as you wind through low brush on narrow singletrack. Make sure you watch your footing for any potential tripping hazards hidden by the bushes. Though steep, it won’t be long before you reach the top of the Continental Divide. Take a breather and soak in the amazing views. It’s also worth taking a look at the sky to make sure a storm isn’t building. If weather is on the way, it’s best to turn around and head back down the way you came, as getting caught on top of the Divide during a summer storm is not only unpleasant, but can be dangerous. From here, follow the Continental Divide Trail south—though the trail stays below the crest of the divide, you’ll have stunning views to the west as you hike. The trail here is defined, but nonetheless, watch your footing as there may be a few loose rocks waiting to roll an ankle.

Hiking along the divide, it’s not uncommon to see a few folks with skis; even in late summer there are a determined few looking to get a turn or two on east-facing, persistent snowfields. Rounding the corner overlooking the saddle of Rollins Pass, you’ll once again have views to the east. As you make your way down into the saddle, you’ll see Corona Pass Road across the way. Many people use this to drive to the top of the divide from the west and then opt to hike down to the lakes or along the divide. From the saddle, you’ll turn left onto King Lake Trail which heads steeply down toward King Lake. Just past the turn for Betty & Bob Lakes Trail (a scenic detour if you’re out for a couple of days), the King Lake Trail will drop into the trees and you’ll follow the drainage for the South Fork Middle Boulder Creek. There are some places to stop beside the creek and rest your legs if you’re feeling tired. Continue until the trail ends at the junction with Devil’s Thumb Trail No. 902. Take a right, and you’ll shortly be presented with the option to take a detour to Lost Lake. If not feeling up for this side trip, continue down the trail, pausing to enjoy the lovely cascades near the creek crossing. Cross Jasper Creek via the bridge to return to the initial split of this loop. From here, simply follow the trail back the way you came.

Pawnee-Buchanan Loop

  • Location: Brainard Lake Recreation Area, 33 miles northwest of Boulder
  • Length: 26.5-mile loop
  • Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
  • Best For: A stunning backpacking trip in the wilderness area
  • Dogs: Leashed

This is an excellent loop for a long weekend of backpacking. The loop is located entirely within the Indian Peaks Wilderness, so you’ll need a permit for overnight travel in addition to the fee required to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Keep in mind that no camping is allowed in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone annually from May through November.

Start at the Long Lake Trailhead and walk east on Long Lake Road; take a left on Mitchell Lake Road to reach the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. From here, take the Beaver Creek Trail heading north. The trail climbs a series of switchbacks through the forest with a few openings offering views. The trail traverses the slope of Mount Audubon and then descends after the junction with Mount Audubon Trail. From here, the trail descends along Beaver Creek briefly before turning north and descending to Coney Flat Road and Coney Creek. Continue on Beaver Creek Trail as you climb to Buchanan Pass Trail. Stay left at the junction to ascend the drainage to Buchanan Pass via a poorly marked but well-worn singletrack trail. The last half mile of the climb to the pass is steep and strenuous, but the views of the Sawtooth and the Continental Divide are worth it.

As you descend the other side of the pass, the trail quickly drops into the trees. There are a few good backcountry camping spots once you reach Buchanan Creek. Traverse along the creek through the meadows while enjoying the views. This area is incredibly remote—if you are seeking solitude, you’ll likely find it here. The trail is gorgeous and the creek bubbles along as you descend the drainage. At the junction, turn left onto Cascade Trail to continue on the loop. You’ll begin ascending along Cascade Creek through riparian meadows past waterfalls. Cascade Falls is a gorgeous place to stop and take a rest, but there are other, albeit smaller, falls along the way to enjoy as well. The trail ends at the junction with Crater Lake Trail and Pawnee Pass Trail. If you want to take a detour, Crater Lake makes a gorgeous rest area. Take a left to continue on the hike and follow Pawnee Pass Trail up the drainage. At Pawnee Lake, you’ll find campsites and fishing opportunities along with great views. From here you will be climbing out of the drainage as the peaks encircle you.

After the lake, the trail becomes very steep and ascends Pawnee Pass via a series of switchbacks, with the final switchbacks being on steep and loose rocks. The trail can be hard to follow here, so take your time to travel the correct route. Once you reach the top, enjoy the views from the pass before heading down the other side. The grade on the east side is not as steep as the way up, and you’ll have sweeping views of Lake Isabelle and the valley as you descend. You’ll wind through the trees as you near the lake. Once you reach South Saint Vrain Creek, the trail levels off. Continue past Long Lake to return to the trailhead.

A lake in the valley below a rocky mountainous landscape.

Lake Granby views from Pawnee Pass (Photo Credit: Hiking Project Contributor Caleb Joyce)

Boulder Skyline Traverse

  • Location: Eldorado Springs, 7.4 miles south of downtown Boulder
  • Length: 16.3-mile traverse
  • Difficulty Rating: Difficult
  • Best For: A long day for seasoned hikers
  • Dogs: Leashed

The Boulder Skyline Traverse is possibly one of the most notable hikes to Boulder locals. At 16 miles long, it’s a long day hike best done during the spring and summer. This hike is not for the faint of heart, and you should be prepared for the strenuous nature of the hike’s many climbs. Luckily, if you find yourself dragging, there are numerous ways to cut the hike short. This traverse summits every peak along the Boulder skyline, ascends some depressingly steep trails and requires some talus hopping and rock scrambling in places—however, if you’re prepared, the hike is splendid and the views along the skyline are incredible.

Start from the Doudy Draw Trailhead that has a parking fee for vehicles not registered in Boulder County. Folks who are doing this with a partner can park a second car at the hike’s end at the Sanitas Trailhead, but others prefer to simply Uber back to their car at Doudy Draw. Head out on the Mesa Trail via the wide gravel and dirt path that gently ascends toward the mountains. You’ll stay on this for about 1.6 miles, taking a left onto Shadow Canyon South Trail, which winds through the trees as it ascends to the junction with Shadow Canyon Trail. Turn left onto Shadow Canyon Trail that immediately ducks into the canyon. The steep grade is unrelenting as you climb over roots, big rock steps and rugged trail. You’ll see the Devil’s Thumb rock formation as you ascend. This trail can feel grueling and is probably the second-hardest segment along this traverse. There are some off-trail seasonal closures for bird nesting adjacent to the path—while the trail is open, you must remain on the path. If signs are up, the closure is in effect.

Just when you think you can’t hike up this grade any longer, you’ll reach the burn area near the top, and the grade will ease slightly. You’ll have expansive views as you reach the ridgeline and the upper trail junction. Turn left onto South Boulder Peak Trail which is mellow at the start but soon you’ll be ascending steeper trail and, near the end, navigating talus. There are several spots at the top to sit and enjoy the 360-degree views while taking a well-deserved rest. Don’t let your legs rest too long, however, as you’re only 3.8 miles along, and you’ve got almost 12.5 more to go!

Heading back down the trail, continue straight onto the Bear Peak Summit Trail. This trail does climb slightly to the summit of Bear Peak, but it’s very manageable. However, if you want to get to the true summit, you’ll have to do some rock scrambling that can make you feel a bit exposed. After tagging Bear Peak, backtrack slightly to Bear Peak West Ridge Trail. This trail descends a few switchbacks on the west side of the ridge before leveling out to a more gentle grade that is much easier on the legs.

At the junction with Green Bear Trail, turn left to ascend a mellow grade through the woods. Here on the back side of the ridge, you won’t have stunning views, but the forest and trails are beautiful and quiet. You’ll wind in and out of a few drainages before turning right onto the Green Mountain West Ridge Trail to climb to the summit of Green Mountain. At the summit, you will find a peak finder that helps identify various peaks along the Continental Divide. This summit is roughly the midpoint of the hike and makes an excellent lunch spot. Unless you’re tired and looking to finish your hike (in which case take the E.M. Greenman Trail), head back down to the junction with the Ranger Trail. This descends, rather steeply, through the woods; the trail widens the farther down you go.

Take a right onto Long Canyon Trail, which ends at a parking area. Carefully cross Flagstaff Road, head through another parking area and join the Ute Trail. This trail takes you along the rather unremarkable Flagstaff Mountain summit—though there are some other great viewpoints and fun trails in this area, if you want to explore a bit. A right on Flagstaff Trail will take you down a mostly well-maintained—though in places rocky—trail through the woods. You’ll cross Flagstaff Road several times as you descend. Use caution at these crossings, keeping an eye open for both cars and road bikers. The next few turns come in quick sequence. Take a left onto Flagstaff-Panorama Connector, another left onto Panorama Trail and then from the viewpoint area, head down the Viewpoint Trail. Like many other trails here, the Viewpoint Trail is well-used but can be rocky and rugged in places, so watch your footing as you go. Once you reach the end of the trail, turn left to join the Boulder Creek Path briefly before taking a right onto Settler’s Park Access Trail, which passes over Boulder Creek and through the tunnel under State Highway 119.

From Settler’s Park, take the Red Rocks Trail up to the rather unique Red Rocks formation. Although not technically part of this hike, you can take a quick jaunt up a side trail to the rocks and find some views of Boulder. You will often see people climbing the rocks to sit on top and enjoy the fresh air. Follow the Red Rocks Trail up and over the ridge to its terminus at Sunshine Canyon Drive. Carefully cross the road to connect to the Mount Sanitas Trail. This is unequivocally considered the hardest part of this hike.

Though not as steep as Shadow Canyon, after 14 miles of hiking, this section is grueling. The trail is rocky and steep with large steps and it’s often crowded. Despite being strenuous, give what energy you have left to enjoy the views from the top of Mount Sanitas, the last summit on this traverse, before heading back down the way you came. Once you’ve descended, celebrate finishing the iconic traverse by heading to downtown Boulder for a well-earned meal and beverage.