5 Best Hikes in Boulder Colorado

May 27, 2022/Colorado

When I moved to Boulder in January of 2020, one of my main goals was to spend time in the mountains at least once a week. Whether it be going on hikes, off-roading, skiing, biking, or whatever else. Over one year later, I had met or exceeded my goal every single week, and was able to put together this list for you of the five best hikes in Boulder Colorado.

I’ve officially crossed off every single trail on my Boulder Hiking Bucket List, many in multiple seasons. So I feel extremely confident when I tell you that if there are 5 hikes in Boulder that you MUST do when you visit, it’s these.

In This Blog Post You Will Learn:

  • The best hikes in the Flatirons, Bear Peak, and Sanitas Valley
  • For each hike: length, elevation gain, difficulty, time, and if dogs are allowed
  • Local tips and tricks for hiking in the winter

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Preparing For Your Hike

Don’t forget to bring cash with you, as some parking areas (Green Mountain and any hikes in Eldorado Canyon) require a day permit. This can cost $5-10 dollars.

Be sure to check the weather and road/trail conditions via the forest service website prior to your hikes to make sure that you’re in the clear. It’s never fun (and also potentially very dangerous) to get stuck in less than ideal weather.

Download maps that can be used offline, because it’s very likely that you’ll lose service. You can look up directions to the trailhead, and download trail maps on AllTrails. The reviews will also often discuss trail conditions so you’ll want to read those.

If it is winter time or you’re hiking at a higher elevation, be sure to bring a pair of microspikes with you. They fit easily into a small bag and are inexpensive. You’ll likely have to turn around if you get stuck without them so make sure you a pair on hand!

Leave no trace! Snow is part of the water supply in many local communities, so be sure to continue to pick up after your pets and keep our parks clean.

Related Post: Leave No Trace: The Seven Principles

The Skyline Traverse

If you’re only in Boulder for a day or two and looking for an epic hike, some of these trails are a part of the Boulder Skyline Traverse.

The traverse is a 14.5 mile long point to point trail that starts at the Mesa Trailhead in Eldorado Springs, ends at Mount Sanitas and covers 5 major peaks in Boulder: Bear Peak, South Boulder Peak, Green Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain. And Mount Sanitas.

The Skyline Traverse is not an easy hike by any means, but it is certainly my favorite hike if you’re looking for a full, jam-packed day in the mountains. If you’re looking for some shorter day hikes, I’d definitely recommend checking out the following:


royal arch trail boulder colorado

  • Length: 4.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1492 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time: 1.5-2.5 Hours
  • Dogs allowed: Yes

Royal Arch sounds like an easier trail because it’s shorter but it is steep and one of those hikes that will definitely have your legs in pain the next day.

You can park anywhere near the Chautauqua Park ranger cottage or on Baseline Road and make your way toward the mountains until you get into the forest. At this point you’ll start to see signs that lead you toward Royal Arch.

When you get about three quarters of the way through you’ll arrive at a false summit called Sentinel Pass. Keep going!

You’ll soon be rewarded with views of the arch. There’s not a ton of room at the top, but if you go on a weekday you can get a spot on the rocks and enjoy a beer while overlooking the city of Boulder down below.

Related Post: Hiking The Blue Lakes Trail in Telluride Colorado


mount sanitas trail in boulder colorado

  • Length: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,256 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time: 1.5-2.5 Hours
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes

Mount Sanitas via the Sanitas Valley Loop is a gorgeous hike, and unlike your typical hikes in the Boulder area. Instead of the typical Flatirons hikes, here you’ll find a luscious meadow leading to more desert-like rock formations. Mount Sanitas Trail gets its difficult rating due to its steep incline, so be weary of that if you’re planning to attack this hike.

Parking can be found at the Sunshine Canyon Trailhead, and then you’ll find the entrance to the Mount Sanitas Trailhead directly across the street.


bear peak summit best hikes in boulder colorado

  • Length: 8.0 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3353 ft.
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time: 7-8 Hours
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes

As a disclaimer, this trail is listed at 8 miles but when my friend and I did it, it was between 10 and 11 depending on which route you take. 

This trail definitely earned it’s hard rating of difficulty due to a steep incline the last mile or so to the summit so be wary if you’re attempting these trails from out of town.

There is plenty of parking at the trailhead, which is located in the NCAR parking lot but can fill up on a summer day.

There are many trails that all lead to Bear Peak so you can pretty much follow any path, but the route I like to take is the Shanahan North Fork to the Shanahan-Mesa Trail, through Fern Canyon until you reach Bear Peak. This first leg of the trail is 2.6 miles.

Once you reach Bear Peak you’ll have a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains and Eldora. It’s a rocky scramble at the top, but nothing that requires any climbing. 

After you reach Bear Peak you can either head back down the way you came from through Fern Canyon or make it a loop and head down the Mesa Trail.

I recommend you head toward the Mesa Trail, because from there you can hike just under one more mile in order to reach South Boulder Peak. 

After South Boulder Peak, follow signs for the Mesa Trail which will lead you all the way back down the mountain until you reach the Shanahan North Fork, where you can follow signs for NCAR back to your car.


first and second flatiron loop boulder colorado

  • Length: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1440 ft.
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time: 1.5-2.5 Hours
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes

The First and Second Flatirons Loop Trail is a great trail to check out if you’re just in Boulder for an afternoon and are looking for a quick hike.

While there are five total Flatirons, this trail takes you along the two most popular.

This trail is usually very crowded so make sure you arrive as early as possible. You can park anywhere near the Chautauqua Park ranger cottage or on Baseline Road and make your way toward the Flatirons until you get into the forest. At this point you’ll start to see signs that lead you toward First and Second Flatirons Loop. 

This trail is clearly labeled so you shouldn’t have any issues finding your way. The summit provides great views of the city of Boulder as well as iconic views of the mountain peaks as you ascend to the top.

This loop gets its difficult rating because it’s pretty rocky throughout, but just be careful, watch your step and you’ll be just fine.


Green Mountain Loop

  • Length: 5.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2798 ft
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Time: 4.5-6 Hours
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, except for the last mile

Green Mountain West Trail

  • Length: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 702 ft
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time: 1.5-2.5 Hours
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes 

I’m including two options for this trail here so that you have a moderate option if you’re shorter on time or energy, or you can go for the more difficult option if you want to make it a day hike.

If you’re looking to do the Green Mountain West Trail you can park at the trailhead on Flagstaff Road and hike directly up to the summit of Green Mountain and head back.

This trail is clearly marked, not very technical and provides great views of Boulder and the Indian Peaks Wilderness so it’s great for visitors or beginners.

If you’re more experienced or have more time, I’d highly recommend doing the full loop.

This trail starts at Chautauqua Park, so you can once again park anywhere near the ranger cottage or along Baseline Road.

Take the Meadow Trail to the bridge at the Gregory Canyon Trailhead and then follow the trail clockwise. Go up the Amphitheater trail and follow that until you reach a fork. Hang a left onto the E.M. Greenman trail, which you’ll follow until you reach the summit of Green Mountain. 

On your way back down follow the signs that will take you down the West Ridge Trail to Ranger, which you’ll follow all the way to Gregory Canyon, and then head back down to Chautauqua.

Related Post: Weekend Guide to Boulder Colorado

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