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My Favorite Hike In Boulder, Colorado – Between The Flatirons

My Favorite Hike in Boulder, Colorado – Between the Flatirons

There are some hikes I never get sick of no matter how many times I do them. The hike between the first and second Flatiron in Boulder, Colorado is one of those standout hikes.

Colorado hike between the FlatironsIt’s not easy. And part of it is not on a map. But don’t let that dissuade you. It offers first rate scenery, a great workout and on at least half the hike you’re likely to have the trail to yourself.

"Back view of the third Flatiron in Boulder, Colorado"

Back view of the third Flatiron in Boulder, Colorado

Let me walk you through the hike – beginning in Gregory Canyon at the far western end of Baseline Road, just before the road starts climbing Flagstaff Mountain.

"The start of Flagstaff Road in Boulder, Colorado"

If you’ve started up Flagstaff Road you’ve come too far

"Poison ivy"

Initially the path is lined with poison ivy

The hike starts off easily enough at the end of the Gregory Canyon parking lot. The first half mile or so has loads of poison ivy so it’s not worth venturing off the trail. I always wash my legs and hands well with soap and water the minute I get home just in case I’ve touched it.

At the first intersection take the trail to the left marked Saddle Rock Junction. You can’t miss it.

"The start of the trail to the First Flatiron"

The start of the trail to the First Flatiron

The trail climbs relentlessly. About a quarter of the way up you hit another junction. Keep to the right on the Saddle Rock Trail. If you turn left, you’ll end up doing a loop and will be back at the parking lot in 15 minutes. Don’t wimp out here!

"Dragonfly"

The only wildlife we saw on the trail

There’s a viewpoint about a third of the way up and then this section of the trail which stays shady.

"A very red path about a third of the way up"

Beautiful red path with Ponderosa pine trees about a third of the way up

"Looking up a rock used for climbing"

You can always practice your rock climbing moves too

For three  quarters of the trail the route is very easy to follow. The slightly more challenging route finding section comes when you pass a marker pointing to the Saddle Rock Trail, with no other named trail on the marker. Stop. Look straight ahead. You can see a trail – they just haven’t named it. It’s not hard to follow but on occasion you need to look before you move as it’s a jumble of boulders and logs.

"The trail is harder to find"

Look a little harder for the trail on the last 15 minutes of the climb

"Views off from the top of the trail"

Views from the top of the trail

"Large boulder in a precarious position"

Interesting rocks at the summit of this hike

At the top of the trail wander around the jumble of boulders. Descend about fifty feet on the other side on an obvious trail, park yourself on a rock and admire the back views of the Third Flatiron.

"Views looking south of the third Flatiron"

Looking south towards the Third Flatiron – look for climbers on top

"Looking south towards Flagstaff Mountain"

Looking south towards Flagstaff Mountain

"I'm the colour of a cherry tomato at the top"

I’m the colour of a cherry tomato at the top – a combo of heat (over 90F and exertion)

"Blue skies and lime green lichen covered rocks at the top"

Blue skies and lime green lichen covered rocks at the top

The trail down has a totally different feel to it. First off the city noise hits you as you hop over a rock and start the descent. It’s an assault on the senses and it grates on me every time I hike it. From the saddle head hike down on a badly eroded trail shared by climbers and hikers alike.

"A badly eroded trail coming down"

A badly eroded trail coming down

"Sure footed hikers on a steep section of trail"

Sure footed climbers on a steep section of trail

There are a few points along the way where you can peer over the second flatiron. For some – it’s a holy shit moment as they look way, way down. The view do the First Flatiron feels a little airy too. But the trail is not. It’s a series of switchbacks.

"The first Flatiron"

The slope of the first Flatiron

"Boulder field - with a good view of the city"

Boulder field – with a good view of the city

"Looking up that same boulder field from the bottom"

Looking up that same boulder field from the bottom

Once past the boulder field you’re almost down.

"Marker near the bottom"

Marker pointing in the direction of the Ranger cottage at Chautauqua

The walking gets positively easy at this point. If you end up at the ranger cottage and you parked at Gregory Canyon just walk back along the road – it’s only about 10 minutes away.

"Wide paths near the end of the hike"

Wide paths near the end of the hike

"The red roofs are University of Colorado buildings"

The red roofs are University of Colorado buildings

"Looking back at the Flatirons"

Looking back at the Flatirons

"People hiking the trail to the Flatirons"

People coming and going – even though it’s over 90F

Have you ever been to Boulder, Colorado?

Leigh McAdam

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 31 Comments
  1. Looks beautiful! Except that really steep part it even looks doable 🙂 I really need to head to Colorado one if these days. How is summer? Still pretty hot?

  2. Gorgeous views but it looks like quite the strenuous hike! Have you ever actually seen a mountain lion while you were hiking? I’m afraid the possibility of running into one would prevent me from heading out!

  3. I love all that red rock and earth. Looks like a wonderful trail, but I’d definitely not join those guys on the steep rocks. Nice to see a pic of Ms. HikeBikeTravel, too. Well-deserving of a break at the top!

    1. @Jessica One fellow said the best thing about the heat was that the poison ivy was wilting. The paths are wide enough that it’s easy to avoid though signs explaining what it is what would be helpful to the visitor.

  4. That almost tired me out just reading this trail with you, Leigh. =) It looks like a beautiful trail to do except for all those poison ivy. Those flatirons look so majestic. I’ve never been to Boulder and have only been to Colorado during winter ski seasons but I would love to visit this great state in the summer one of these days.

  5. @Mary The flatirons are always a treat to look at and Boulder is well worth a visit. Unfortunately this summer it’s abnormally hot – day after day of mid 90’s temperatures, but at least it cools down at night.

  6. It has been years since I’ve been to Boulder. (Grew up in Denver tho.) Your pics are amazing. And one of my Qs was going to be if the fires have hit this place that is one of your fave hiking areas. Saw your aside. Hoping they get it under control fast. You all have sure had one hell of a fire season. Awful. Hoping you and yours are not in danger of being in the flames way at all.

  7. Your first photo of the third flatiron is so dramatic. It looks like a trail that is a little beyond a casual hiker with young children, like me, but those who put in that extra effort deserve extraordinary rewards.

    Hopefully, the area will not be too damaged by the fire, though sometimes fires are beneficial to nature. Colorado is having such a difficult year, though.

  8. Went and hiked this trail this morning based on this nice report. Had no trouble getting to the top. At the sign where you go “off trail” there are some cairns that guide you to the to. I had to pause once or twice to scope the route but made it. I did have a question though.. I could not find the way down as you mentioned. I walked through the boulders at the top, looked up at the amazing back of one of the flatirons, (walking past it on hiker’s left) but could not find the eroded path to start down. Tried a few ways and just wasn’t sure (one was hikers left near the back of the large rock formation, another was more right, both heading in general direction of 3rd flatiron…). Being solo and not wanting to get mixed up I ended up going back down the way I came up but wondered if you could elaborate on how to find start of trail down from the top? Thanks!

    -Dan

  9. Dan:

    You came up the front or the Boulder side and I agree it is poorly marked going down behind the flatirons. If you are going to try it again perhaps try from the Gregory Canyon side and follow the trail up until it splits left from the green Mountain trail. There is some trail splitting and the trail is faint in places but the general idea is go up. Once you’ve been up from the Gregory Canyon side it might be easier to find the trail at the top. Generally speaking though, coming from the Boulder side, pass the top of the first flatiron which is on your right and go over the ridge and down. Its tricky walking so go slowly. I hope this helps a bit!

  10. Thanks for the replies! 🙂

    I will have a look next time I’m up there. I think I came up from Gregory Canyon side (flatiron was on left as I got to the top) but I’ll explore it a bit more next time I get a chance for sure. Thanks again for the great report and the help!

    -Dan

  11. It’s definitely a very challenging trail. I can see that, but the landscape is absolutely worth it. So stunning!

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