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Boulder Flatirons Hike – My Fave in the City

The beautiful hike between the Flatirons in Boulder
The beautiful hike between the Flatirons in Boulder
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There are some hikes I never get sick of no matter how many times I do them. The Boulder Flatirons hike – specifically between the first and second flatiron in Boulder, Colorado is a standout hike and one of my all-time favourites. I’m guessing that I did it about 100 times when I lived in Boulder. I’d do it at all hours of the day in all weather. 

The Boulder Flatirons hike is not an easy hike. And part of the hike was not on any map when I lived in the city. But don’t let that dissuade you. The hike offers first rate scenery, a great workout and on at least half the hike you’re likely to have the trail to yourself.

Boulder Flatirons hike with a back view of the third Flatiron
The Boulder Flatirons hike provides a gorgeous back view of the third Flatiron 

Boulder Flatirons hike start at Gregory Canyon

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. If you’ve started driving up Flagstaff Road you’ve missed the turnoff to Gregory Canyon.

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.

Good signage at the start of the trail
Good signage at the start of the trail
You've missed the trailhead if you start climbing Flagstaff Mountain
You’ve missed the trailhead if you start climbing Flagstaff Mountain
Good signage at the start of the trail
Good signage at the start of the trail
The initial section of the trail that has a lot of poison ivy
The initial section of the trail that has a lot of poison ivy

Stay on the Saddle Rock Trail

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!

The start of the trail to the First Flatiron
The start of the trail to the First Flatiron
Part of the trail is on outcrop
Part of the trail is on outcrop
The only "wildlife" we saw on the trail
The only “wildlife” we saw on the trail – and for all the times I’ve done it (100+) I never saw anything more than a deer

There’s a viewpoint about a third of the way up and then this section of the trail which stays shady which is much appreciated on a hot summer’s day.

"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

The challenging part of the route finding

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.

Look a little harder for the trail on the last 15 minutes of the climb
Look a little harder for the trail on the last 15 minutes of the climb
Views from the top of the trail
Views from the top of the trail
A jumble of boulders at the top of the hike
A jumble of boulders at the top of the 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.

Looking south towards the Third Flatiron - you might see climbers on top
Looking south towards the Third Flatiron – you might see climbers on top
Looking south towards Flagstaff Mountain
Looking south towards Flagstaff Mountain
At the top of the Boulder Flatirons hike I'm the colour of a cherry tomato
I’m the colour of a cherry tomato at the top – a combo of heat (over 90F and exertion)
On the Boulder Flatirons hike enjoy blue skies, red rocks & green lichen
Blue skies and lime green lichen covered rocks at the top

The descent on the Boulder Flatirons hike between the First and Second Flatiron

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.

The Boulder Flatirons trail is badly eroded on the descent
A badly eroded trail coming down between the First and Second Flatiron
Sure footed climbers on a steep section of trail
Sure footed climbers on a steep section of trail

Do you dare peer over the edge?

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.

Airy view on the Boulder Flatirons hike
Airy view on the Boulder Flatirons hike – with a good view of the city
Looking up at one of the boulder fields you cross
Looking up at one of the boulder fields you cross
Marker pointing in the direction of the Ranger cottage at Chautauqua
Marker pointing in the direction of the Ranger cottage at Chautauqua

Once past the boulder field you’re almost down. 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.

Easy to follow signage on the Boulder Flatirons hike
Easy to follow signage on the Boulder Flatirons hike
Wide paths near the end of the Boulder Flatirons hike
Wide paths near the end of the Boulder Flatirons hike
The Boulder Flatirons hike with a good view of the route
Looking back at the Flatirons
From the Boulder Flatirons trail you can see the red roofs of the University of Colorado
You can see the red roofs of the University of Colorado on the descent
People coming and going - even though it's over 90F
People coming and going – even though it’s over 90F

At the end of the hike

If you’re hungry or thirsty at the end of the hike I highly recommend heading for the Chautauqua National Historic Landmark – specifically to the dining hall. With a little luck you might score a table outside where you can appreciate the view of the Boulder Flatirons, while sipping a cold one.

Further reading on things to do in Colorado

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The fabulous hike between the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado

 

 

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