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My All Time Favourite Boulder Flatirons Hike

My All Time Favourite Boulder Flatirons Hike

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.

Back view of the third Flatiron in Boulder, Colorado
The Boulder Flatirons hike provides a gorgeous back view of the third Flatiron 

Start the Boulder Flatirons hike 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

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 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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