beyondboulder.com
 
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what trail are you today?

Whenever I get the chance to go for a hike, I like to spend a few minutes, sometimes more, trying to understand what kind of trail is right for me that day. Some days I want to spend time in the foothills meadows, taking in the amazing sights of the Flatirons as they reach for the sky.  Other days I prefer a forest hike, keeping a keen eye out for Abert's squirrels hiding in the Ponderosas, or a bear grazing an open valley below.  In the heat of the summer I typically venture higher into upper parts of the forested Montane, Sub-Alpine or Alpine regions where it's cooler.  Understanding what trail you are today requires some self-reflection, a consideration of the time of year you visit Boulder, where you are coming from, and the current prevailing weather.  Don't worry, we’ll cover those details and more in the next sections.  And, of course, as you learn more about hiking in Boulder County, please feel free to drop us an email if you have any questions.  We'll do our best to help assist you in making your visit as enjoyable as possible.

Chasm Lake Trail (D.8)

Once you are ready, picking the trail you want to hike first is simple.  Each trail featured on Beyond Boulder will come with a challenge ranking from Easy to Intermediate to Difficult, with a detailed description of the challenges you will incur.  We've strived to define the challenge rankings to be accurate for the visiting hiker to Boulder.  Someone who has not been at altitude, who is not accustomed to hikes with significant elevation gain, and who may not be an avid outdoors person.  In other words, unlike the bookstore guidebooks who are catering to a broad audience, these hikes are ranked to favor those unfamiliar with hiking in the front range.  That said, there is no reason someone who is an experienced hiker should not enjoy these hikes just as much as a visitor.  They are what I've experienced to be some of the most beautiful hikes in Boulder County and several of them would be considered a rewarding challenge for any trail blazer.

A 'Yella' Bellied Marmot sunning in the Alpine zone.

Most importantly, each guided hike comes with a description of what makes that trail special.  You simply pick the one that sounds right for you based on challenge and attraction, then Beyond Boulder will provide you with all the information you need to get to the trailhead, enjoy the hike and optionally follow it up all with an aprés hike beer.  I highly recommend an Easy hike for your first outing.  I promise you won’t be disappointed, and if it ends up being too easy for you or your group, or not long enough, have another on standby.  Again, the goal of Beyond Boulder is to leave you wanting more, not drive you away from hiking.  Intermediate hikes will challenge the new or unfamiliar hiker and should only be attempted later in your visit when you have better acclimated to the local geography and altitude, and when you have a better understanding of your abilities when mountain hiking.  Difficult hikes are for those visitors who have become comfortable with the local terrain and altitude, are in good physical shape, and have the stamina for longer, loftier hikes.  Difficult hikes should be considered and prepared for with some serious reflection as they will often be full-day events containing steep ascents, long rocky passages, and perhaps some minimum exposure. I have not included any trails on this website where I have felt uncomfortable in the least with exposure to falling.

Got your interest?  We hope so!  Let's move on to the Benefits of Mountain Hiking.

 

benefits of mountain hiking

You can hike!  Okay, here’s the legal caveat; know your ability and comfort level with hiking.  If you aren't sure you are physically ready for mountain hiking, talk to your doctor, check out the information on hiking at WebMD, and understand that while I'm an avid hiker, I'm not an expert or professional (see Legally Speaking for more info).  But, you can hike!  I’m endlessly pleased when we take someone out to a trail who hasn’t hiked in the mountains before.  They invariably come back tired but nevertheless immensely happy at what they’ve accomplished.  Not that they achieved something particularly challenging per se, but more that they have discovered there is something wonderfully satisfying about walking in nature.  

Mountain Bluebells find the sun on Mesa Trail

Hiking is a fantastic cardio workout, combats osteoporosis, and strengths muscles just to name a few of its benefits.  For me it's also a great stress reducer.  And best of all hiking is the exercise that rewards you for stopping and taking a break to look around!  You don't have to be a Lance Armstrong (minus the steroid use, of course) to enjoy hiking in the Rockies.  Which is the point of this website.  Anyone in average good health, and with a desire to enjoy nature, can participate.  That’s all you need to bring to the game.  Beyond Boulder will help you with the differences in altitude and terrain you will encounter and help you plan for the right hike for you!

Okay, next let's prepare for hiking in the mountains!

preparing for your mountain adventures

If you are not accustomed to hiking mountain trails at altitude, there are several things you can do to prepare for hiking in the Boulder area.  However, even if you have discovered this website since your arrival, fear not, there are still things you can do to prepare for your hike that will make the experience all the more enjoyable.

Stairs, stairs and more stairs.  You’ve been looking for a reason to avoid the elevators - you’ve been feeling a bit claustrophobic lately anyway - well now you have one.  There’s nothing better than climbing stairs to help improve your conditioning for mountain hiking.  If you go to the gym, augment stair climbing by getting on the stair master, or walk on the treadmill at an increased angle of attack.  If you have a way to do leg presses, or just some squats, or really anything to strengthen your legs, it will help immensely!  I complained to my son how I was struggling with long climbs and he convinced me to start going to the gym to build up some strength in my legs.  I was truly amazed at how quickly I began to see improvement.  Of course, lest we forget, just going for walks around your neighborhood will help improve stamina as well. 

 Some of the great entertainment on Pearl

Some of the great entertainment on Pearl

Once in Boulder spend a day or two acclimating to the altitude.  Downtown Boulder is around 5450’ and if you are not accustomed to the thinner air, it’s best to give yourself some time to adjust.  Walking and taking stairs are two good ways to speed the process.  There are several good restaurants on Pearl Street and Walnut that offer rooftop dining and bars.  Try them out via their stair access.  Go for a walk along the Boulder Creek Path.  One of the best urban trails in the country, it offers cool temps thanks to the snowmelt running in Boulder Creek and beautiful, peaceful scenery.  Rent a bike.  There are many B-cycle rental kiosks in downtown where you can swipe your credit card and rent a bike to ride any of the over 160 miles of biking paths and dedicated bike lanes in the city.  Many of the 20+ bike shops in town will offer rentals as well.  University Bicycles and Full Cycle, both on Pearl Street, are good options if you are looking for more than a cruising bike.  And, you won’t be alone on a bike.  Boulder boasts more bikes per capital than any other city, and it can be more difficult at times to find a place to park your bike than your car!

Now that you are on the road to preparing for some memorable hiking in Boulder, let's investigate what gear you'll need.

 

get in gear!

Like most visitors to Boulder you'll find that while there is much to do outdoors in this town and surrounding county, there are environmental factors to consider.  First and most important, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  The air that comes over the Continental Divide to Boulder has dried in the process of rising up the western slopes of the Rockies, cooling, and dumping all it’s moisture as it drops down the eastern side of the divide.  This dry air dries up everything, including our bodies.  Drink lots of water to avoid headaches, dehydration, and even urinary tract infections.  Yuk!  Drink more water than you do normally, especially when exercising.  And since Boulder is such a hippie, green place, bring or buy reusable water bottles for your hike or for strolling around town.  Keep them full.  You’ll look so hip and chic!  

Take home a piece of Boulder with a Polar Bottle

Many people, including myself, are now sporting hydration packs on the trail.  These are backpacks that typically have some varying size storage areas for your kit, and a water bladder with hose that integrates into the back of the pack.  You suck water out of a mouth piece on the hose that is attached to a 70-100 ounce reservoir.  These ‘camel backs’ eliminate the need to carry multiple water bottles on the trail.  If you don't have a hydration pack, a normal day or hike pack that can hold energy snacks, a rain poncho, two or more water bottles and other gear will work just fine.

You’ll also want to keep a tube of lip balm or chap stick handy along with hand and body lotion.  You won’t necessarily want to haul body lotion around on a hike, but chap stick is a good idea.  

Probably one of the most popular attractions of Boulder is that it can claim an average of 300 days of sunshine a year. Dry air equals few clouds.  However, while all that sun is wonderful, it can also be dangerous.  At almost 5500’ the sun is much stronger than at sea level.  Sunburn, sometimes serious, is a common side effect especially when hiking in higher alpine areas.  Because the sun is so plentiful and so hot in the Front Range it’s a very good idea to bring a full brimmed, or ‘floppy’ hat, along with a good sunblock, for extended time in the sun .  You might want to cover sensitive shoulders with a short sleeve shirt instead of spaghetti strap tops.  Don’t worry about the fashion statement of the hat, many other wise people will be wearing them out on the trails, including me.  And besides, Boulder was not long ago voted the worst dressed city by GQ magazine.  You’ll fit right in.  

 Sturdy, grippy soles are best for 'baby heads'

Sturdy, grippy soles are best for 'baby heads'

Let’s talk footwear.  Boots, tennis shoes, sandals, flip-flops.  I’ve seen them all on the trail.  Just the other day I was out scouting the Ranger trail again and saw an older gentleman running the trail with strap sandals.  And we wonder why GQ thinks we dress funny!  However, if hiking or running over rocks is not something you do on a daily or weekly basis, stick to good hiking shoes or boots.  I make the distinction because shoe technology has improved greatly and you can now get hiking footwear that is much lighter and much less bulky than traditional 'lumberjack' boots.  Whether you want the sturdier sole of a hiking shoe, or higher ankle support of a full boot, or even cute strap sandals is a matter of personal preference and up to you.  However, you will encounter rocks on any trail in Boulder County.  They don’t call them the Rockies for nuttin’.  Most of the rocks on the trails are affectionately termed ‘baby heads’, impacted or loose rocks about the size of a football, volleyball, or larger.  I highly recommend a good pair of hiking shoes or boots with a firm or hard sole.  I once hiked in tennis shoes and stepped on a rather pointed baby head and thought I’d torn something serious in the arch of my foot.  I limped the rest of the hike.  

 Ski goggles can come in handy during winter months to protect against wind and snow.

Ski goggles can come in handy during winter months to protect against wind and snow.

Some people, including my better half Linda, prefer to use hiking poles for added stability on the trail.  I take them on longer hikes where I will be descending steeper areas, such as when I hike to the divide or higher, where the alpine areas can be quite rocky.  Whether you will want to take advantage of poles depends on how you feel about uneven surfaces.  I try to point out any hikes in this guide where you will encounter excessively rocky, steep, or challenging surfaces.  Trails that don’t have this identification should be easily hiked without poles, although you can run into occasional rock gardens on any trail in the Front Range.  Today’s poles are lighter, adjustable, and relatively affordable, and they can give any hiker a greater sense of confidence and stability on the trail.  Consider them if you feel they could help you navigate the terrain.

If you find yourself in Boulder and in need of gear, you don't have to walk far to find an outfitter.  They are all exceptional, but two of my favorites are the Boulder Army Store on Pearl and REI at 28th St and Walnut.  (Sadly, the Boulder Army Store closed its doors in January of 2015 after 66 great years in Boulder.  RIP BAS!  You will be missed.)  REI has a great list of items to pack for day hiking, including what to carry for First Aid.  Of course it's over the top, but certainly a good reference and can be found here.

Kit all packed and ready to go?  Great!  Almost ready.  Let's look at Maps & GPS...

maps, gps and waypointing

To me there’s nothing that will stoke up my imagination more than looking at a map.  When I was younger I didn’t seek out the Hardy Boy books on trips to our local library, I always headed straight for the atlases.  Looking at the large, colorful, detailed maps of foreign countries I would picture myself visiting those places, imagining what I would do, where I would explore, who I would meet.  It was always a grand time.  I haven’t changed much through the years although the way we map trips certainly has.  Now, almost everyone has a realtime mapping system in their pocket.  No need for carting a 50 pound atlas around when you have GPS and always know where you are.  However, we’ve lost a bit of the magic and mystery of real maps in the process.  Now we focus more on how to get from point A to point B along the fastest or most direct route, while avoiding tolls.  However, GPS applications can be wonderful for the hiker.  Whether your desire is to know exactly where you are at all times, understand to the foot, yard or meter how far you are from the next trail intersection, understand how many miles and vertical feet you’ve climbed, or you’d just like to keep a record of your route like a photograph in an album to share with others at the end of your trip, GPS apps can do it all.  If you have a smart phone, there are many different apps catering to hikers.  If you don’t have a smart phone (seriously?), you can buy a plethora of dedicated GPS devices for the trail.  However, they are expensive and really should only be considered if you have a real desire to track your hiking, biking, walking and running activities.  Finally, if you just want to print out a simple topographical map of your hike, you can jump to the last two paragraphs in this section for information on a great Forest Service website.

Strava 

tracking and recording your hike

I have an iPhone I use for capturing all the GPS data for Beyond Boulder.  On the iPhone I keep only two or three different apps when hiking or biking, depending on what I need for that activity.  Unfortunately, I do not know what is available for other smart phones such as the Android or Google Phone.  All of the apps are certainly good, but each has something it does better than the others, so it’s difficult to recommend a specific app best for the trail.  Really it boils down to what you want to do.  

When I only want to map a hike for displaying on this website, or to keep as an activity reference, which is about 90% of the time I use Strava, free on the Apple iTunes store and Google Play.  It’s really more of a running and biking app, but it has very accurate metrics, tracking altitude and distance very close to reality.  However, Strava is not meant to be used for much more than tracking and monitoring your real-time activity.  You turn it on, put your phone in your pocket or backpack, and go.  When finished, you stop your activity and upload it to the Strava website.  It keeps a reference of your activity on the phone along with all the details which is nice, and the website has a very nice display of each activity with distance, time, and elevation profile.  You can link with other friends where they can view your activities and be jealous of all those great trails you are hiking.  

location finding

Hiking Projectan REI funded initiative, is relatively new and becoming more popular with hikers.  It lets you download state maps of trails so you can use the maps when outside normal cell range.  Most of the trails referenced on Beyond Boulder will be listed on Hiking Project which means if you are ever not sure of your location you can easily verify using the app.  

MotionX-GPS is another very good tracking app that has a bunch of great features for downloading and storing tracks from Internet hiking sites.  I don't use it often and so have not kept up with the details, but it gets good reviews.  $1.99 on the Apple iTunes store.

Avenza 

Another app I use when I know I’ll be hiking a trail that is either poorly marked, requires scrabbling over unmarked terrain, or intersects with lots of other trails is SpyGlass.  SpyGlass is a compass/waypoint tracker on steroids, $3.99 from the iTunes store.  I’ll bring up the hike area on Google Earth and map the trail visually, taking GPS coordinates first of the trailhead and summit, then of significant intersections or landmarks, entering all of them as named waypoints in SpyGlass.  For example, if the waypoint is a trail intersection I may name it “Take Left Fork Here”.  If it’s just a landmark, once I reach that location I start tracking the next waypoint.  The display let’s you merge a relational compass over the image from the camera or the map and displays active waypoints as well as the sun, moon, and Polaris.  Simply hold the phone vertically, pointing toward your next waypoint and it will show you in the camera image or on your map where your next waypoint is along with distance to it.  Seriously cool.  While none of the hikes on this website should require this level of trail tracking, if you are ‘into’ that sort of thing (sometimes more accurately termed ‘orienteering’) it can be a lot of fun.  My wife rolls her eyes every time she hears SpyGlass chime indicating we have reached another waypoint.  

If all this technology talk makes you want to crawl into a micro-brewery and forget you ever thought of hiking, fear not, I have included all the map resources you need with each hike.  Also, if you want really detailed maps, you can download fantastic free geospatial PDF topology maps from the US Forest Service. The fancy moniker 'geospatial' means that the PDF has longitude and latitude coordinates built into the map.  Wherever you place the pointer you will get the GPS coordinates you can put into Spyglass as waypoints.  If you prefer, you can just print these maps out and take them with you on the trail.  However, what makes these PDF maps super-useful is that you can download the free iPhone and Android app Avenza PDF-Maps and suck these maps in for use on the trail as offline maps.  They are typically much more detailed than the maps presented on Google, and although it is a little tricky to get the maps into Avenza, it is worth the effort.  

Heard all you need to hear about maps and GPS?  Me too.  Let's take a quick look at Weather Considerations for your hikes.

 

weather

Hey, with 300 days of sunshine a year, there’s no issue with weather, right?  Well, wouldn’t that be nice!  However, it can be a bit more complicated than that.  Since most people visiting Boulder do so in the late Spring to early Fall seasons Beyond Boulder focuses on the hiking weather from May to September.  During these months the weather can vary greatly.  May can still bring snow as low as Boulder and Denver.  Along the divide snow can hang on into late June or July.  Climbing 1,000’ in altitude is the equivalent of driving north 600 miles, so in theory the weather on the divide should be the equivalent of somewhere in the middle of Greenland.  Even in August you can find a sharp, cold wind on the summits.  Always dress properly for the time of year you will be hiking as well as the altitude, and remember to layer, packing enough layers to keep you warm and dry no matter what weather develops while you are on the trail.

No explanation required!

In the summer months Boulder highs run from the 80’s into the mid-90’s.  During this time we experience what is called a monsoon season, meaning that it is typical to have a brief, but sometimes strong, thundershower in the early afternoon.  For this reason in the hotter months of July and August it’s wise to hike earlier in the day, calculating to be finished with your hike by two or three in the afternoon.   If you are hiking higher in the Rockies severe storms can roll in earlier.  If you see clouds developing over the Front Range keep a close eye on them as you don’t want to be caught exposed on the trail if lightening starts to strike.  

Many people visit Boulder County for its beautiful wildflower season which, depending on altitude, runs from May through August.  For wildflower viewing close to Boulder in the foothills, mid-May through June are typically the best times to view the enormous variety of flowers in bloom.  June through August find the alpine wildflowers spreading their patchwork quilt across the upper Montane, sub-Alpine and Alpine zones.  September, while not prime for wildflower viewing, can provide some of the best hiking days, with cooler weather, fewer people on the trails and wonderful clear skies all day long.  

Even winter can be a wonderful time to hike or snowshoe in Boulder County.  But, whenever you hike, there are considerations concerning weather and exposure you should understand.  Then, get out there and enjoy!  Okay, it's time to discuss some things to remember for the Day Of Your Hike.

 

day of your hike

This is the day!  The day you are going to venture into the wilds of Boulder or Boulder County.  There are many questions.  When should you hike?  What should you take?  What will the weather be like?  What will you see?  Remember to look at the weather forecast for the day.  Plan to layer if it's cool, but the temps are planning to rise.  There's nothing less enjoyable than sweating on the trail because you wore too many clothes and forgot to layer.  The sun or lack of it can change temperatures significantly in the spring and fall.  How long is your planned hike?  Do you need to take a day pack or small backpack to carry extra water, a rain poncho, camera and energy snacks?  For my personal gear I typically have a ziplock bag for storing wallet, keys, cellphone, etc in case it starts to rain hard.  Rain can come and go quickly during the summer monsoon.  A little water never hurt anyone, but it can be murder on an iPhone or key fob.  

Resident of Brainard Lake Recreation Area

In summer months it's best to start your hike earlier than later.  Cooler temps yield quickly to the heat of the sun and the afternoon rains can come without warning.  If there's a threat of thunderstorms, you might consider rescheduling or at least taking a shorter hike.  It's exciting, but not in a good way, when you find yourself exposed on a mountainside with lightening strikes.  If it does rain while you are on your hike, trails generally drain quickly, but baby heads and other rocks can become quite slippery, so take care.  

Before you head out start your day off right with a good breakfast.  And begin to hydrate.  It's not a bad idea to get a bottle or two of water in your system before you hike.  Of course this can cause other concerns so don't forget to hit the powder room before you hit the trail! Being at altitude also has a way of really ruining your day if you like to consume alcohol, so take care the night before.  Your best friend is H20 so if you are enjoying beer, wine or other before your hike be sure to supplement consumption with water to avoid dehydration, headaches, or worse. 

Krumholz greets visitors to the sub-alpine zone

If the weather forecast calls for clear sailing, don't forget to cover with sunblock, wear a floppy hat, protect shoulders and sensitive skin, and carry plenty of water.  Twice what you would likely think you need is a good rule of thumb.  One of the items often forgotten in our house when we go hiking is hiking poles, so if you brought them don't forget them.  Also, if you downloaded a GPS app to record your hike, don't forget to start the meter before heading out on the trail and turn it off when you finish!  I have forgotten this and nothing frustrates me more than not having a record of my activity, especially if I'm mapping a hike for posting on Beyond Boulder!

When on the trail, remember, rest often if you start to feel winded.  It's not you, it's the altitude.  And while its effects are quick to come on they are also quick to pass.  When I hiked my first 14,000' peak, Gray's, I remember the closer we got to the summit the more frequent the stops we made due to oxygen deprivation.  However, the associated fatigue would always pass quickly.  Walk slowly and carefully over rocky terrain, especially if it's wet.  And while it may seem counter-intuitive, more people get injuries coming down the mountain than going up.  So be careful on your descent and use hiking poles if you feel you may want the added stability they can provide.  Finally, don't rush the experience.  Take your time.  If you have children with you, or you are still just a kid at heart, play a game.  Start a scavenger hunt for a certain color rock, or something fuzzy, rough, bumpy or smooth.  Or stop and use the senses to listen, or look for things.  Challenge others to see them or hear them too.  Make up stories of what happened along the trail 100 years ago, or 500, or 4 million.  Use your imagination.  My favorite game is "Don't fall in the lava!"  There are so many baby heads and larger rocks on the trails in the mountains that you can often walk from rock to rock without touching dirt or grass, which is defined as the 'lava pit'.  You obviously want to be careful not to encourage someone who might not be able to play for fear of twisting an ankle, but kids and even adults love it.  

Also, if you have brought your pet(s) along for the experience check out our Hiking With Your Pet section below for great info on how to prepare for their safety and resources in case you need emergency care for your four-legged friends.

Beautiful South St. Vrain Creek along the Jean Lunning Loop Trail (G.2)

While out on the trail, or at the trailhead, you may see postings or evidence of bears and mountain lions.  You may even be lucky enough to see one of these great creatures, although it's not a frequent occurrence.  They are native inhabitants of the Rockies.  They are not to be feared, but to be respected. None of these creatures want contact with humans any more than you want contact with them.  If you happen to come upon a bear or mountain lion while hiking there are several things you should know, all mentioned in this great Boulder webpage.

Regardless of which trail you hike, what the weather is like that day, how many times you stop to look around or just catch your breath, we sincerely hope you have a wonderful time.  And we hope you might, when you are back home from your visit and thinking about your hikes, drop us a note using our contact us link below and tell us if you have any comments, ideas or suggestions on how we can make Beyond Boulder better for your next visit. 

hiking with your pet

We love our pets, and we love to have them with us when we experience the outdoors.  The good people of Boulder are some of the biggest animal lovers you'll find.  This is evident by just looking around when you are in Boulder.  Doesn't matter if you are in your car at a stop light, at a local micro-brewery, walking downtown, in Home Depot, or on the trails.  You will see man's best friend everywhere.  In Boulder, where we go, so goes our pet.  Boulder even went so far in 2000 to designate people as "guardians" of their pets, not owners.  Yep.

When we hit the trails, Jack, our 10 year-old black Kelpie, loves to go with us.  And he's not alone.  Most of the trails in Boulder allow for leashed pets, and some areas allow for pets off leash if they are registered with the city's Voice and Sight Tag program.  If you are visiting Boulder with your best four-legged friend and want them to enjoy a hike with you, almost 90% of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) trails are also open to them.  Restrictions are in place generally to protect the habitat of sensitive mountain and prairie spaces.  

While we know that no one who brings their pet on a hike would intentionally injure them, we have seen our share of injured pets on the trail.  Bloody pads, overheating, exhaustion, and thirst are probably the most common issues we see.  While our pets are generally in better shape than we humans, they are still susceptible to injury, sun exposure, heat, fluid loss and other issues that affect their well-being.  Remember, Boulder trails are often rocky, our altitude and dry climate can be intimidating, and stream water, plants and wildlife can be dangerous to our pets.  When preparing for your hike be sure to prepare for your pets as well.  Below is a flyer from Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists outlining what to bring on a hike when you bring your pets.  They offer a 24/7 Emergency ER care facility in Boulder at 3640 Walnut Street within the Aspenglow Animal Center, and can be reached at (303) 443-4569 if you ever have a pet emergency. They took great care of our Jack when he had a serious illness late on a Sunday night.

Click on flyer for enlarged image.