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Green Mountain Via Gregory Canyon and Saddle Rock (D.8)

Description: There are several classic hikes in the Boulder area, three of the most popular being ascents to the tallest peaks in the Boulder foothills; Green Mountain (8144'), Bear Peak (8461'), and South Boulder Peak (8549').  While Green Mountain is not the tallest, it is one of the more commonly hiked peaks because most trail options start and end at Chautauqua Park, and are some of the prettiest and best maintained trails in the area.  As well, Green is the mountain to which belong the famous Flatirons.  There are several approaches to Green, some easier than this approach, requiring much less altitude gain or miles covered.  One one alternate is by leveraging the Ranger Greenman hike trailhead as a start/end, eliminating the climb on Gregory Canyon and the descent on Saddle Rock and Amphitheater.  Another, much shorter and less aggressive ascent is the Green Mountain West Ridge trail that starts near the intersection of Flagstaff Rd. and Bison Dr.  However, the approach via Gregory Canyon is the classic route and the one we chose to present here, in all it's rugged glory.  Over it's 6.5 miles you will leverage five different trails; Gregory Canyon, Ranger, E.M. Greenman, Saddle Rock and Amphitheater.  It traverses open meadow, rocky canyons, Ponderosa pine forest, and short scree fields.  Saddle Rock was closed for nine months after the floods and it is a great trail to view the devastating power of nature.  Plus, there're aren't too many trails that give one the chance to descend on a ladder!

Difficulty: Very Difficult (D.8), 6.5 Miles, 2,600' Total Elevation Gain, 4-6 Hours.  I toyed with the idea of giving this hike a Most Difficult D.9 rating, not because of the 2,400' altitude gain (5,721' to 8,144') over four miles, but because of the 2,400' of altitude descent over 2.5 miles.  It is steep and rocky and will test legs to the limit over Saddle Rock trail, which was severely damaged after the 2013 flooding.  Yet, after some soul searching I don't believe this trail can be ranked any more challenging than Chasm Lake or Pawnee Pass because it starts at lower altitude and is shorter in distance.  Even so, it is a tough hike.  Take care if you hike it, consider poles for the descent and take plenty of water and snacks as it makes for a long event.  

Driving Directions and Parking: Chautauqua Park, 789 Flagstaff Rd Boulder, CO 80302.  Head south from Canyon Rd on either Broadway or 9th St.  Turn west on Baseline Rd. and drive past the entrance for Chautauqua Park to where Baseline takes a hard right and becomes Flagstaff Rd.  There are a few pull off spaces here at the trailhead as well as parallel parking spaces just past the turn on Gregory Lane.  If no parking is available, turn around and park along Baseline Rd.  Google Map directions here...

Trailhead: Traditionally, Gregory Canyon was accessed via Gregory Canyon Rd, however this cul-de-sac was destroyed in the flood and as of July, 2014 it is indefinitely closed.  Currently, the best second access starts just at the before the stone bridge where Baseline turns to Flagstaff.  This is a short connector trail that climbs up to Baseline Trail.  If you cannot find parking near the trailhead and you park close to the entrance to Chautauqua you can pick up the Baseline Trail at the corner of Baseline and the park entrance road.  Much better than walking along a crowded Baseline Rd.  If all that is confusing, check out the Boulder OSMP map link below for a visual of the Access Points (marked with a blue 'A') to Baseline and Gregory Canyon trails.

Click image for Green Mountain detail in Google Maps

Click image for Green Mountain detail in Google Maps

Trail Guide: From the trailhead take the connector trail uphill about 100 yards to where it meets Baseline Trail.  If you started at the beginning of Baseline Trail, this will add about 0.4 miles to the markers on this hike.  Turn right continuing uphill through the Chautauqua meadow for a short distance.  After about 0.2 miles you will drop into a shallow, shady gulch where you will meet up at the end of Amphitheater Trail, which you will come down on your return and when your legs will be the consistence of Play-Doh!  You are looking for Gregory Canyon which is down, across the creek and in the Gregory Canyon Rd. cul-de-sac.  Cross over the creek (as of Summer 2014 the bridge is still missing), turn left in the cul-de-sac and cross to the map board which marks the start of Gregory Canyon and Saddle Rock trails.  

Since some of you may have made it here from different starting we'll reset our guide counter and call the start of Gregory Canyon as mile marker 0.0.  So, resync your Green Lantern Decoder Rings and let's get hiking!  This area is still a mess from the floods, but you will soon move up the side of the canyon and leave it behind.  After about 0.1 miles you will come to the split of Saddle Rock.  Stay to the right on Gregory Canyon, beginning a 650' climb over the next 1.3 miles.  Lot's of rocky steps, a little possible scrambling across large slabs of stones and great views.  Take your time and enjoy!  At 1.3 miles you will cross a small stream and turn left following the stream to Green Mountain Lodge and Ranger trail, making your way back and forth across the stream another three times.  This is a temporary trail due to the flood erosion.  

When you reach the map board at Green Mountain Lodge at about 1.5 miles, take Ranger Trail to the left of GML and head up into the shady Ponderosas.  Keep an eye out for the unique pointy ears of the black and white Abert's squirrels, named after Colonel John James Abert, a naturalist who helped map the West in the 1800's.  Abert's only live in Ponderosa pine trees.  Cool, huh?  At just past 1.8 miles you will come to the intersection of Ranger and E.M. Greenman Trail.  Take a rest in the shade of the pines, then head left on E.M. Greenman.  The Ponderosa will begin to thin out and soon you will have some great views of the Continental Divide and Indian Peaks to the west.  At 2.5 miles you will come to a magnificent lookout which gives you views of Boulder, the foothills to the north, the divide, and Long's Peak.  Take a much deserved water and snack break here because you have a decision to make.  This lookout is at the junction of E.M. Greenman and Saddle Rock Trail, the trail you will descend on your return up Greenman to Green Mountain.  If you are feeling fatigued consider that the rest of the hike up to Green is 1.2 miles, climbing a healthy 900' before you return to this point and pick up Saddle Rock for the rest of the descent back to the trailhead.  Tired minds and bodies can make for mistakes on the downhill so consider cutting your hike short at this point if you or anyone with you has doubts.  

Once rested if you are ready to continue to Green Mountain head up E.M. Greenman.  This trail is wonderfully smooth for a short period then decides to get serious, first opening up with a long set of wooden and rock stairs, then crossing scree and finally delivering a couple of short, rocky ascents before the peak.  But, it's all worth it when you get to the top of Green at the 3.8 mile mark and see the unobstructed view of the Continental Divide and Boulder!  Don't forget to check out the brass disk identifying the peaks along the divide.  Take a long rest here and let your legs prepare for the descent.  When ready, return via the same route back to the lookout and the start of Saddle Rock Trail at 4.9 miles.  Only 1.4 miles to go over a drop of 1530'.  Yikes!

Saddle Rock reopened in June 2014 and is a great trail to view the devastation caused by the power of water.  It's sad yes, but it's also a powerful message.  A message about how nature can wear down such staggering mountains of rock.  A message about the healing and reclaiming power of nature.  And a message about how environmental changes can deliver such a devastating punch through climate extremes.  This was the result of a 1,000 year rain event.  It hopefully will be many, many generations before we see this level of erosion again.  It's incredible.  Think about that while you are trying not to think about your legs on the way down.  ;-)  Not long after you start down Saddle Rock you will come to a new addition to the trail, a ladder.  The erosion was so bad that there is now a 10-12' drop to the trail requiring a descent on a ladder.  It's safe and solid, but not easy for pets unless they like to be carried.  At 5.7 miles Saddle Rock meets up with Amphitheater Trail.  Either trail will get you back down (remember we passed both trailheads early in our hike), but when I reached this point I was looking for the shortest path back to get off my feet.  Amphitheater is a bit shorter, so that's the way we went.  And it's a pretty trail too.  At 6.1 miles Amphitheater deposits you at the shady, shallow gulch where you crossed the creek to find the Gregory Canyon Trail.  Do not cross the creek, but turn right heading back out to the Chautauqua meadow on Baseline Trail, retracing your steps to the trailhead.  Congratulations!  

Map Resources: EveryTrail MapBoulder Open Space Map

Après Hike: If you have completed this hike, then this beer choice needs no explanation. Boulder Beer's Sweaty Betty Blonde Heffeweizen.  It's my favorite wheat in the area made with Weinstephen yeast which gives it a hint of banana making it especially refreshing on hot days.  Boulder Beer is honored as Colorado's first microbrewery, and is located at 2880 Wilderness Place, Boulder, CO  80301.  They offer a fantastic menu to compliment all of their great craft beers.

Picnicking: Plenty of tables at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage and on the green in front of the Chautauqua dining hall.

Restrooms: Yes, at Chautauqua Ranger Cottage.  There are restrooms at Green Mountain Lodge as well, but they have been closed Summer 2014.

Dog Friendly: No.  Dogs not allowed on E.M. Greenman from the lookout up to Green Mountain, and it is difficult to get most dogs down the ladder on Saddle Rock.

Cell Sevice: Spotty.