Description: 

con-trast - (noun) /kän,trast/ - the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition or close association.

The observation that stuck in my mind throughout my hike up Vistpoint and Flagstaff trails to the top of Flagstaff Mountain on an unusually warm day in early March was one of contrast.  The mountain solitude of the trail contrasting with sounds of traffic on Flagstaff Rd.  The warm, golden morning light shining in the open pastures contrasting with the cold blue winter hues in the tree-shaded forest.  Dry, rocky trail sections contrasting with long, wet stretches still covered in the last snowfall.  And finally, the contrast of the urban trailhead with the beautiful Montane forest you experience at the top of Flagstaff mountain.

Because Vistapoint and Flagstaff are accessible from downtown and from parking spots all along Flagstaff Rd I found it a very social trail.  There were trail runners, dog walkers, rock climbers, visitors seeking a quick taste of OSMP goodness, and families all using the trail on a bustling Saturday morning.  While I normally prefer to feel a bit more alone when I’m hiking in Boulder, there was definitely a good, albeit a bit hectic vibe on the mountain.  Sometimes you just want to be around other people who are enjoying nature with you.  Jack, our aging Kelpie, and I tried to greet everyone with a kind smile and a sniff or two.  
 

Challenge Level: Mid-level Intermediate, 5.4 Miles, 1,490' Total Elevation Gain, 3-4 Hours.  The more I hike, the harder it is for me to gauge the difficulty of a trail.  Not that I'm that much better than I was when I first started Beyond Boulder, but I am now more acclimated and experienced with how to properly prepare for a hike.  That said, this is a stout hike, rising almost 1,500' in 2.7 miles.  That, coupled with a steep ascent of steps near the top, and the overall distance of 5.4 miles earns it a solid intermediate rank.  If the trail had been rocky it would have ranked higher in difficulty, but the hiking surface is very good all the way to the top of Flagstaff.

Driving Directions and Parking: Eben G. Fine Park, Arapahoe Ave, Boulder, CO  80302.  There is limited parking at Eben G. Fine Park off Arapahoe Ave, and more parking on Arapahoe.  If walking from downtown, hike west on the Boulder Creek Path until you cross the bridge into E.G. Fine Park, exiting the park past the parking area onto Arapahoe.  If driving, take Broadway south to Arapahoe Ave (at the corner of Alfalfa's) and head west.  After you cross 5th St. any parking space is a good parking space!  Google Map directions here...

Trailhead: At the roundabout on Arapahoe across the entrance to E.G. Fine is a short (currently dirt as of 2018) road that heads uphill to the south.  Take the road and within a couple hundred yards you will find the sign for Viewpoint Trailhead.  Join the trail and just start heading uphill toward Panorama Point.  The College St. entry for Viewpoint joins in soon after you start your hike.  Just keep heading uphill at any split and you'll be okay.

 Click image for Green Mountain detail in Google Maps

Click image for Green Mountain detail in Google Maps

Trail Guide: Viewpoint Trail is one of a few trail options that can convey you to Flagstaff Trail and onward to the top of Flagstaff Mountain.  The others include hooking up with Flagstaff trail itself at the corner of Flagstaff and Baseline roads, taking Gregory Canyon Trail to Crown Rock Trail, and Viewpoint even offers an alternative entry point at the western end of University Ave.  I offer this option because of its access to downtown and Boulder Creek Trail for those who may not have motorized transport and choose foot or pedal access to the trailhead over Uber or Lyft.

Most of Viewpoint Trail lies on the edge of open prairie grassland.  Viewed from above it almost appears that Viewpoint straddles the dividing line between grasslands and Montane forest.  As you make your way toward Panorama Point you will have great views of downtown Boulder and the CU campus.  Since Viewpoint is not nearly as well-known as Flagstaff trail, enjoy the relative solitude you may experience here.  After a mile you top a rise and find yourself at beautiful Panorama Point, a popular overlook on Flagstaff Rd.  I never tire of stopping at 'the point' as it is usually full of visitors to Boulder who are awed by the photo ops provided here.  You can often hear multiple languages and it never ceases to remind me of what a special place Boulder is to live.  

When ready to continue on cross Flagstaff Rd, for the first of SEVEN times, onto Panorama Trail, a very short trail that passes to the right of a stone building housing restrooms, then quickly connects with Flagstaff Trail and crosses Flagstaff Rd a second time.  Just before the road the trail splits.  If you take the wrong path, no worries, you will reconnect in a couple of minutes.  That said, at the juncture I went right, toward the road just above on this route.

Author's Note:  Flagstaff Trail has a bit of a mind of its own.  Don't think of it so much as one trail, but as several interconnecting trails that all generally go up, then come back down.  The key is not so much worry about going up, 'cause, well, you just keep going up.  The part that confused me a bit was coming down.  Because if you take a wrong turn, you could end up in Chautauqua Park instead of E.G. Fine.  However, there are so many people on the trail and it is so well marked you should easily be able to get your bearing if confused.

Keep heading up and you will cross Flagstaff Rd twice more in fairly quick succession as both the trail and road wind up to the top of Flagstaff.  As you come upon Flagstaff Rd the fifth time you will be at another parking area and you may be tempted to cross the road and join the trail on the other side, which is Crown Rock Trail.  However, watch the trail signs as Flagstaff trail does not cross, but heads to the right uphill.  From here on, just keep to the main trail (the most worn) heading uphill and after you cross the road three more times, you will find yourself on top of Flagstaff at the junction of Flagstaff, Ute, Range View, and Sensory Trails.  I took the wide sensory trail to the stone shelter and picnic areas, then caught a section of the road to connect back up with the trail for the return trip.  

On the return trip down, just avoid hooking up with the Crown Rock Trail mentioned above, and keep following signs that say Panorama Point or Halfway House, which will ultimately hook you up again with Viewpoint.

Map Resources: Boulder Open Space Map

Après Hike: No doubt as you head downhill from the top of Flagstaff you'll be thinking about how great it would be to just bump into a cold brew not far from the trailhead.  Well, Oskar Blues had you awesome hikers in mind when they opened their fourth brewery tap room at West Pearl at 9th Street.  They craft a wide selection of great brews and I highly recommend their very sessionable Beerita, a Mexican amber lager for an après summer hike refresher.

Picnicking: Yes.  Eben G. Fine Park has some wonderful picnic spots along Boulder Creek or just spread out a blanket on the grass under a tree.  

Restrooms: Yes.  Seasonal bathrooms are located at E.G. Fine, Panorama Point (stone building across the road), and at the top of Flagstaff.

Dog Friendly: Yes.  

Cell Sevice: Yes,  Pretty much full bars the entire hike.