4 mile loop, 7 mile loop or more Elevation Gain:
300 feet (4 mile loop) or 900 (7 mile loop) feetLocation:
South Boulder Trailhead
, Highway 93, 1/2 mile north of Colorado 170 Dogs:
Allowed on leash, to go off-leash, see Boulder rules
Bathroom, trail information, picnic table, limited parking Hiking partners:
Members of the Denver Trail Heads meetup group Fee:
There are miles and miles of looping trails in front of the Boulder Flatirons. Since the Mesa Trail & Dowdy Draw parking lots are always full on the south end, I decided to explore the trails from the South Boulder Trailhead.
Print a trail map from the Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks Web site
and pick a loop.
The easiest loop
is to take the Big Bluestem to the Mesa Trail to the South Boulder Creek Trail. The hike actually starts on a road on the north side of the parking lot. Hike the road about a quarter mile to a gate, then onto the open space. There are several gates along the trail, make sure you close the gates each time.
While the trail is mainly flat, it has nice views of the Boulder Flatirons. About .08 of a mile from the parking lot, you'll pass a corral from the ranching done years ago in this area. Corral along Big Bluestem trail
About 1.8 miles along the trail you'll come to a trail split where the Big Bluestem trail continues west. You can add more distance (2.3 miles) and elevation by taking this scenic trail. For the easier hike, continue south to the Mesa Trail.
At the Mesa Trail, turn left on the very popular and wide trail for about .2 of a mile to the turnoff for the South Boulder Creek trail. Hiking along this trail, I spotted some deer in the trees.
Many runners use this loop in either direction for a quick run.
Looking for a harder or more scenic hike
? Take the Big Bluestem trail about 1.3 miles to a right turn. While we didn't find a sign here, you could easily spot the single track trail turning to the right. This is a connector trail to the Shanahan trail. After you pass through a gate, this trail moves into the trees and some rocky terrain.
At the next trail split, we turned left onto the South Fork of the Shanahan Trail. This trail passes a big watertank. Look for the trail split at the water tank and turn left. (We actually hiked around the watertank and took a social trail to get to the right place, but I wouldn't recommend it.)
At this point in the hike, you'll really start climbing up as you head for the Mesa Trail. I enjoyed this part of the hike. The trees got a bit thicker, the terrain is rocky and you feel like you're hiking in the forest and not along the front range.
About 3.5 miles from the trailhead you'll reach the sign for the Mesa Trail. We turned left. As you hike along this trail, look through the trees to your right at the interesting rock formations of the flatirons. Some of these spires and rock walls are popular with climbers.Rock formations in Boulder foothills
Along the Mesa Trail you'll hike down some steep steps to the Big Bluestem turnoff. Take the Bluestem Trail back to the main loop and turn right. This will take you back to a portion of the Mesa Trail and to the turnoff for the South Boulder Creek Trail.
Don't hike the upper portion of the Big Bluestem Trail alone. There are signs on both ends warning about bears in the area.
The best part about hiking in this area are all the looping trails. If you decide you want to hike more or hike less, you can easily find a trail to take you further or a trail to take you back to the parking lot. Enjoy!
For maps and trail information, visit the Boulder Open Space Web site
. I welcome your questions, comments and hiking trail suggestions, just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star)
, Mallory Cave*
, Heil Valley Ranch*
, South Boulder Peak*
, The Boulder Flatirons*
, Walker Ranch*
, Bear Peak*
, Rabbit Mountain*
, Bald Mountain*
, Betasso Preserve*
, Wonderland Lake*
,Eldorado Canyon State Park*
, Royal Arch*
, South Mesa Trail*
, Chimney Gulch*
, Apex Park*
, Elk Meadow*
, Chicago Lakes
, Chief Mountain
Rocky Mountain National Park:
, Twin Sisters
, Bierstadt Lake
, Chasm Lake
, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone
, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier
, Sandbeach Lake
Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness:
King, Bob & Betty Lakes
, Forest Lakes
, Arapaho Lakes
, Mitchell & Blue Lakes
, James Peak Area
, Heart Lake
, Devil's Backbone*
, Lake Agnes
Summit & Eagle Counties:
, Missouri Lakes
, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls
St Louis Lake
, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch
, Granby Ranch
Exploring Fulford Cave
, Our Favorite Hikes
, Our Favorite Bike Rides
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