Get Outside! Hiking The Boulder Flatirons

There’s Actually A Hiking Trail Between The Flatirons

Basics: Distance: 2.5 miles the way I went. There are lots of trails to add more mileage. Elevation Gain: approx. 1,440 feet in 1.25 miles Trailhead: Chautauqua in Boulder (directions below) Dog rules: Dogs are allowed on leash or voice and sight control.

For years I've enjoyed looking at the Flatirons, but since I don't climb, I didn’t think I could get to the top of the rocks. Not one of my dozen plus hiking books lists a hiking trail to the top of the Flatirons. Then, while researching trails in the Flatirons area, I suddenly found a Web site that mentioned a hike between the first and second Flatiron. I knew I had to give it a try.

The trailhead for the Flatirons hike is Chautauqua. It’s a spot that’s easy to get to, but it’s a place where it is not easy to find a parking space. At 8:45 a.m. on a Sunday, the parking lot was already packed and there were several people parked along Baseline Road.

I drove through the parking lot, just in case, but there were no spots available. So I found a spot on Baseline, packed up and headed up. While there are some social trails along Baseline, I decided to walk up the parking lot to the Ranger Cottage.

The Ranger Cottage is a good place to start your day. The ranger gave me a map and some advice.

My big question? I wanted to know if there was a way "over" the flatirons to a trail on the backside. The ranger said you can hike down through the trees to the Saddle Rock trail. She warned me it was very steep, that you have to hold onto the trees occasionally, and it takes some time finding. She said she had been through both ways -- going over the Flatirons and coming back down the front side.

I knew I wanted to do the loop. I figured the worst thing that could happen is I might not find the Saddle Rock trail and I would have to hike back up the Flatirons and return on the front side trail.

So where is the trail? The ranger said when you look at the Flatirons, the trail goes right between the first and second Flatirons, so it's easy to see your destination.

From the Ranger Cottage, I started up the main trail. The Chautauqua trail is a wide trail in the middle of a field. It was packed with people at 9 a.m. I saw several families working their way up, taking lots of breaks. I saw one older couple who brought their coffee cups up the trail and staked out a spot on some rocks to enjoy their morning java. It looked like a great place to relax, take in the view and have coffee. Watch for this sign. The bluebell-baird trail goes to the left, the trail to the flatirons goes to the right.

The Ranger warned me that when the Chautauqua trail ends, turn left and then take a quick right. I did. I turned left on the Bluebell/Baird trail. I immediately spotted another trail split. The sign said Bluebell/Baird trail with an arrow to the left. The sign said nothing about the trail to the right. I took the ranger's advice and took the right trail.

This trail is on the OSMP Circle Hikes Trails Guide the ranger gave me, but the trail doesn't have a name, just a line. While the trail is pretty steep, it's in the trees and the shade helped.

I found a sign at the next trail split that told me I was on the right track. The sign had an arrow for the first and second Flatirons climbing access, but the sign also said "Dead end trail. Return the way you came." That worried me since I really wanted to do a loop hike, but at least I knew I was going the right way.

I climbed to a scree field. I was surprised to find a scree field so low in the foothills, but this is the base of a rock. The trail is pretty impressive here. Some trail builders obviously put in a lot of time creating steps through the scree field. Scree on Flatirons trail

A few feet after you hike through the scree field, you come to a bridge and the bottom of the first flatiron. This is a good spot to stop and watch the climbers working with their ropes and climbing. I also found a hiker here who had decided this was high enough for her; she was waiting for her friends to go to the top and come back down.

I had a bigger goal today, so I headed up the trail again. This is a well made trail, but it's a tough one. There's a lot of elevation gain. The section between that first Flatiron view and the top is mainly a series of switchbacks.

I was thrilled when I finally made it to the top. I was standing right between the two Flatirons. The rocks are beautiful up here and the view down is amazing.

I was pleased to stand in this spot. Then I looked at my GPS and it said I had only hiked a mile. A MILE??? Yep, a mile. I felt like I had hiked much further, possibly because of the 1,300+ foot elevation gain. The trail was listed as 1.2 miles on a Web site I had read so I knew there was more to go. View from the top of the Flatirons Trail

After a few pictures, I found the trail and started off again. The trail goes between the two Flatirons and climbs the backside of the first Flatiron. Honestly, getting to the top here was a bit disappointing. No one I was with could find a way to the "very top." There was no end of trail sign, so everyone kind of took off in different directions to see if we were missing something. The stop I made at the fake summit was much better.

I did find something important at the top: a sign for the Saddle Rock Trail. I figured if there’s a sign, there's a decent trail or a decent way to get to the trail, so I knew I had to try it.

I headed down the hill at the sign. While the trail was quite steep, it was pretty easy to follow.

I met Robert, another hiker on the way up; he decided to try this section with me. Sometimes we were on the same trail going down, sometimes we ended up on different trails, but it wasn't too hard to find our way down.

There were a lot of social trails, but you could also see where someone had done some work on this trail, using branches to mark ways not to go. I occasionally heard voices on the way down, so I knew it wasn't too far to the Saddle Rock Trail.Saddle Rock Trail sign at the top of the Flatirons trail.

Within a few minutes, we found it. And we found a ton of people. The Saddle Rock Trail was busy, but we were pleased that we had taken a bit of an adventure getting there.

At the trail split for the Saddle Rock Trail and the Amphitheater Trail, we took the Amphitheater Trail. It was a great choice. The crowd went the other way and the Amphitheater Trail was beautiful. It was lush with vegetation, cool from the shade of the trees and just really beautiful. This trail is tough on the knees. There were quite a few stairs.

I was surprised to find so many families in this canyon of sorts. Lots of very young kids climbing the stairs while their parents carried smaller kids on their backs. I found two families with three children each. The parents said Amphitheater Trail is a good hike. They parked at the trailhead at the bottom of the canyon, so the kids were having fun right away in this canyon instead of hiking up the big elevation gain in the hot sun on the Chautauqua Trail.

At the bottom of the Amphitheater Trail, there are lots of options. Continue north to Baseline Road and hike down the trail that follows the street; turn on the Bluebell/Baird Trail to the Chautauqua Trail; turn on Bluebell/Baird and then on the Ski Jump Trail back to Chautauqua to cut off some distance; there are also a few social trails back to the parking lot and Baseline Road that the rangers would like you to avoid. A section of the Amphitheater Trail

The hike up and around ended up being about 2.5 miles. My GPS measures how much time I spend hiking and how much time I spend resting. In the end, it said I hiked an hour and rested an hour and 9 minutes. I'd like to say the rest time was snacking and talking, but I think a lot of it was catching my breath.

While this hike was a bit shorter than I’d prefer and a bit tougher than I’d normally choose, I think it may have a spot on my list of top 10 favorite hikes. I really enjoyed the views, the challenge of the hike, the lush forest areas, etc.

Directions: Take the Boulder Turnpike, Highway 36 to Boulder. Just before you get into town, take the exit for Baseline Road. Turn left or west and drive 1.4 miles to the entrance for Chautauqua on the left side of the road. If there's no parking in the parking lot, you can park along Baseline Road, just look for the "no parking" signs. On your way back to the highway after the hike, there is a BeauJo's on the right side of Baseline Road just before the highway entrance. You may also want to make reservations for the very popular Chautauqua Dining Hall.

I'm struggling a bit to find good hikes in the foothills, especially hikes I can do in about two hours time after work. I'm also looking for advice on trails without a lot of elevation gain that I can do with my friends who are carrying baby packs. If you have a suggestion, I'd love to hear it. E-mail me at I also welcome your questions or comments about this report.

Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star) Boulder: Caribou Ranch*, Mallory Cave*, Marshall Mesa,Heil Valley Ranch* Forsythe Canyon*, South Boulder Peak*, Walker Ranch*, Bear Peak*, Rabbit Mountain*, Bald Mountain*, Betasso Preserve*, Wonderland Lake* Golden area: Forgotten Valley, Chimney Gulch*, Apex Park* Jefferson County: Mt. Falcon*, Elk Meadow* I-70 area: Herman Gulch, Chicago Lakes, Chief Mountain Rocky Mountain National Park: Granite Falls, 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 Northern Colorado: Homestead Meadows, Devil's Backbone*, Lake Agnes Summit & Eagle Counties: Booth Falls, Missouri Lakes, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls Grand County: St Louis Lake, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby Ranch Other: Exploring Fulford Cave, Our Favorite Hikes, Our Favorite Bike Rides

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