On the west edge of town, exactly where the mountains meet the plains, begins a slow drive up the winding Flagstaff Road. Watch out for thighs-of-steel cyclists on the way, and stop at Panorama Point snap some pics of the University of Colorado’s red-tile rooftops and the view stretching all the way to Denver.
About four miles up on Flagstaff Road, you’ll see signs for Realization Point, with two small parking lots on either side of the road. You’ve reached one of Boulder’s signature hiking and picnicking areas.
Tip: Need to use the restroom on the way up? Stop at the Halfway House just past Panorama Point and follow the signs for "latrines," 150 yards south of the stone shelter. Or find more restrooms at the Flagstaff Summit.
From Realization Point, there’s an incredible network of trails with views of the spectacular Indian Peaks to the west, glimpses of the Flatirons to the south and panoramas of Boulder Valley to the west and north.
Chapman Drive is a wide dirt road (shared by mountain bikers) that gazes down at a canyon, thick with ponderosa pine forest, and beyond to the snow-capped Indian Peaks looking west. This is an out-and-back trail that starts on the downhill from Realization Point, so save some energy for the climb back up. It’s wide and level, but the steady incline will give your calves a good workout.
Tenderfoot is a smooth, relatively gentle trail that intersects with Chapman Drive Trail (above) and winds through a flowering meadow with open vistas from multiple points along the way. This is a great hike for postcard-perfect views of some of white-capped peaks.
Range View Trail leaves from the north parking area at Realization Point and loops through quiet stands of Douglas fir, ponderosa pines and junipers. The moderate terrain and captivating views westward to the snow-capped Indian Peaks make this a lovely hike for all seasons. You can return the way you came, or make it a loop on the Ute Trail.
This lesser-known trail follows Upper Gregory Creek. The tucked-away area harbors a stand of ancient paper birches that survived the Ice Age. Sections of the narrow pathway are practically overcome with forest growth, and the accompanying color changes make it the perfect choice for a fall hike. To find it, take the Ranger Trail for 0.2 miles before turning right across the bridge and following signs for Long Canyon. You’ll tackle the uphill first and enjoy a leisurely downhill stroll back as your reward.
With tall pines above and rust-red earth beneath your feet, this fragrant trail is easy to get to but feels like you’ve escaped deep into the woods. After only about five minutes of hiking, you’ll come upon a clearing just before you reach the historic Green Mountain Lodge. Here dozens of butterflies drink the nectar of wild bergamot in summer, and a pair of picnic tables await for resting. Continue on and you’ll head back into the cool forest before the trail gets quite steep (after about a half mile) and dramatic views rise behind you. Eventually, you can intersect with Green Mountain West Ridge Trail, which leads you to summit Green Mountain — no small feat, to be sure.
Ranger Trail intersects with E.M. Greenman Trail after about a mile. This is another great option for summiting Green Mountain, with a completely different route than Ranger Trail. This pine-shaded trail has some breathtaking overlooks and crosses trickling streams and dramatic scree fields. The final climb will have you wondering, “Are we there yet?” But really, it’s a delight the whole way.
The Gregory Canyon Trailhead is at the foot of Flagstaff Mountain and the trail travels over 900 vertical feet to come out at Realization Point. A relatively steep, rocky climb with several switchbacks, it crosses a ridge with beautiful panoramas. The varied landscape is a habitat for a huge range of summer flowers.
From Realization Point, drive up Flagstaff Summit Road (open seasonally, May-September) for about half a mile to reach the Flagstaff Summit Trailhead and its additional collection of trails, outdoor event spaces and an educational nature center.
This family-friendly hike has forest-framed views and boulder-strewn terrain ending in a breathtaking lookout at May’s Point. It becomes a fantastic kingdom of rock castles and trees for kids to scramble over, climb on and hide behind.
The Sensory Trail is a special trail designed to help you explore nature using senses other than sight. A rope railing guides you along at the beginning of the trail. You'll be prompted by signage to blindfold yourself, if you are a sighted visitor, and have a family member or friend be your guide as you explore the rest of the trail together.
Twelve interpretative signs (with printed words and braille) will instruct you to discover your senses through exercises such as feeling the difference between two types of rock in your hands, comparing the scent and feel of various tree species, and "seeing" a mountain panorama with your fingertips on a relief model of the mountains. You'll be amazed what you hear, smell and feel in this lively natural environment without sight.
At the summit of Flagstaff Mountain is the unique, east-facing Sunrise Amphitheater, made from local stone. It's a popular location for weddings because of its gorgeous views stretching across the Boulder Valley to the Eastern Plains. Drag yourself up before sunrise (trust us on this one), take a seat and watch nature put on a magnificent show as a new day dawns.
At the rustic Stone Shelter, an arrangement of 28 outdoor (and two sheltered) picnic tables is available for rental daily, as well as a few more tables at the Wood Shelter. If not already in use, all of these make a fun setting for an impromptu picnic.
Open in summer, the Flagstaff Nature Center is a fantastic mountain-top stop for families. Learn what creatures and plants live in the forest and grasslands all around you, play games and discover interactive nature-themed activities. There's a model version of Boulder's mountains, a historical timeline, rocks you can handle as you learn about the area's geology, real animal displays you can get up close to and animal bones you can touch. The center is open from about 10am-4pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, June through September when volunteers are available (there are a few occasions when the center closes during these times since it is staffed only by volunteers).