Take a Hike!
By Sharon Cutler
Boulder County is a hiker’s mecca.
There are endless options to choose from, each with its own allure. Whether you fancy a spirited hike, a cardio assault, a stroll through history or a walk with the kids, there’s a trail for you.
This summer, why not shake up your hiking habits? Try a new trail or revisit an old favorite, link a few trails for a longer hike, or tackle your go-to trail in the reverse direction for new views. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll likely end up with a new appreciation of the county’s magnificent trail system.
All four hikes listed here are within or just outside Boulder.
Park: Legion Park
Distance and elevation gain: 0.9 miles/minimal
Trailhead parking: 7081 Arapahoe Road
If your goal is to squeeze in a hike between soccer games and swim meets, try Legion Park. It’s easy to get to and the trail, which is just under a mile, won’t be too taxing on your young athletes. Picnic tables at the trailhead provide a perfect place to refuel before or after your adventure.
Legion Park has amazing views in all directions. In fact, this hilltop park was once known as Goodview Hill, and served as a lookout for Native Americans and early Anglo settlers. The Flatirons dominate the west, prairie grasslands capture the south, and to the north, the imposing Valmont Generating Station’s brick smokestacks tower above Hillcrest, Leggett and Valmont reservoirs.
The trail is flat and easy, bordered by pine, yucca and wild grasses. It parallels Arapahoe Road for a bit, but then descends a short hill and heads east, quickly losing the road and its associated traffic noise. On the quiet north side, enjoy nature and solitude as you continue to loop around.
Watch for foxes and coyotes, rabbits and prairie dogs. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of a bald eagle, as I did.
Park: Sawhill Ponds Wildlife Preserve
Distance and elevation gain: approximately 1.5 miles/none
Trailhead parking: west side of 75th Street, 0.6 miles north of Valmont Road
Perhaps the best reason to visit Sawhill Ponds Wildlife Preserve is that it’s so different from typical Boulder hikes. For starters, it’s in east Boulder, so you’re gifted with huge Back Range views without expending a lot of energy. It’s a wetlands-area habitat for waterfowl, fish, birds of prey, amphibians and reptiles. And it’s not often crowded, so you can enjoy the wildlife and serenity undisturbed.
The flat, 1.5-mile trail loops around the 18 ponds, which are reclaimed gravel pits from an excavating project in the 1970s. Sawhill Ponds is kid-friendly and wheelchair accessible, and for those who wish to explore more primitive paths, there are plenty of single-track trails that veer off the main ones.
Trail: Goshawk Trail via Fowler Trail
Distance and elevation gain: approximately 4 miles/750 feet
Trailhead parking: Park at the end of County Road 67, off Eldorado Springs Drive
Goshawk Trail is an inviting hike through a shady ponderosa forest with great views and a fascinating history.
From the Fowler trailhead, follow the steep dirt road. Just shy of a mile in, check out the ripple marks on the rocks to your right. This area was once a sandy beach, and waves on the sand caused the ripples. At about 1.3 miles, you’ll cross the Denver Water Board Bridge, which signals you’ve made it to the Goshawk Trail, a 1.2-mile trail in the Eldorado Mountain Habitat Conservation Area. Follow the trail as it meanders through the forest. You’ll reach the high point at about 2.2 miles. There, the pines give way to a grassy meadow and a stunning view of the south side of Bear Peak.
At 2.5 miles, veer left and stay on the Goshawk Trail, which at this point becomes a dirt road again. At the intersection, continue straight onto the Fowler Trail. As the trail descends, you’ll walk through a narrow cut in the rocky hogback, which is thought to be part of the old Denver, Utah & Pacific Railroad narrow-gauge rail line laid by David Moffat. Turn left at the junction of the Fowler/Spring Brook North Trail to return to your car.
Trail: Saddle Rock/Gregory Canyon Loop
Distance and elevation gain: approximately 3.5 miles/1,500 feet
Trailhead parking: Gregory Canyon Trailhead, just west of Chautauqua
on Baseline Road
For sweeping Front and Back Range views, a cardio challenge and a fun ladder feature, head to Gregory Canyon.
The Saddle Rock/Gregory Canyon Loop commands your attention the moment you set foot on the trail, and holds it for the first brutal mile. Surveying the uprooted trees and displaced boulders caused by the 2013 flood may distract you for a bit, but chances are, by the time you reach the ladder, 45 minutes or so into the hike, you’ll be ready for a reprieve from the relentless climb. Views of Saddle Rock and Boulder are your reward. And, of course, you get to climb the ladder.
Continue up another 15 minutes or so until you reach the intersection of the Saddle Rock and E.M. Greenman trails. Turn right and enjoy an easy half a mile or so to the Ranger Trail. You earned it! Turn right again onto Ranger Trail, and then right onto the Gregory Canyon Trail. Here, you’ll begin to lose the 1,500 feet of elevation you conquered on the ascent. As you drop farther into the canyon, the trail gets rockier and majestic boulder formations flank both sides. Too soon, you’ll back at the parking lot planning your next adventure.
Sharon Cutler has explored Boulder’s phenomenal trail system for almost 30 years. She loves discovering new trails and figuring out how to link trails together to form new routes with her husband and two daughters.