A Guide to Hiking in Boulder

Realization Point, Cottonwood Trailhead, Boulder Canyon Trail, and Chautauqua Trail offer some of the best hiking in Boulder.
Written by Andrea Barrett
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Updated on Jun 09, 2022
Nestled in the foothills of
Rocky Mountains, the city of
is an outdoor enthusiast's dream. Boulder is surrounded by a labyrinth of hiking trails for hikers of all levels, but these are the best Boulder hikes: Realization Point, Cottonwood Trail, Boulder Canyon Trail, and Chautauqua Trail.
Hiking in Colorado never ceases to impress. Brimming with natural beauty in all directions, once you’ve poured sweat and hard work into handling the trails like a champ, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views.
Although most of Boulder’s trails are very accessible and simple to navigate, it’s also easy for first-time visitors to get lost. That’s why
, the
car insurance
super app
, is here with a guide to hiking in Boulder to keep you on track. Ready to get started? 
Compare auto insurance policies
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms · No fees, ever

The best hikes in Boulder

In a state known for its stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and a variety of outdoor activities, you know there will be some epic hiking wherever you land. Narrowing down our favorite trails in a sea of plenty is challenging, but these are the best Boulder hikes.   

Best for views: Realization Point

Distance: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderately challenging
Trail type: Loop
Elevation gain: 521 ft
Parking: Yes
Dogs?: N/A
Starting Point: Flagstaff Road, Boulder, CO 80302
If you’re looking for some of the best views in Boulder, Realization Point is where you’ll find them. You’ll find several trailheads in the area, including Chapman Drive, Tenderfoot, Range View, Ute, Gregory Canyon, and Ranger, with many other connecting trails.
The parking area for Realization point is just 3.4 miles up Flagstaff Road at the junction with Flagstaff Summit Road.
One of the best hikes from Realization Point is along Chapman Drive and Tenderfoot Trail. Once you get on the 2.5-mile trail, head down Chapman Drive—a wide, dirt road that offers impressive views of the ponderosa pine forest-covered canyon and the snow-capped Indian Peaks to the west. 
Around the 1.5-mile mark, turn right onto Tenderfoot Trail, where you’ll wind through a gorgeous flowering meadow. Follow signs for the overlook spur trail to glimpse some of the most picturesque views of a few of Colorado’s tallest peaks.
Pro Tip Pack a snack and drink for the way back! While a portion of the hike is wide and level, it’s a steady incline that’ll get those calves fired up.

Best for dogs: Cottonwood Trail

Distance: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Trail type: Out and back
Elevation gain: 36 ft
Parking: Yes
Dogs?: Yes
Starting Point: 5102 Independence Road, Boulder, CO 80301
If Fido is a fan of the outdoors and wants to experience the best of Boulder hiking with you, head to Cottonwood Trail. This 2.5-mile trail is short and easy and a casual connector trail tucked away on the east side of town. 
It runs parallel to Whiterock Ditch for most of its length, and thanks to the beautiful cottonwoods and willows, there’s plenty of shade to keep your four-legged companion cool on the sunny Boulder days. While most of the trail is gravel, if you continue south past Independence, the trail turns into a paved path. 

Best for Instagram: Boulder Canyon Trail

Distance: 8.8 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Trail type: Point to point
Elevation gain: 88 ft
Parking: Yes
Dogs?: Yes
Starting Point: 55th Street in East Boulder
Boulder Canyon Trail offers the perfect snap to spice up your grid. Also known as the Boulder Bike Path, the trail starts in the plains, weaves through the town, and ends in the stunning mountains, offering the perfect mix of rural and urban scenic landscapes
The trail is frequented by cyclists, trail runners, and walkers, so if you’re looking for a bit of social interaction, this is the place. But if you’re in search of solitude, hit the eastern end of the trail and try to avoid it on the weekends. 
Just outside the city, the Boulder Creek Path intersects with the Boulder Canyon Trail for a quick and easy 1.9-mile hike to the perfect spot for a dip in the water or to catch the best shot for the ‘Gram. You’ll also find access to some exhilarating climbing spots and water activities if white-knuckle thrills are up your alley. 
Distance: 2.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Trail type: Out and back
Elevation gain: 49 ft
Parking: Street
Dogs?: Yes
Starting Point: 5880 Baseline Road, Boulder, CO 80303
With kids in tow, you’re going to want a paved trail that’s short and easy on the legs—and that’s precisely what Bobolink Trail offers. But easy doesn’t mean boring! 
Bobolink provides access to the northern end of the South Boulder Creek Trail with stunning views of creekside scenery and mountains. Plus, you’ll get the chance to see plenty of wildlife, ranging from moose to various species of birds.
This trail is most convenient for anyone coming from downtown and is the only trailhead to offer quick access to both the north and south ends of South Boulder Creek Trail.

Best for a date: Chautauqua Trail

Distance: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderately challenging
Trail type: Out and back
Elevation gain: 419 ft
Parking: Street
Dogs?: Yes
Starting Point: Baseline Road and 9th Street in Boulder
What’s more romantic than stepping into a piece of history before hiking through some incredible scenery? Chautauqua Park was designated an iconic historical landmark when Boulder began preserving lands over 100 years ago. 
It’s the starting point for more than 40 miles of trails winding through the Flatirons, canyons, and summits with spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains to the west. The park features several options for a date to remember—biking trails, a picnic area, a playground, tennis courts, and a demonstration garden—but the hiking trails are the place to be.
The 1.2-mile out-and-back Chautauqua Trail is high-trafficked but will take you through the heart of the historic Chautauqua Meadow. While it may be a smooth hike, the sun will get you, so pack water to stay hydrated! 
Pro Tip The trailhead is smack in the center of Boulder, and the limited 58 parking spots fill up quickly. If you aren’t able to hit the trail bright and early, you can park along Baseline Road and side streets. Alternatively, hop on the Park-to-Park Shuttle on weekends.

Best for a workout: NCAR Trail 

Distance: 3.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderately challenging
Trail type: Loop
Elevation gain: 721 ft
Parking: Yes
Dogs?: Yes
Starting Point: 1850 Table Mesa Drive, Boulder, CO 80305
Are you looking to fire up those quads and get that heart pumping? The NCAR Trail will get you sweating even more than burpees do. 
Several trails branch from NCAR Trail, but the Mesa Trail is one to hit for a great workout. It runs north to south from the top of Bluebell Road in Chautauqua to the South Mesa Trailhead near Eldorado Springs. 
The trail travels through varied terrain, going into and out of drainages and across flatter areas to give the legs a break. You’ll pass through grasslands, prairies, and ponderosa pine savannas with amazing views of the Flatirons. 
But if your legs are ready to work, you’ll find the largest and most sustained elevation change on Mesa Trail's southern end during the descent into Eldorado Canyon. It’s also the most exposed, so sunscreen up and make sure you have water because it can be a scorcher during the summer.
It’s a super popular trail for hikers, runners, and walkers, so grab some friends (or meet some along the way) and explore!

Tips for hiking in Boulder

There is no shortage of breathtaking views on any hiking trail in Boulder, and it’s one of the best ways to experience the bounty of nature that Boulder offers. But before you grab your bag and hit the trails, here are a few tips to help keep you safe, hydrated, and happy along the way: 
  • Ease into it.Boulder’s hikes aren’t all easy and breezy. Many hikes throughout the city offer a challenge for even the most experienced hikers, so choose a trail that matches your fitness level. 
  • Bring water. Whether you’re doing a 1-mile hike or an 8-mile loop, the Boulder sun can be a scorcher. Plus, higher elevations increase the risk of dehydration. Plan to consume at least one liter (32 ounces) of water every 2 hours while hiking. If you’re bringing your fur baby, pack extra water for them.
  • Wear sunscreen (and bring extra). Some hikes offer shade, but for those that don’t, the sun can be killer. And when you’re at higher elevations, there’s less atmosphere to protect you against UV rays. Lather on SPF 30+ sunscreen and reapply every 1–2 hours during your hike. Hats are also great for additional protection. 
  • Be respectful of nature and other hikers. Many of Boulder’s best hikes are heavily trafficked, and it’s essential to keep the trails as they’re meant to be kept. Be respectful of other hikers around you and comply with the leave no trace rule to help minimize your impact on the outdoors. 
  • Start early if possible. If you hit the trails early, you can kill two birds with one stone—beat the heat and the crowds.
  • Bring a buddy. Accidents are more common than you think when hiking. It’s best to have a friend around to call for help if needed, especially on the trails less traveled. 

How to save money on car insurance in Boulder

Boulder might only be half the size of Denver, but if you’re looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city, hitting the trails to channel your inner zen is a great way to do it. And when you stop to give your legs a break from the Boulder terrain, why not take a minute to find a better (and cheaper!) car insurance policy with
Saving money on car insurance is easier and faster than you think. As the No. 1-rated car insurance app, Jerry scans over 50 top insurance providers in 45 seconds to find you the best rates. Jerry users save an average of more than $800 a year on car insurance by using the app. 
is the best! I was able to get the same insurance from Progressive for only $198, which saves me almost $400 a month. Seriously.” —Miles G. 
Thousands of customers saved on average $887/year on their car insurance with Jerry
This app is great, but the customer service is even better! Not to mention convenient! My husband and I got the lowest rate (much lower than the rates I was finding online through my own searches), quickly, and pretty much all through text message! Thank you so much for a hassle free experience👍
Gabriella R.
Find insurance savings (100% Free)
rating primary
4.7/5 Rating on App Store


Compare Car Insurance Quotes For Free
Jerry automatically shops for your insurance before every renewal. Members save $872/year.
rating primary
Rating on App Store
Start saving money!
12,000+ Reviews
Trusted by 3.5M car owners like you

You might also be interested

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

No long forms
No spam or unwanted phone calls
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings — it's 100% free