September 2, 1997
Hiking on a cool summer morning from Boulder’s Chautauqua Park into the awesome Rocky Mountain foothills, it’s easy to forget about sensational murders, student uprisings, and other assorted controversies which keep this Colorado town in the news. That’s because Boulder’s brilliance as a world-class recreation mecca is etched in stone as dramatically as the magnificent Flatirons rise from the rolling Colorado plains.
In Boulder, it’s easy to tune out the “real world” and channel into a refreshing wavelength of positive, post-hippy, New Age energy which permeates this academic/techno oasis.
About 35 miles northwest of Denver, Boulder is light years away in attitude from most earthly locales. Boulder’s residents are famous for being health and fitness freaks, and the reason is simple. The sprawling foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder’s back yard challenges hikers, runners, mountain bikers, climbers, kayakers, etc. to test their mettle. World-class athletes and weekend warriors alike will experience a heightened adrenaline level just a few minutes from town.
There are several focal points in and around Boulder for the recreationist. The city of Boulder maintains an extensive mountain parks system including Chautauqua Park and Flagstaff Mountain. Many excellent hiking trails begin at these two locations on the western edge of town. To the north of Boulder approximately 34 miles is Estes Park, eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. To the immediate south of Boulder is Eldorado State Park, a technical climber’s paradise. Boulder Creek bisects the city east-west and flows through Boulder Canyon from Nederland, about 20 miles to the west on Colo. 119. To the north of Nederland is Roosevelt National Forest and the stunning Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Chautauqua Park, on Baseline Road, overlooks Boulder and is the gateway to the Flatirons. Chautauqua hosts a range of cultural events, and retains the spirit of the original Chautauqua in New York. Indeed, Chautauqua is an appropriate metaphor for Boulder itself — a moving cultural/recreational retreat.
On the western side of Chautauqua Park several well-marked trails lead into the foothills. Trails are well-marked and maps are available at the Ranger’s Cottage nearby. The Bluebell Mesa path quickly ascends through a lush green meadow filled with wildflowers still blooming in late summer. The trail then enters a thick ponderosa pine/Douglas fir forest, with an equally thick understory of ferns and dogwood. As the trail levels off, the hiker is rewarded with glimpses of the dramatic Flatirons. Trails lead to the three primary Flatiron formations. Plenty of bouldering and rock-climbing opportunities are available here, from easy to highly technical. The sheer majesty of the Flatirons is breathtaking.
Conquering Flagstaff Mountain represents a certain athletic “badge of honor” for many Boulderites. Many citizens will casually speak of their daily bike rides or runs up Flagstaff Mountain, but its rapid rise in elevation and numerous switchbacks make it a true lung-burner. From a base of about 5,600 feet, the road climbs 1,300 feet in about four miles.
Slightly deeper into the foothills are the Green Mountain Loops of Boulder Mountain Parks. Two rolling loop trails meander through a pine/fir forest and offer panoramic views of the Front Range to the east.
Boulder Mountain Parks (303/441-3408) offers an active schedule of hikes and programs centered around the Chautauqua Park Ranger Cottage and suitable for everyone.
West of Boulder on Colo. 119, Sugarloaf is a foothills subdivision with access to the Switzerland Trail, a favorite mountain bike route. This classic, easy, out-and-back trail follows the route of an old narrow-gauge railway line which serviced the gold fields in nearby Ward. This wide, sometimes rocky trail climbs nearly 750 feet in over 6.5 miles and clings to the side a ridge. Great views of the dark green forested valleys below, and the towering peaks of the Continental Divide to the west are found along the Switzerland Trail. The trail slices through a spruce, pinyon pine and aspen forest, and colorful blue and yellow wildflowers border the trail.
The Switzerland Trail eventually meets Colo. 72. The trail back to the beginning is a steady, fun downhill cruise.
It’s doubtful that Boulder will make anybody’s “best place to live” list this year, as a major murder remains unsolved and tensions between Boulder police and University of Colorado students are percolating.
Nonetheless, Boulder’s highlights far outshine its warts. Even for those of us in nearby Denver, spending time in Boulder is a little like leaving the planet.