Category Archives: Hiking

Hiking This Season in Colorado

After a very wet spring, the weather seems to have calmed down considerably, so a lot of trails are now free of snow and dry enough for hiking. In Boulder, basically all the trails are open again. Most of the damage from the floods in 2013 is also fixed, so you can go almost anywhere and not worry that the trail will be in bad shape.

View of South Boulder from  one of the trails in Chautauqua Park.
View of South Boulder from one of the trails in Chautauqua Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is not quite as ready yet since it’s at a much higher altitude. There’s still snow in a lot of the higher trails, and a lot of snow once you get above the treeline. The area around Bear Lake was mostly clear as of about a week ago, but the trails above the trailhead may still be snowy. Lower parts of the park should be almost totally clear. The snow will probably be diminishing quite rapidly over the next few weeks. I would guess that most of the shorter hikes are fine, but long hikes like scaling Longs Peak are probably still extremely dangerous.

Current conditions on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
Current conditions on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Some tips if you want to hike in Colorado (and especially in the Front Range):

  • Bring a lot of water: It is dry everywhere and hot at lower altitudes
  • Use sunscreen: You will burn quickly without it
  • Start early and end early: Sudden thunderstorms are common between around 1 and 5 pm and are quite dangerous, especially if you are over the treeline
  • Avoid wildlife: There are a lot of dangerous animals. If you make noise while you’re hiking you should avoid running into things like bears and mountain lions
  • Don’t start fires: Wildfires are common in such a dry climate
  • Know your limits: If you’re not used to hiking at higher altitudes, be very careful. You will get tired much more quickly than at sea level

Hiking is generally very safe, but people do get seriously injured and even die every year, and many of those incidents can probably be avoided.

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More Hiking in Boulder

Earlier today, Columbia football lost its 17th game in a row and yet another consecutive homecoming game. I couldn’t go so instead I went hiking in Chautauqua Park in Boulder. Today was unusually warm (reportedly actually record-setting), so it was probably the last really nice weekend day to go hiking this fall. It’s also the last weekend before daylight savings time ends and probably one of the last before the trees all lose their leaves, so it’s a good time to go hiking. There were quite a few people out today since the weather was so nice.

I ended up going up the Chautauqua trail and then down the Bluebell-Baird trail to the Mesa trail. I followed the Mesa trail almost to where it meets the Skunk Canyon trail before I turned around. Instead of following the same path back, I took the Flatirons Loop instead of the Bluebell-Baird trail. That was much rockier than I expected but overall the hike wasn’t too difficult. I ended up doing around 9 km of actual hiking.

Hiking in Chautauqua Park

Since we finally have a dry weekend in Colorado, I spent most of the afternoon hiking in Chautauqua Park in Boulder.

View of the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park in Boulder.
View of the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park in Boulder.

The hike started at the Chautauqua trailhead and went along the Chautauqua trail and the Ski Jump trail to the Gregory Canyon trailhead, which is currently inaccessible to vehicles due to flood damage from last year. It then followed the Gregory Canyon trail to the Ranger trail. From the Ranger trail the path followed the E.M. Greenman trail to the Saddle Rock trail and followed that to the Amphitheater trail. The hike ended by walking along the Baseline trail back to the Chautauqua  trailhead.

These trails are all open, but there is some damage along the Gregory Canyon trail as it follows a creek, and there is also a ladder on the Saddle Rock trail to get down a damaged section. There are a couple closed areas in the park, such as the Royal Arch trail.

This hike ended up being around 9 km and took around 4 hours at a fairly slow pace. There is an elevation gain of around 500 m and there are a lot of steep rocky areas along the Gregory Canyon and Saddle Rock trails, so this probably isn’t appropriate for small children or people with no hiking experience.

It’s a pretty nice hike on a hot day, since it’s mostly in wooded areas except for the areas near the Chautauqua trailhead. There are very nice views of Boulder along various points of the trail.

View of Boulder from the Saddle Rock Trail. On the left is downtown Boulder, and on the right is the University of Colorado.
View of Boulder from the Saddle Rock Trail. On the left is downtown Boulder, and on the right is the University of Colorado.

If you’re more ambitious, you can follow the Ranger trail to the top of Green Mountain and then loop back around on the Greenman trail to the Saddle Rock trail. This adds another 3 km to the path and I think around 300 m of elevation.

Trip To Rocky Mountain National Park

I’ve been pretty busy for the past week or so. On Thursday, My mom and I took a trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Longs Peak
In front of Longs Peak along the Dream Lake Trail.

We went up to the Bear Lake trailhead and hiked to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and then on to Lake Haiyaha. The Emerald Lake trail is a much more popular destination from Dream Lake than Lake Haiyaha, but since this is a busy time of year, I though Lake Haiyaha would be a nicer hike. Once we split off from the more popular trails, the crowds thinned out considerably and we were able to go at our own pace and stop to take pictures without being interrupted. We also left the trailhead around 9:45 am, which was early enough to avoid the worst crowds.

The weather forecast was iffy, saying that it would be mostly cloudy with a high chance of thunderstorms, but for the whole hike the sky was clear, so it was a great day to be in the park.

I haven’t been to very many national parks, so this was a nice day trip. The trails are nicely maintained and offer a wide variety of landscapes. The trails we took were along the sides of mountains and in some canyons. Even though we’re now in the middle of summer, there was still some snow on the trails (the trail starts at over 9000 feet and rises around 750 feet).

Lake Haiyaha
Part of Lake Haiyaha and nearby mountains

Lake Haiyaha was hard to find since the signs right near the end were confusing, but once we found it, it had beautiful scenery. Getting to the lake requires scrambling over some boulders so it was a more difficult hike than getting to the other lakes along the trail. I would highly recommend this hike, although it seems like it would get dangerous in the winter. It’s a little over 4 miles rountrip, so it only takes a few hours. There’s some scrambling and a significant amount of elevation gain, so you’ll need to be in decent shape. You also want to be acclimated to higher elevations to avoid altitude sickness. This hike gets up to around 10,250′ (3120 m).

Also, note that there have been a couple lightning strikes over the weekend with a number of injuries and two fatalities. While this trail does not go over the treeline, I can’t overemphasize the importance of being careful with the weather in the park. Start hiking in the morning and get back by early afternoon to avoid thunderstorms, and whatever you do do not get caught above the treeline when there’s bad weather.