Karl Wolf jogs with his two dogs Buddy, at left, and Poipu on the Mount Sanitas trail. See? What did I tell ya? Trail dogs.
Karl Wolf jogs with his two dogs Buddy, at left, and Poipu on the Mount Sanitas trail. See? What did I tell ya? Trail dogs. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

Hike with the herd

The CU Hiking Club, founded in 1919, is the longest-running student organization on campus. Go to colorado.edu/StudentGroups/uchc for details, including the trip schedule. Membership is $20 for a year.

Choosing a hike in Boulder County is like sizing up your options in an ice cream shop — it's hard to go wrong with any flavor, but the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks alone claims more than 140 miles of trails.

Before you freeze up with indecision, try one of these five hikes to get started. And keep going — in Boulder, you can keep hiking new trails year-round until you find your favorites.

Flatirons Vista Trail

1.9 or 3.5 miles (two loop options)

Here's a trail for the absolute beginner or someone who moved to Colorado from one of those sea-level states. Just south of the city, Flatirons Vista is a mellow, hilly trail popular with deer and the less-intense set of trail runners, some of them accompanied by canine training partners. The longer loop will take about twice the time, but neither is especially long or strenuous, so they're both good for a quickie.

Flatirons Vista is a good choice in any season, but if you go during winter, you might see golden and bald eagles.

Trailhead: Take Broadway south; it'll turn into Colo. 93 as you leave Boulder. Keep going until you pass the intersection with Colo. 128. The parking lot will be the next right.


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Mount Sanitas

3.4 miles (loop)

Dogs! So many dogs! Every shape and size and age. I once saw a greyhound-German shepherd mix ... but I digress. Aside from being the place to go for dog watching, Mount Sanitas is steep and close to town, so you can get your sweat on without having to make a day trip out of it. Go clockwise to go with the flow of traffic, or buck the trend and say hi to everyone you pass. You'll catch peeks of higher peaks to the west, chill on the rocky summit, then enjoy the easy cruise down the valley trail at the end. Bouldering spots are speckled along the way for those inclined to climb.

Trailhead: Two parking areas straddle Sunshine Canyon Drive, just west of Fourth Street.

Royal Arch

3.5 miles (out-and-back/loop)

This hike to a hidden arch in the Flatirons is a local favorite, so you might want to go early, or on a weekday, to avoid the crowds. Going early is a good idea on hot days, too, because the first stretch is sunny. Plus, parking at Chautauqua is a pain in the arse at peak hours.

Brace yourself for this one, because it's a serious workout. Take as many rest breaks as you need, but keep going because it's worth it for the close-ups of the Flatirons, and the impressive arch serves as a 20-foot frame for far-reaching views.

Trailhead: Chautauqua Park, west Baseline Road

Bear Peak

6.3 miles (lollipop)

So you've acclimated to the altitude here, tested yourself on lesser trails and are feeling ambitious. Are you ready for a hike to test your endurance? It's time to take on the Bear.

Easily recognizable from postcards, Bear Peak rises about 3,000 over Boulder; it's Green Mountain's grumpy sibling. Power up the steep Fern Canyon Trail through forest to the summit (bonus points for tacking on the summit of South Boulder Peak, just to the south), then descend a longer route via the Bear Peak West Ridge and Bear Canyon trails.

It's a tough day out, and therefore lightly traveled. When you get high enough, you'll see blackened patches that mark the path of 2012's Flagstaff Fire.

Look for bears — but you're more likely to see dogs. And keep in mind that the biggest danger you might encounter on this or other local trails is poison ivy.

Trailhead: National Center for Atmospheric Research, west end of Table Mesa Drive.

Betasso Preserve

Up to 8 miles (loops)

Betasso's Canyon Loop Trail is beloved by hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers, so don't expect solitude — just make new friends.

The 3.12-mile Benjamin Trail provides an extra loop to tack on to the Canyon Loop. It's narrow and steep in places, so pass others with care. An 0.8-mile connector trail links Benjamin to Fourmile Canyon Drive, and an easy 0.3-mile jog will lead you to the Blanchard Cabin.

Bikes are not allowed at Betasso on Wednesdays or Saturdays, so hike then if you want to avoid the two-wheeled crowd.

Trailhead: Head west up Boulder Canyon (Canyon Boulevard) about 4 miles from the edge of town to Sugarloaf Road. Go north on Sugarloaf Road 0.9 miles to Betasso; right to two trailheads.