Glenn Cushman / Courtesy photo A small tributary stream is capped with a mound of moss bubbles beside the Long Canyon Trail.
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Many years ago, we promised not to write about this undiscovered jewel. Now, however, it’s an official trail in Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks and no longer a cherished secret. It’s still relatively untraveled and bursting with flowers and birds in June.

May’s wet, cold weather kept record numbers of migrating western tanagers at lower elevations. Now, these brilliant red-yellow-and-black birds are setting up housekeeping in Long Canyon’s conifer forests. At the end of May, we also saw yellow-rumped warblers, Steller’s jays and red-breasted nuthatches, one of which almost landed on us!

Ferns and mossy gardens grow in cracks of lichen-encrusted boulders.

That stormy weather delayed the blooming of wildflowers, so spring beauties (usually found in March) are now flowering along with later bloomers such as phlox and wallflowers. Lichen-encrusted rock slabs support emerald cushions of moss, and one tributary stream (often dry) bubbles across the trail.

This moist canyon habitat also supports rare paper birches (relicts from the ice age), hazelnuts and wood lilies. It’s probably not necessary to caution nature-loving hikers about protecting these rare plants, but do remember not to disturb them.

Long Canyon Trail winds through a rain forest-like habitat and sun-dappled ponderosa pine glades.

Chickarees scold from Douglas firs, and nipped-off ponderosa twigs attest to the presence of Abert’s squirrels. You may see mule deer, but you probably won’t see bears even though they are here. Look for claw marks on the trees, scat and overturned rocks.

From Realization Point, descend past two vehicle barriers to the meadow at the head of Gregory Canyon, a favorite spot for local lepidopterists. In summer, magenta bergamot blossoms attract numerous fritillaries, swallowtails and other butterflies. The trail down Gregory Canyon forks to the left at this point, and our trail climbs to Green Mountain Lodge, where the Ranger Trail leads to the summit of Green Mountain.

For Long Canyon, turn right at the lodge and cross the small bridge, stopping to enjoy the garden of shooting stars usually blooming by mid-June. The trail follows upper Gregory Creek and becomes steep enough that trekking poles are welcome. Stone steps have been built on the steepest sections where some of us descend by the seat of the pants.

At the restoration sign, faint signs of an old trail are still visible. The “new” trail veers right, climbs past vanilla-scented ponderosa pines and opens up to sunlit glades with views of Green Mountain. In about 1¾ miles, you reach Flagstaff Road, the turn-around point, with views of the Indian Peaks.


Ruth Carol and Glenn Cushman are the authors of “Boulder Hiking Trails.”

If you go

Highlights: Wildflowers, butterflies, birds and other wildlife, lush streamside and forest habitat

Distance: About 3.5 miles out and back

Elevation: About 6,700 to 7,500 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Access: Drive 3.4 miles up Flagstaff Road and park at Realization Point, on the left, near the three-way intersection.

As you near the top, views of Green Mountain open up.

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