Girl wearing a beanie holding her arms up with joy in front of a forested lake.

Living in Boulder has a lot of perks, including easy access to some of the best hiking, biking and outdoor activity spots. If you’re planning a trip to one of the nearby parks or trailheads, keep these tips in mind.

Ease into it

Whether you consider yourself a novice or an expert, choose a trail that matches your current fitness level and ability. Be sure to evaluate distance, elevation gain, ratings, trail conditions and more before committing to a hike. There are lots of free online resources that can help you find a trail that’s right for you. You can also talk to local guides, check out regional maps or stop by the Adventure Resource Center on campus to get recommendations or support. Here are some additional free resources to check out:

Pack the essentials

There are a few essential supplies you’ll want to bring with you, regardless of whether you’re going for a day hike, summiting a 14er or biking on nearby trails. Here’s what to pack:

  • Water. Higher elevation can cause you to become dehydrated more quickly. Drink at least one liter (32 oz.) of water every two hours while hiking, biking or exercising outdoors. If you’re bringing a furry companion with you, be sure to pack extra water for them as well.
  • Food. Pack snacks that have a mix of protein and carbohydrates to help keep your energy up throughout your hike. This can include things like peanut butter crackers, jerky, trail mix and fruit snacks.
  • Sunscreen. Higher elevation can also increase your chances of a sunburn. This is because there is less atmosphere to protect you against UVA and UVB rays. Wear an SPF 30+ sunscreen and remember to reapply it to your skin every one or two hours. Hats and sunglasses can provide additional protection to your face and eyes.
  • First aid kit. Accidents happen, and it’s important to have a first aid kit on hand in case they do. Make sure your kit is equipped with disinfecting ointment, bandages, blister treatments, over-the-counter pain medication and other personal care items you may need, such as an inhaler.
  • Rain jacket. Weather can quickly change and afternoon storms are common at higher elevations. Be prepared for rain and thunderstorms by packing a rain jacket or windbreaker to keep you dry.

If you plan on going into the backcountry, consider packing additional items such as a headlamp, navigation device, fire-starters and an emergency shelter kit.

Check the weather

Look at the forecast before heading out, and keep in mind that weather in Colorado can change in an instant. Be prepared for less-than-ideal weather by dressing in or packing layers. This will allow you to cool off when it gets hot and bundle up if it rains or gets colder at higher elevations. Synthetic materials like polyester and nylon are best, because they hold less moisture compared to regular cotton clothing and dry more quickly. It’s also important to wear appropriate shoes that fit you properly, provide adequate support and have good traction. If you’re planning to wear a new set of shoes or hiking boots, break them in a few times before committing to longer hikes.

Leave no trace

Leave no trace principles help minimize your impact on the outdoors. Here are some ways you can help protect our parks and wildlife while hiking:

  • Follow the rules. Read posted signs at parks and trailheads to make sure you’re up to speed on current regulations and restrictions, such as trail closures, fire dangers and pet policies.
  • Pack it out. Pick up trash you see on the trail and avoid leaving litter behind. If you bring a dog, remember to pick up and pack out all of their waste (you can bring an airtight container to help eliminate smells from used doggy bags).
  • Prevent wildfires. Colorado is at a high risk for wildfires, especially during the summer and fall months. Pay close attention to fire restrictions and bans, including bans on cigarettes and marijuana.
  • Be respectful of others. Stay on designated trails, and be courteous to other hikers. Protect wildlife by maintaining your distance and keeping your dog on a leash or at home.

Use the buddy system

If you’re going for a hike, take a friend (or a few) with you. Accidents are more common than you may think, so it’s a good idea to have someone around to call for help or provide assistance, especially on less frequented trails. If you do decide to go it alone, tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone. Have a plan in place in case they don’t hear from you. That way if something does happen, they will be able to call for help or search and rescue.

Hikes near Boulder

Looking for a hike nearby? Here are a few spots to check out:

Fowler Trail

  • Location: Eldorado Springs
  • Distance: 4.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 238 ft.
  • Level: Easy
  • Dogs: Leashed

Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

  • Location: Eldorado Springs
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 951 ft.
  • Level: Moderate
  • Dogs: Leashed

Green Mountain West Trail

  • Location: Flagstaff Mountain
  • Distance: 4.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 721 ft.
  • Level: Moderate
  • Dogs: Leashed

Additional resources

New to hiking? Check out opportunities through Outdoor Pursuits below to get involved and learn about the outdoors. The city of Boulder and Boulder County also have a number of opportunities to get involved including educational nature programs and volunteer opportunities.

Outdoor Pursuits trips

Outdoor Pursuits offers hiking and backpacking trips that will prepare you for your own hikes and adventures around Colorado. Early registration is recommended due to limited spots.

Wilderness Workshops

Join Outdoor Pursuits for Wilderness Workshops that will help you plan and prepare for outdoor adventures. They cover a variety of topics, including backcountry cooking, trip planning, birding and more.

Adventure Resource Center

The Adventure Resource Center (ARC) has resources and staff available to help you plan your next big trip. Whether you're interested in hiking, rafting, climbing, backpacking or camping, the ARC is a great place to get started. They can provide great recommendations and help you prepare for your trip. Stop by the first floor of the Rec Center near the Outdoor Pursuits office to get started.

Outdoor Equipment Rentals

The Rec Center’s Outdoor Equipment Rental program provides equipment rentals for a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, climbing, water sports and more. Students with a valid Buff OneCard can rent equipment. Rates and rental periods are available online.

Wilderness Medicine

Attend a Wilderness First Responder class to receive a certification that provides you with the tools to make critical medical and evacuation decisions in remote settings. This course is handy for those who may be hiking, climbing, camping or backpacking in remote or backcountry areas.

Apothecary Pharmacy

Get the summer supplies you need at the Apothecary Pharmacy at Wardenburg Health Center. They have sunscreen, aloe vera, nasal spray, sinus relief, first aid supplies, over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as a variety of personal care items. 

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