Published: Feb. 22, 2021

Boulder has one of the most picturesque mountain ranges in Colorado — the Flatirons. With Colorado winters being generally mild, there may be some days that are great for a winter hike. Here are some fun facts on how the Flatirons came to be and how you can stay safe on your hiking adventures!

What are the Flatirons?

Traditionally, both locals and visitors have treated the Flatirons as a visually stunning place to hike and climb. Many hidden hiking trails, both well-known and not so well-known, lay nestled within the craggy range, but do you know how they got here? 

The mountains are part of a unit called the Fountain Formations. The formation is actually one that formed from older, broken rock about 280 million years ago! The sedimentary rocks that helped fortify the Flatirons eroded from a mountain range 30 miles west of Boulder. As time went on and erosion continued, coarse sand and gravel hardened to rocks and layered up to build what we see today.  

Hiking tips and advice

If you’re planning a hike at the Flatirons or anywhere else in Colorado, it’s important to be prepared. Here are some tips to help you have a safe and successful hike.

Start easy

Opt for a trail that matches your fitness level, so you can familiarize yourself with the area and terrain first. We recommend Lion’s Lair Trail for those who are new to hiking. If you have more hiking experience, we recommend checking out AllTrails for additional hiking options. While Colorado is best known for its 14ers and breathtaking backcountry, it’s important to start easy and work your way up more difficult hikes. 

Dress for success

Even though our winters are mild, Colorado weather can change in an instant and it’s important to be prepared for inclement weather. Be sure to check the weather forecast and plan accordingly. We recommend dressing in layers, so you can cool down if you get too warm. During the winter, don’t forget your gloves, scarves, wool or non-cotton socks and hand warmers if you need them. Wear appropriate shoes that are warm, provide support and have good traction on the trails. Follow these tips to avoid, spot and treat hypothermia or frostbite. 

Bring plenty of water and snacks

It’s important to stay hydrated during physical activities, especially at high altitude. This is because elevation can cause you to become dehydrated more quickly. Be sure to fill up your water bottles or Camelbacks before heading out. Here is a good rule of thumb to follow: Drink at least one liter (32 oz.) of water every two hours while hiking. Keep in mind that you may need more on warmer days. If you’re bringing a dog with you on the trail, be sure to pack extra water for them as well!

In addition to staying hydrated, it’s a good idea to pack some snacks for the trail. Consider snacks that have a mix of protein and carbohydrates to help keep your energy up for the duration of the hike. This includes things like peanut butter crackers, jerky, trail mix and fruit snacks. 

Leave no trace

Stay on the designated trail and pick up all trash and dog waste. Pay close attention to fire restrictions and bans (including bans on smoking cigarettes and marijuana). Be sure to follow all rules and regulations which are critical in protecting visitors, wildlife and our beautiful parks and trails.  

Use sunscreen

Did you know that you’re more likely to get sunburnt at higher elevations? That’s because there is less atmosphere to protect you against the UV rays. Remember to wear sunscreen whenever you go on a hike, even if the hike is short and in the winter or on a cloudy day. We recommend using an SPF 30+ and reapplying every 1-2 hours. Hats and sunglasses can provide additional protection from the sun.

Use the buddy system

If you’re going out on a hike, take a friend (or two)! Accidents are more common than you may think, so it’s good to have someone around to call for help or provide assistance, especially on less frequented trails. Bringing a first aid kit can also help in case of an accident. If you do decide to go it alone, tell someone where you’re going and how long you expect to be out. Have a plan in place in case they don’t hear from you. That way if something does happen, that person will be able to send for help.


New to hiking? Check out opportunities through the Outdoor Program 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.

Wilderness Workshops

The Outdoor Program hosts free Wilderness Workshops throughout the semester. They cover everything from maps and navigation to trip-planning and safety.

Introduction to Backpacking

Enjoy a 2-day and 1-night excursion to Rocky Mountain National Park to backpack along Battle Mountain! During this trip, you will learn how to pack a pack, set up camp, navigate using a map and compass, cook, plan a menu and more! No experience necessary.

Outdoor Equipment Rentals

The Outdoor Program provides equipment rentals for a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, climbing, water sports and more. Students, staff and faculty with a valid Buff OneCard can rent equipment. Rates and rental periods are available online.