Why we love it: We know, we know. It’s not the most exotic of hikes. But that’s the beauty of it. It can be whatever you want it to be: A leisurely stroll up a mellow, valley path with the whole family and a pooch in tow, a quick-and-dirty trail run for ambitious Boulderites before work, or a place to try your hand at rock-climbing without schlepping to the boonies.
When to go: Spring through fall—or winter, if you’re into snowshoeing. If at all possible, avoid weekends when the masses swarm the trails. And, fair warning: We know more than one hiker who’s gotten waylaid by a mountain lion at dusk.
When I arrived in Boulder nearly nine years ago, the first hike I did was Mt. Sanitas. Why? Well, namely, it was literally out my back door—a five minute jog from my house. But over the next few years, it became my getaway. Whenever my world turned upside down or I needed a break from life, I could hit the three-mile loop for a trail run that would get my blood pumping and bolster my spirit.
It’s not that it’s the hardest trek, or the most scenic, or the most remote. On the contrary, the route I frequented, which tops out at 6,863 feet, is well-trafficked by college kids, older fitness enthusiasts, out-of-towners, and triathletes alike. I’m partial to starting with a steady jog up the mile-long Sanitas Valley trail—a mile’s worth of sandy gravel pathway that gives way to red-dusted switchbacks when you round the northern edge. This second section is the East Ridge trail, which leads you through a couple of scramble-spots and up a few steep pitches to the summit. While there are certainly more spectacular vistas in Colorado, this view sweeps out over Boulder to the Plains. I would often find myself sitting, pondering the horizon, clearing my head while the sun shone down on the rocky outcropping.
The trail down, Mt. Sanitas trail, is not for the weak-kneed. Stone steps and a steep, rutted trail with wooden-log stairs wind you down the flip side of the mountain and past several stone faces where rock climbers have chalked their routes. There are parts of the descent I can (carefully) jog, but the rocky nature of the path makes a full-out trail run tricky if you’re not seasoned. Inevitably, though, due to its steepness, I’m always glad I chose to descend this path rather than hoof up it. After a pleasant creek crossing, you’ll arrive back at the trailhead. Even after just three miles on Mt. Sanitas, I was always ready to meet the day’s challenges.
Getting there: From Broadway in Boulder, just north of downtown, turn west onto Mapleton Avenue. Follow for about half a mile past Fourth Street and the Boulder Community Hospital/Mapleton Center to a small parking area. Several trails start from the street; they all meet at the official trailhead.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock