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Lion's Lair Trail in Boulder. Photo by Sarah Banks
The Beginner’s Guide to Trail Running in Colorado

The Best Trail Running Routes in Boulder

Boulder is a trail runner’s paradise, with gorgeous terrain and well-maintained paths that range from a forested loop that gains just 429 feet to a 13.8-mile route that takes you all the way from Chautauqua Park to Eldorado Canyon.

Easy: Canyon Loop, Betasso Preserve

Length: 3.3 miles, round-trip loop
Vertical gain: 429 feet
Part of Betasso’s appeal is that bikes are outlawed on Wednesdays and Saturdays: Not having to dodge marauding groups of cyclists allows new trail runners to soak in the Boulder Canyon circuit’s bucolic charm. Although the trail circles grassy meadows, most of the path cuts through pine forest, which provides a welcome canopy on blazing summer days. There’s no dramatic vista payoff, but thanks to the smooth trail, tranquil brooks, and restorative aroma of ponderosa pine, the run itself is a destination.

Moderate: Lion’s Lair Trail

Length: 4.4 miles, out and back
Vertical gain: 711 feet
Think of this as your Rocky moment. Instead of predawn streets and the stairs in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, however, this seven-year-old trail features a smooth, switchbacking path up the north side of Sunshine Canyon before a final climb to the peak of Mt. Sanitas. (You don’t have to worry about bikes or dogs either; both are prohibited.) And with apologies to the City of Brotherly Love, Philly simply can’t compete with the sprawling view of Boulder from Sanitas’ 6,863-foot crest.

Challenging: Mesa Trail, Chautauqua Park

Length: 13.8 miles, out and back
Vertical gain: 1,714 feet
Mesa is the beautiful backbone of a trail network that spans south from Chautauqua to the Eldorado Canyon area. Spurs to the east mostly head downhill to trailheads and neighborhoods; anything to the west is likely to gain elevation, and fast. To test your quads, take the Fern Canyon and Nebel Horn trails west to the 7,574-foot summit of the latter’s namesake peak. Or just stick to the main turnpike of Mesa and watch the landscape change from open fields of golden dandelions to the looming slabs of the Flatirons to evergreen forest.

Note: We verified the mileages and vertical gains with land managers when possible, but these figures can vary based on where you access each trail. Research your specific intended route ahead of time; and are good resources.

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