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Why we love it: This loop’s gentle gradient lets you focus on the eye-popping views of Boulder’s spectacular backdrop.
When to go: Whenever you feel like an open, sunny trail with grand vistas—or a mellow start to a much longer hike, run, or ride.
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This flat 3.5-mile loop south of Boulder is a great option for families, trail runners, out-of-town guests and beginning bikers. For the best views I recommend hiking the Flatirons Vista Loop counter-clockwise, beginning with the North branch, which leaves from the parking lot’s northwestern corner.
Shortly after crossing the connectors to the Greenbelt Plateau Trail, keep your eyes open for a chattering colony of prairie dogs just west of the first gate across the wide, dirt path. After a very brief climb up onto the mesa top, the North branch continues west through rolling prairies where ground-nesting birds like Vesper Sparrow and Western Meadowlark are known to lay eggs.
As you approach the mountains, more and more stately Ponderosa Pines—whose sap smells a bit like butterscotch—dot the grasslands. When you reach the spur to the Doudy Draw Trail about a mile from your car, be sure to walk the short distance west to the mesa edge for sweeping views including the mouth of Eldorado Canyon, several of the Indian Peaks high above, and the entire Boulder backdrop.
From this junction continue south along a slightly rockier dirt road that parallels a power line through healthy stands of Ponderosa Pines. At the indistinct and unsigned junction, head east on the narrower and rockier Flatirons Vista South branch, which soon passes the junction with the Prairie Vista Trail. As you leave the gradually thinning forest, you’ll get great views of the plains to the east, plus the NREL windmills and a nearby gravel mine to the southeast. After walking past the cattle pond, take the first gate on your right to return to your car, or if—like me—you can’t yet bear returning to your daily life, walk back to the North branch and repeat.
Getting there: From the CO 93/US 6 junction in Golden, head north on CO 93 for 11.5 miles to the signed trailhead on the left, located 0.3 miles before the junction with CO 128.
Logistics: A $5-per-car entry fee is required to park if you don’t have Boulder County plates. Dogs are allowed but must be on leash at all times unless they meet the voice and sight control standard and wear a city Voice and Sight tag. These trails are occasionally closed due to muddy conditions; check the website before you go.