Plan a Gorgeous Hike at Flatirons Loop Trail in Boulder

For our recent trip to Boulder, Colorado I had planned out a few things I wanted to do. Well, by a few, I mean a lot. We didn’t have time for it all, but at the top of my list was hiking the Flatirons Loop trail at Chautauqua Park. It seemed like the perfect trail to take kids on- not too long, but not too short, and not too hard. It proved to be all of that.

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If you want to do the famous Boulder Flatirons hike with kids, or just as adults, it’s the perfect place for a bit of unique beauty and a day out. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting and hiking the Flatirons Loop trail with kids (or with anyone!).

pinnable image with flatirons in Boulder, blue cloudy skies and light green grasses.  Text at bottom of Guide to Flatirons Loop Boulder, CO

History of the Flatirons in Boulder

As we hiked up closer to the Flatirons, my kids asked why they were called that. I responded, “I don’t know. Maybe because they look like the bottom of an iron?”

I had no idea that this was actually why they were named such.

The Flatirons were originally called either “The Crags” or “Chautauqua Slabs.” But legend says that some pioneer women were tending their laundry one day and said the formations looked like the flat part of their metal irons. The name has stuck ever since.

The formations are not mountains, but sandstone rock figures that are said to have been around for over 300 million years. This makes the formations closely related to the formations at both Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado and to the formations at Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs as they are all part of the Fountain Formation.

Fun Facts about the Flatirons in Boulder

Today, the Flatirons are very significant to the city of Boulder. The iconic formations can be seen from many parts of town as well as on souvenirs and merchandise.

The fifth peak is the shortest at 6,900 feet while the fourth is the tallest at 7,630 feet. If you look closely at the third flatiron, you may be able to see faint CU letters, which were painted on the rock decades ago. The city painted over the letters in 1980.

bright light green grass in foreground, flatirons in back and bright blue sky with clouds

How to Get to the Flatirons Loop trail in Chautauqua Park

While there are various places to see the Flatirons, the Flatirons Loop is a great trail for families. It is located in Chautauqua Park in Boulder, CO.

Getting to Chautauqua Park isn’t difficult. Once you’re in Boulder, Take Broadway to Baseline Rd and head west. Turn onto Kinnikinnick Road which will take you to the parking area.

Parking at Chautauqua Park

There is a parking lot at the park, but for the amount of traffic that comes to Chautauqua in the summer, it all of a sudden doesn’t seem very big.

Weekdays and off season shouldn’t present a problem.

We happened to go on a Saturday afternoon in the summer and it was packed. We were incredibly lucky to get a spot right as someone was coming out, but many people were not so lucky.

If you visit during parking-fee enforced times (summer weekends), the parking is $2.50 per hour, and you prepay. This means you have to guess how long you’ll be, and then add on extra time just to be safe.

For those with electric vehicles, there are 2 charging spots in the parking lot closest to the Ranger Cottage and trailhead.

Shuttle to Chautauqua Park

Chautauqua is really busy during the summer months, and especially during summer weekends. In this case, consider taking the FREE park-to-park shuttle to drop you at Chautauqua.

The shuttle operates on summer weekends. There are a few places to pick it up around Pearl Street, as well as a few stops near CU. Many of the lots are free parking, making it a great bonus (as street parking around Boulder is paid-parking).

You can bring your strollers or leashed-dogs on the shuttle as well so no one has to miss out on the hike!

wide dirt path at Flatirons Loop, garbage cans at beginning, various people walking on path, flatirons in distance on a blue sky, sunny day

Trailhead to Flatirons Loop and Chautauqua Trail

Hiking the Flatirons Loop Trail with Kids

As I mentioned at the beginning, the Flatirons Loop is a great hike to take the kids on. It’s only 2.1 miles with a net elevation gain of 655 feet, and has some great flora, views, and hiking terrain the kids will love.

If you want a shorter hike (short walk) with a great ending, check out Boulder Falls. This Flatirons Loop is more about the journey.

Flatirons Loop Route: Chautauqua Trail > Flatirons Loop > Bluebird Road

To start the trail, head from the parking lot toward the Ranger Cottage and go to the right. Cross over the bridge and you’ll be at the trailhead. You’ll see a dirt trail that starts to go up the hill, toward the Flatirons.

You can take the loop either direction at this point. To the left will take you up a gravel road, Bluebird Road, which is part of the loop. If you go straight, this will take you up the dirt path.

We went straight first since it seemed more scenic, and seemed to be the main flow of hikers.

The dirt path has some incline to it, so take it slow with the kids and really enjoy the wildflowers as you walk.

Get a Great View of the Flatirons on this E-Bike Tour of Boulder!

View of Boulder from the Flatirons Loop trail.  Grass on bottom and tops of CU campus in distance, all with orangish colored roofs.  Cloud filled sky above

There are a few great viewing points of the Flatirons along the trail, as well as views of Boulder and the university below.

As you go up and around, you can continue on the Flatirons Loop, or if you are wanting a little shorter of a trail you can cut over for the Chautauqua loop. These two trails are the main trails in the park and the signs use blue and green (Flatirons Loop trail and Chautauqua Trail) lines to show each of the routes.

They both basically follow the same route, but Chautauqua loops around sooner than Flatirons. They both end up on Bluebird road as you finish the loop.

small girl at top of a wooded trail at Flatirons Boulder.

Other Trails at the Park

You’ll notice there are a lot of turn offs for other trails within the hiking area. Some go outside the perimeter of the Flatirons Loop and some hike within.

Many of the ones that go outward are one-way hikes that require an out-and-back, though they provide closer views of the Flatirons. One trail will take you to the 1st and 2nd Flatirons (2.4 miles).

Another will take you to Royal Arch, a cool arch formation. This one is a more difficult hike, so only recommended for older kids (3.4 miles).

Other trails that go outward are connecting trails to other locations or other trailheads in the area.

The inward trails will take you though a wooded area, adding a nice dose of shade on a hot and sunny afternoon.

We ended up on one of these inside trails as the many Bluebird named trails ( “trail” “mesa trail” “spur trail” ) threw us off and we turned too early. It was a nice detour being able to cool down in the shade of the trees for a while.

Take a Guided Hike Through the Flatirons

light brown cottage with cement stairs leading up to it, rails on the side, lots of plants on sides of stairs

Ranger Cottage at Chautauqua Park

After you park, make sure to head to the ranger cottage at the end of the parking lot.

Here, you’ll have actual bathrooms on the side of the cottage opposite the trailhead, and porta-potties on the other side closest to the trail.

If you go near the actual bathrooms and continue to wrap around the building, you’ll see a drinking fountain and fill station for your water bottles.

inside the nature center at Flatirons Chautauqua Park.  Wood floors and animals on wooden blocks or inside glass cases. two kids bending over to look at taxidermied animals like mountain lions, fox, owls

At the front of the ranger cottage, you can go inside for small exhibit room at the Nature Center. Kids will love checking out the animals that live in the area. We found that mountain lions, eagles, and other animals live in the area. We thought it was cool to see a black fox lives at Chautauqua Park and in the surrounding area as well.

Kids can check out one of the activity bags, called Discovery Packs, at the cottage as well. This will help expand their experience and excitement about hiking the Flatirons Loop. The bags include binoculars, magnifying glass, art supplies, scavenger hunt, and a field guide to help make the hike more exciting for kids.

flatirons loop trail with kids on dirt path. Smallest child is pointing out flowers on the side of a dirt trail

My youngest was genuinely interested in finding matching flowers on her brochure

My daughter loves finding flowers on hikes, so it was awesome that the ranger cottage had a brochure with a guide to flowers in the area. She was very insistent in identifying many of the flowers along the Chautauqua Trail and it was fun to be able to match them up with their pictures.

FAQ About Flatirons Loop Trail

How Long of a Hike is Flatirons Loop?

The Flatirons Loop trail is 2.1 miles total. The beginning starts as a decent incline, but once you are at the top it evens out a bit.

How Hard is the Flatiron Hike?

The Flatiron hike is not terribly hard. The trail overall has a net elevation gain of 655 feet, with just over 700 feet total with the ups and downs. Besides the steep grade on Chatauqua trail, it’s an easy hike that is great for families or anyone wanting a beautiful hike.

Which Flatiron Trail is Best?

The Flatirons Loop trail and Chautauqua Trail are the most popular loops in the park, rated in difficulty for families to achieve this hike, albeit maybe having to take it slow on steep parts. The Royal Arch trail is difficult, but leads to an incredible arch formation. Either option gives you great views of the Flatirons.

Flatirons Loop with Kids Wrap Up

While there were plenty of adult groups on the trail, we also saw plenty of families. We felt like the Flatirons Loop trail was great to bring kids on. Besides the steep grade at the beginning, which kids actually did just fine of, the trail was fairly easy and full of fun stops and views. They loved identifying flowers and walking through wooded areas. The adults loved the great views of Boulder and getting closer to the magnificent sandstone Flatirons.

I would recommend this trail for families or anyone looking for a scenic, short and sweet hike on your next trip to Boulder.

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pinnable image with flatirons in Boulder, blue cloudy skies and light green grasses. Text at bottom of Guide to Flatirons Loop Boulder, CO

Also Check out

Boulder Falls- the easy, quick walk to a gorgeous waterfall!

Eldorado Canyon State Park– Best Trails for Families

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