After the rain chased me away from the Flatirons, I headed north, in search of another rocky landmark that overlooks Boulder, Colorado. Remarkably, just a couple of miles away, the sun was out, shining brightly on the Utah-esque outcropping of sandstone that towers above downtown.
Boulder’s Red Rocks are relatively small, if you compare them to the other features in the area, like the Flatirons. But they’re still impressive, and they provide a not-too-difficult, not-too-time-consuming hike. A network of trails crisscrosses the area, with one path that even takes you in between the red fins.
I parked at the Centennial Trailhead, which is located at the mouth of Sunshine Canyon. There is another parking area off Boulder Canyon Drive, at the west end of Pearl Street. Whichever trailhead you choose, it’s only about 1/2 mile to the other, and the Red Rocks lie in between.
From the Centennial Trailhead, though, it’s hard to tell that there’s anything special nearby. You can’t see the Red Rocks from the trailhead — instead, you have to climb up a hill to a small ridge. There are several trails, so you’ll just have to guess at the right one. Once you reach the top of the ridge, you still can’t see the Red Rocks, but at least there’s a trail marker to reassure you.
Head up that hill, and in moments, you’ll see the rocks. From there, it’s your choice where you go. Trails circle around the rocks, and cross through the middle. Wander around at your leisure.
For some perspective on exactly where we’re at, take a look in the distance. You can see the distinctive tip of the First Flatiron, just a couple of miles away. In between there and here, is the foot of Flagstaff Mountain, and the mouth of Boulder Canyon is directly below.
You can easily scramble around on these rocks, and more experienced climbers can tackle several technical climbing routes.
Directly in front of the Red Rocks, there’s a cliff, which provides a good viewpoint for staring out at Boulder.
Walking around the Red Rock fins will only take an hour or so — depending on how quickly or slowly you decide to enjoy them. But there are a couple of other challenges nearby. Looking north, you’ll see Mount Sanitas. A loop trail leads to the top, then drops down into a picturesque valley (in between Mount Sanitas and Dakota Ridge), before returning to the Centennial Trailhead. It’s about 3 miles, round-trip.
I probably should have hiked up Mount Sanitas. Instead, I took a spur trail behind the Red Rocks, that led up Anemone Hill. I’ll tell you more about it, on the next page.
Here’s a time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive into Boulder, out Baseline Road to Chautaqua and the Flatirons, then through town and out Sunshine Canyon: