For the best view of Boulder, you’ll need to take a drive up Flagstaff Mountain. It’s the big hill southwest of downtown Boulder, and just to the north of the Flatirons. And there are more than just good views along the road that takes you to the top — this area is part of the City of Boulder’s open space, and as such, it is crisscrossed by hiking trails.
Odds are pretty good that your first stop will be at Panorama Point. There are only a few parking spots here, but spaces should open up quickly…
… since the only thing to do here is gawk at the view. This is also a good place to buy your parking permit — non-Boulder residents need to drop $5 into the self-pay station here, or at one of the other stops along Flagstaff Road. You can drive the road without paying the fee, however, if you use one of the parking areas, you must display your parking pass.
At Panorama Point, the Boulder campus of Colorado University is directly in front of you…
… and Boulder’s downtown business district is slightly to the north.
Click on the image for a larger version.
On Day 2, I made a couple of trips up and down Flagstaff Mountain. The second trip ended after sunset, while the sky was still glowing pink and red. My final stop of the day was at Panorama Point, where appropriately enough, I took this panorama.
After a couple of dramatic switchbacks in the road, you’ll reach Crown Rock. It’s more than one rock, though — it’s a big outcropping of red rocks that just beg to be climbed and scrambled.
With a little exploration, you’ll be able to find some easy routes into the center of these rocks. Big chunks of stone like this one can’t be climbed without some technical skills…
… but you shouldn’t have any trouble finding some nice, high spots, which you can claim as your own.
By the way, that sharp-looking mountaintop to the south is the First Flatiron.
Once the rock climbing has tired out your kids, load them back in the car and continue the journey uphill.
As you reach the top of the mountain, a spur road leads out to Flagstaff Summit. The mountain’s actual summit is just to the southwest of the developed area. A couple of trails loop around it, but the official map of the area does not show a trail going directly to the top. Since I didn’t explore it myself, I can’t tell you exactly what you’ll find at the summit.
Instead of hiking, I drove out to the eastern end of the developed Summit area, where an amphitheater is perched on the edge of the mountain, with a wide-open view of the city behind it.
Not far from the amphitheatre, on the western end of the Summit area, you’ll find Artist Point. It requires a short walk from the parking area to get to this viewpoint, where you’ll see mountains stretching out for miles…
… and you’ll find some more boulders to hop onto.
I also took note of this picnic table, which displayed a memorial — made even more poignant by the flowers left there.
Artist Point disappointed me a little. It didn’t provide the grand viewpoint that I expected, given its name. But there is a better viewpoint waiting, just up the road, at …
Lost Gulch is the final stop in the series of Flagstaff Road viewpoints, and I also think it’s the best of them all. There’s a big outcropping of rock here, but it doesn’t require any technical skills to climb…
…so you can walk around on top of it until you find a place you like.
At one point, this marker probably told the elevation, but it’s so scratched and damaged it can no longer be read.
At Lost Gulch, Boulder is farther away than at the other viewpoints, but you can still see some of the highlights.
As I mentioned earlier, I made two trips up Flagstaff Mountain on Day 2. On my second visit to Lost Gulch, I arrived about 45 minutes before sunset. I debated whether to stick around, or call it a day. Fortunately…
… I decided to wait it out. With only 15 minutes to go before sunset, a bank of clouds rolled onto the horizon, filling what would have otherwise been a boring, empty sky.
The view got better and better…
… but eventually, the show was over.
Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive down Flagstaff Mountain, twice.