The Mesa Trail in Boulder is the main artery running north and south between Chautauqua Park in town and the South Mesa trailhead, just east of Eldorado Springs and Eldorado Canyon.
Popular with hikers, runners and dog walkers, the 6.7 mile trail follows a route near the base of the Flatirons and provides access to numerous other trails and destinations, including Royal Arch, Enchanted Mesa, Kohler Mesa, the Quarry, Skunk Canyon, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Mallory Cave, Bear Canyon, Bear Peak, Shanahan Ridge, Fern Canyon, Shadow Canyon and South Boulder Peak.
Hiking the length of the trail one-way requires a car at both ends.
Beginning at Chautauqua Park, head south about a half mile on the gravel road next to Chautauqua meadow to a sign on the left that indicates the start of the actual trail. The route climbs slightly, levels off and winds through ponderosas until it drops sharply to a creek and then passes through a meadow where the path intersects trails to NCAR and Mallory Cave.
The trail descends slightly to a dirt road in Bear Canyon. Head up the road, past a pool in Bear Creek where dogs love to cool off in hot weather, until a sign on the right shows where the trail begins again. The climb up the road is steep in spots.
The path then rolls up and down and winds through the forest until it connects with another dirt road and makes a long, gradual descent to the South Mesa trailhead. Views of the southern portion of the Flatirons are impressive in this section.
Just before entering the parking lot, the trail passes by the historic stone Doudy-Debacker-Dunn house, built in the mid-19th century, and then crosses South Boulder Creek, which in late spring and early summer runs high with snow melt. Just past the bridge over the creek is the parking lot.
Distance: 6.7 miles one way
Best time to do this hike: All year but be prepared for snow and ice in the winter
Highlights: Views of the Flatirons and plains
Parking: The Chautauqua and South Mesa trailhead lots have room for a couple dozen cars but fill quickly, particularly in the summer and on weekends.
Directions: To get to the Chautauqua parking lot, take Baseline Road west past Broadway. Turn left just after Ninth Street into Chautauqua Park. Take the first right into the parking lot. If it is full, parking is possible on the road around the large grassy area, east of the lot, and on Baseline Road. To get to the South Mesa trailhead, take Broadway south through Boulder. About a mile south of town, turn right at a traffic light onto state Highway 170 and head toward Eldorado Springs and Eldorado Canyon State Park. At a sign marking the South Mesa trailhead, turn right and head down to the parking lot.