Guide to the Flatirons

In Attractions by Aimee HeckelLeave a Comment

If you’ve been to Boulder, you know them: the unusual-looking, slanted rock slabs that are the backdrop to the city.

The Flatirons are inseparable from Boulder. They’re everywhere: on images of Boulder, logos, business names. When in Boulder, whether as a resident or a visitor, the top attraction is to experience the Flatirons.

There are many different ways you can enjoy Boulder’s biggest landmark. Here are a few ideas how — as well as some fun facts about the Flatirons that you may not know.

What are the Flatirons?

The Flatirons. Photo by Flickr user Amy Aletheia Cahill

Don’t call them the “Flatirons Mountains.” They’re technically rock formations. Boulder has given different prominent Flatirons numbers from north to south (First Flatiron through Fifth Flatiron).

The Flatirons run along the eastern edge of Green Mountain and they’re a part of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks. This means you can access and enjoy them firsthand, but they are protected; no one is going to build a shopping mall at the base of these geological wonders.

People aren’t the only creatures who enjoy the Flatirons. You may also see other wildlife, from rabbits to even bears and mountain lions.

How to Experience the Flatirons?

Hike the Flatirons. Photo by Flickr user Tyler Cipriani

  1. Go hiking. You can find various trails (of all kinds of lengths and difficulty levels) to follow up into and around the Flatirons. A great place to start is at Chautauqua Park at the Chautauqua Trailhead. (Grab a map and some advice from the ranger cottage before setting off.) This trail winds through the forest, rocky fields and meadows, connecting with other trails, so you can keep going, loop back or turn around, depending on how you feel. Options include:* The Flatiron Loop Trail (about 2 miles) is easy to moderate.

    * The Royal Arch Trail (about 3 miles) is harder but offers great views as a pay-off for the work. Per the name, it takes you to the Royal Arch, a scenic rock archway.

    Royal Arch Trail. Photo by Flickr user Chris Collins

    Depending on which trail you take, you can get right up close to the First and/or Second Flatiron.

  2. Go climbing.

    Climbing the Flatirons. Photo by Flickr user Zach Dischner

    The Flatirons are a favorite climbing destination in Boulder, in particular, the First and Third Flatirons. You can find a wide range of grades, from easy (5.0) to extremely challenging (5.14b).

  3. Gaze at them from a distance.

    The Chautauqua Dining Hall. Courtesy photo

    If you have limited mobility or time, you can still enjoy the Flatirons without breaking a sweat. Head to Chautauqua Park and have a picnic or eat ice cream on the huge lawn with perfect Flatiron views. Or dine in the restaurant with a seat outside. You can even stay in a historic cottage at Chautauqua Park to bask in the Flatirons’ shadows 24/7.

    A Chautauqua cottage in winter, with the Flatirons behind it. Courtesy photo

    Another fun way to experience the Flatirons via Chautauqua Park: via a Nature Play. Go on an easy, family-friendly hike in the area while you watch a play be performed out in nature.

  4. Watch them remotely.

    The Flatirons. Photo by Flickr user Max and Dee Bernt

    Missing the Flatirons from afar? It’s a common pain. That’s why there are a series of live webcams projecting the Flatirons in live time at boulderflatironcam.com. Watch your favorite rock formations from cameras in Louisville, Superior and Pearl Street. Watch the current images, the day’s time-lapse and browse the archives to feel like you’re still in Boulder County, no matter where you are.

  5. Appreciate the art.

    A painting by Anne Gifford

    The Flatirons have inspired endless forms of art, from photos to paintings to sculptures. Buy or view some of the art online, in local galleries or make your own Flatirons-inspired creation.

  6. Go on a guided tour.

    Flatirons in the winter. Photo by Flickr user Jake Haugen

    If you want to walk or e-bike the trails with a guide who can show you the way, as well as provide interesting background information, check out the many outdoor guided tours in Boulder. The Flatirons are incorporated into many of them. One option is the Boulder Flatirons Hiking Tour through Aspire Tours. It actually departs from Union Station in Denver and wraps up with a beer or coffee on Pearl Street. This is a great way to get a taste of Boulder (quite literally) if you only can squeeze in a day trip.

Fun Facts About the Flatirons

Look closely to see the CU on the Third Flatiron. Photo by Flickr user b k (joiseyshowaa)

  • If you look closely at the Third Flatiron, you might be able to see the faint outline of “CU,” painted decades ago by University of Colorado students.
  • The Flatirons are nearly 300 million years old.
  • They haven’t always had the same name. They used to be known as the Chautauqua Slabs or The Crags.
  • Legend has it, the current name came from pioneer women, who said the rocks looked like the metal irons they used on their clothing.
  • Ever been to the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs? Or the Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison? These are essentially relatives of Boulder’s Flatirons. They all are part of the Fountain Formation.

    Strong Cheese at Red Rocks. Courtesy photo

  • The reason the Flatirons can hold their towering shape in Boulder is because of a super-strong cement called adularia (aka moonstone, when it’s gem-quality) that happened to form in this area due to potassium-rich water in the fault zone between Eldorado Springs and Idaho Springs. That’s why you don’t see this shape of rocks all along the Front Range and in many other cities.

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