Dating is hard. It requires effort, and small talk; it requires maneuvering weird social norms and mannerisms while communicating effectively and building a healthy and genuine bond with another person. What better place to do so than going out… and into an environment where trust is key, good decision making is a must, and natural beauty is plentiful. In the era of adventure buddies and instagram explorers, it’s time to get with it and get outside. Boulder may be a bubble of Lululemon, Patagonia, and Arcteryx, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t actually getting outside. Despite the hype, people are exploring the outdoor world more and more. Sure, some of it is due to social media, but a lot of it is an understanding of nature’s profound ability to affect our bodies and our mental health. If you live in Boulder, you’ve definitely been outside and, even more likely, you’ve probably done something outdoorsy. And perhaps you may be dating. We’re here to bring those two together to provide you the best day hikes and weekend trips for a date. Whether it’s your first, your last, or somewhere in between, the mountains are calling, and you two (or three) must go.
Boulder is home to some of the best hiking around and a fantastic place for an outdoorsy date. Up the road at the base of the foothills on Mapleton lies the trailhead for Mt. Sanitas, a 3.1 mile loop that can also be done as an out and back. Along the way you’ll catch beautiful glimpses of the greater Boulder area as you make your way towards the summit. With a steep start, you will eventually find some more even terrain towards the middle upon which you can casually traverse amongst the pines and wildflowers (depending on the season.) If you’re lucky there are several deer that are known to hang around the area. At the top you’re graced by an amazing vista of the CU campus, the Flatirons, the extensive plateau that stretches to the east, and the continuing flow of foothills to the North. Bring a lunch, drink plenty of water, and embrace one of Boulder’s best hikes.
2. Chautauqua / Flatirons
We know it, you know it, and most of us love it. Yes, it can get incredibly busy, but there are plenty of spots to feel lightyears away from the doldrums of society. Chatauqua is a beautiful place for a date. Bring a picnic, explore the Flatirons, stroll along the more mellow terrain, or take in all the spectacular views of the foothills and the wildflowers that gently cover them. The best, obviously, is to get yourself up that first or second flat iron. 2.6 miles and 1,400 ft gain. Yeah, it’s a decent amount of elevation gain, but it’s famous for a reason. It’s the quintessential Boulder hike. The view at the top only adds to, if not obliterates, the majesty that you experience day after day staring up at them. Much of the hikes are on small single track that winds its way up and around each formation. On occasion, you can get so close to the actual Flatiron that you might even be able to see some climbers making their way up a more ‘direct’ route.
3. Royal Arch
At 4 miles and 1,492ft of gain this is a moderately trafficked single track and a perfect experience to one of Boulder’s most coveted natural formation (besides the Flatirons of course). This out-and-back gives you a chance to mingle among the trees, the birds, and the bees. The trailhead is at Chautauqua and runs south along the foothills past the third flatiron and over Sentinel Pass. Drink some water and gaze out over Boulder and NCAR, this area is known for its Bouldering and climbing so be on the lookout for climbers as you continue on the final approach to the arch. The area has tons of other trails so it’s possible to combine them along with this hike if four miles just isn’t enough for you. It’s possible to include the first and second flatiron in your hike if you’re feeling especially motivated. Royal Arch is great all year round, just bring the proper equipment in case of ice or snow. A spectacular natural arch awaits you as you and your date make your way onto an adventure all your own.
4. South Peak
This is a big one. 7.9 miles and 2,913ft of gain, which is about 750 ft each mile. It’s decent, and most definitely worth it. Start your hike south of Boulder at the trailhead for Townee Trail. Follow Townee until it meets with Shadow Canyon Trail, which you’ll follow to the top. Up, Up, Up, some more and up, up, and up some more you’ll go. No matter the weather, the hike is possible, but even in the hot summer months the canyon you follow will keep you cool as you stairmaster your way up towards the saddle between Bear Peak and South Peak. It’s definitely a workout, but that doesn’t mean you and your date won’t have a good time. Bring some snacks, drink a lot of water, read poetry to one another while you lingerly stare into the sublime abyss of nature’s perfect chaos of trees, earth, and low lying plants, bushes, and vines, and surrender to the kickass sensation of peak bagging. Once you reach the saddle you’ll hang left and make your way to the top of South Peak. If you want to do Bear Peak instead, hang right. The very top is a rock field that requires some technical hiking. The summit presents you with views West into the Rockies, east over the plains, Bear peak to the north, and Golden to the south. An absolute local beast right there for the taking.
5. Brainard Lake
Just outside of Boulder up Left Hand Canyon is Ward. And just outside of Ward is Brainard Lake Recreation Area in which lies, as you may have already guessed, Brainard Lake. The hike out to the lake is absolutely wonderful at any time of year. Whether you are snowshoeing, walking, running, or sauntering around in proper John Muir style, you are certain to find solitude, beauty, and inspiration amongst the higher altitude forests that surround you. The snowshoe trail starts and ends at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead and comes in at 4.8 miles. It is possible to drive all the way to Brainard lake depending on snow and start a different hike from there. The entire area all the way West to Granby lake is littered with hikes and lakes to explore. Everything from day hikes to multi-day trips are found throughout the area. Brainard Lake, however, is a great option for a winter snowshoeing trip. If you don’t own a pair, you can rent them from a local outdoor shop. What would be better than a date to a Colorado winter wonderland as you and your date slowly make your way through stunning beauty only to come up on a picturesque mountain lake surrounded by the romantic high peaks of the Rockies?
6. Chasm Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s right there, a mere hour drive from Boulder to Estes Park. Estes Park, a date all its own, has plenty to explore and provide for pre- and post-hike activities. Nearby is the gateway to RMNP where the real hike starts. Chasm Lake is a badass 8.5 mile hike with 2,500ft elevation gain and a max altitude of 11,823 ft. This is definitely one of the most strenuous hikes but one well worth it. A heavily trafficked route (it is a national park after all) leads you way up to the high altitude lake. At the lake you’ll see the stunning Diamond face of Longs peak towering above you. More than 2,400 ft of solid rock, the Diamond is a humbling experience of sheer natural power. Although both Longs and Mount Lady Washington are nearby, they both add considerably more effort and danger to a hike. Chasm Lake is definitely a wonder all its own within Colorado. A strenuous hike that will certainly provide plenty of awe to fulfill desire and stimulate conversation.
7. Mt. Sneffels
This is a difficult hike, so remember to use proper gear, do proper research, and practice good outdoor skills. Located in the San Juans, this 14er is rated an easy Class 3, 6 mile out and back with 2,900 ft of gain. It’s far away (six hour drive to be exact) but it is 100 percent worth it. Use the drive to expand your understanding of one another, share your best playlists, embrace a little awkward silence, and take in the sights of the oft dangerous I-70 corridor. Mt. Sneffels is most easily accessed through Ouray, Colorado, a picturesque town tucked into an isolated valley deep within the towering spikes of the San Juans. A great place to stock up before or replenish after, Ouray is a really spectacular place to explore together (we visited Ouray on a winter travel loop recently, so check that article out at YellowScene.com). Your hike starts at 4-6am from the first trailhead in Yankee Boy Basin 9.5 miles outside of Ouray. The long dirt road becomes increasingly more hairy as you make your way from 7,792 ft to 11,350 ft. so having all-wheel-drive or 4×4 is recommended. It is possible to get to an even higher trailhead at 12,460ft but a high clearance vehicle with 4×4 is required – you’ll be rolling over boulders getting up there. As you start your hike, headlamps on, enough water for the entirety of the trip, and food aplenty, the cool crisp air tingles against your face as your body begins to heat up by the exertion required to hike at such altitude. Small lakes, a glacier, wildflower galore, and absolutely stunning views of the great Yankee Boy Basin will lie before you as you haul yourself up and up towards the looming beast you’re about to bag. From the second and higher up trailhead, it’s a mild traverse across a rock field to the base of the rockslide that leads you to the saddle just below the summit. Helmets are recommended and starting early is key. The rockslide is loose and dangerous and if you hit it late, when others are coming down, you’ll be dogging rock bullets the size of oranges. Bring a helmet. If you don’t have one, rent one from one of the guide companies in Ouray. Scrambling your way up the side is hard work but the views only get better. To your left a second more technical route makes its way to the summit via the Southwest Ridge. Below you, people slowly make their way up and a growing vista of beauty extending out behind them. Then, like it ain’t no thang, you’ve done it, you’re at the saddle. Drink some water, congratulate one another, take in the first views of the north and keep hauling. The last bit is up a narrow chute to the crux, where you jump and squeeze yourself through a little hole in the wall and emerge at the base of a small climb to the summit. Then, after all your work, you’re there. You, your date, some other similar minded people, and the local marmot, gather together surrounded by absolute expansive beauty at 14,150ft. In all directions, peaks and valleys extend endlessly as though you’re standing at the height of existence itself gazing upon the mighty San Juans.
8. Great Sand Dunes National Park
There are sand dunes in Colorado. Massive Sand Dunes. Or should we say Great Sand Dunes? Roughly four hours south of Boulder, lies another one of Colorado’s National Parks, Great Sand Dunes National Park. Another long drive that will need to be incorporated into an overnight trip, the sand dunes offer an adventure all their own. It’s definitely hard hiking in deep sand but perhaps that just means you won’t have to go as far. With a wonderful little visitor center, the hike starts with a short jaunt across a flat river bed to the base of the dunes. From there, it’s all fair game. Go where you wish, just don’t get lost. If you do, head south to the visitor center? Don’t know where south is? Get high and hope you find sight of civilization. In all seriousness, don’t go unprepared, and make sure you know how to stay safe. The dunes are a conglomerate of deep pits, long spines, high peaks, and an incredible amount of sand. Our editor did a flight over the park with the Sierra Club to see where the Trump administration planned to do oil drilling (read online) and he confirms it’s absolutely stunning and massive.
You can hike around and explore, you can jump, run, slide, and you can even snowboard or ski down one of the many slopes. Bring a picnic, take in the vast valley that surrounds the dunes to the west, and look up at the peaks that cradle them to the east. Mt. Blanca is ancient and sacred to the native population, specifically the Dine Nation. When you’re tired and done and ready to head out, you probably don’t want to drive all the way back to Boulder so check out the nearby town of Del Norte. Although it’s a straight shot west for about an hour, it won’t add much time to your trip back. Instead of taking the I-25 back up as you probably will have taken it down, you can take the mountain roads back through Salida and then either up to the I-70 corridor or east along the 285. It’ll take about four hours to get back to Boulder. Why go to Del Norte? Well, it’s home to Three Barrel Brewing. A seemingly odd placement for a brewery of its caliber, Three Barrel has made a name for itself in the tiny town in the south of Colorado far from the hustle and bustle of summit county, denver, or grand junction. Serving up delicious pizza and good beer by kind hearted people, it’s definitely worth a visit.
Whether you’re just getting to know one another or you’ve been married for fifty years dating is an integral part of a relationship. It’s the time and space to take one another out into the world and spend dedicated time together, to get to know each other (again), to figure out what is currently exciting the other, and to just say, ‘hey you’re great and I want to be with you’. We get it, bars and restaurants are the thing to do; we’re just here to say that hiking is cool, too. Getting out in nature is healthy, it brings people together, it pushes our boundaries and develops trust. It’s romantic, and beautiful, it’s primal, it’s vast, and it’s the absolutely perfect environment for two lovers to come together and ponder the world together.