Boulder, Colorado is known as a cycling hotspot, featuring excellent road rides, mountain bike trails and everything in between. Bikepacking enthusiasts in (and around) Boulder have access to adventures just outside their front doors, but finding a place to camp near the city can be confusing. While Boulder borders an expansive national forest system where dispersed camping is widely allowed, a patchwork of private properties and high volumes of car-camp traffic from the Boulder-Denver area can make planning a bikepacking trip near Boulder complicated – especially if you’re unfamiliar with the area.
To make things easier, we’ve compiled a list of the best bikepacking spots near Boulder, CO. All of these locations are accessible by bike from downtown (no car required!), but you’ll want to select a route that matches your fitness level and time available.
Wherever you go, leave no trace.
Before you visit any of the locations described here, get familiar with Leave No Trace principles. Each of these locations is a dispersed campsite and our continued enjoyment of these locations is contingent upon people like yourself practicing responsible camping. Be a good bikepacker – follow these principles at all times.
Ceran Saint Vrain
- Why go? Despite a somewhat brutal road climb up the last half of “Super James”, Ceran Saint Vrain is a beautiful campsite sporting plenty of established sites, a lush pine forest and a relaxing creek running through the site. There are plenty of trails and forest roads in the area if you choose to do some exploring, though be warned: you may be sharing your experience with the ATV and Jeep crowd. During the summer, Ceran Saint Vrain can get busy with car campers, but finding a spot is usually possible if you look hard enough – or don’t mind getting a bit cozy.
- Water Situation: The South Saint Vrain Creek runs through the campsite, though inactive mines in the area make this a questionable source. The Forest Service simply states “Treat water for drinking”.
- Travel Notes: A steep road climb demands lower gearing. Plan for some walking. Allow 3-4 hours.
- Directions: From downtown, take US-36 North out of Boulder. Go left on Lefthand Canyon and climb up to the small town of Jamestown. Beyond Jamestown, the road ramps up to 15-20% until you reach the top where the road transitions to dirt and turns into Overland Rd. Keep an eye out for the Ceran Saint Vrain trail head on your right just a few minutes down the road.
- Bonus: On your way up (or down) Lefthand Canyon, stop in at the Jamestown Mercantile for a quick bite and drink.
Dream Canyon / Lost Angel
- Why go? Dream Canyon is close enough to Boulder that you could make this trip on a Friday night (or weeknight) during the longer days of the year. While the campsite is limited to just 6 or 7 spots, with a small enough footprint you shouldn’t have a problem finding a site. The views of Boulder Creek from above Boulder Falls and out across the Sugarloaf area are worth the trip.
- Water Situation: Pack it in.
- Directions: From Boulder, begin on the Boulder Creek bike path and ride west, winding up Canyon. Near the Four Mile Canyon intersection, you’ll need to cross over and continue on the shoulder of Boulder Canyon Dr. up the mountain – exercise caution as traffic is fast and the shoulder is tight. Be especially careful through the tunnel. After the tunnel, take the first right onto Sugarloaf Rd. Continue up Sugarloaf Rd. until you see Lost Angel Rd. on your left. Continue up this road until you reach a small dirt lot.
- Travel Notes: Very limited dirt on this ride, mostly road. Plan for around 2.5 – 3 hours
- Bonus: On your way down, dive into the Betasso Preserve trail system for a few miles of morning singletrack. On your way down Sugarloaf Rd, hang a left on Betasso Rd. Start with the Canyon Loop and connect on the back side to the Benjamin Loop. When you reach the backside of the Benjamin Loop, take the trail down to Four Mile Canyon, which eventually dumps you back onto Boulder Canyon Dr. and down into Boulder.
The Switzerland Trail
- Why go? The Switzerland trail has a fascinating history: it was once a railroad built to transport mining materials, but later in its life catered to tourists looking for a scenic ride. When mining declined and the popularity of the automobile stole the tourism audience, the rail lines were removed. Since then, Switzerland Trail has become a frequent destination for the ATV / off-road crowd, offering beautiful mountain views and vantage points. The North/South orientation and accessibility from Peak to Peak, Sugarloaf, Four Mile, and Gold Hill make the Switzerland Trail the perfect connector if you’re planning a loop vs. and out-and-back adventure.
- Water Situation: Pack it in.
- Directions: From Boulder, it’s easiest to reach the Switzerland Trail from either Four Mile Canyon Dr or Sugarloaf Rd. Either way, you’ll start on the Boulder bikepath, heading west up Boulder Canyon Dr. Then, pick your poison:
- Four Mile: Take Four Mile Canyon Dr. and climb until you reach the small town of Salina. Bear left to stay on Four Mile, and continue climbing until you see The Switzerland Trail / Pennsylvania Gulch turnoff on your left. Head left onto Switzerland, and ride until you find a good spot.
- Sugarloaf: At the Four Mile Canyon Dr. intersection, you’ll need to cross over and continue on the shoulder of Boulder Canyon Dr. up the mountain – exercise caution as traffic is fast and the shoulder is tight. Be especially careful through the tunnel. After the tunnel, take the first right onto Sugarloaf Rd. Continue up Sugarloaf until you see Sugarloaf Mountain Road on your right – it’s a dirt road. The trail head is right at the top and has a few sites, though you may have to hunt a bit more depending on traffic.
- Travel Notes: Regardless of your route, you’re in for mostly road and dirt on the way up. Plan 3-3.5 hours.
- Bonus: If you’re bored, take an hour to explore a few sections of the trail. There are plenty of artifacts from the mining years if you look close enough.
Gross Reservoir / Winiger Ridge
- Why Go? You’re a glutton for pain. The climb up “Super Flagstaff” is not an easy one, especially after you reach the first milestone at the Flagstaff Amphitheater. Those that grind out the climb will be rewarded with epic views from campsites situated above the reservoir. Keep in mind that the water is off limits to swimming or wading as Gross Reservoir is a source of drinking water for the city – don’t be that guy / girl.
- Water Situation: Pack it in.
- Directions: From downtown, take 9th St. to Baseline Rd., and hang a right to start your climb up Flagstaff. The climb is quite long and gets rampy after the amphitheater, but keep climbing and you’ll eventually have the option to continue straight onto a dirt road, Lakeshore Dr. (68J). Follow this around to FR 359, and take a left toward the Forsythe Canyon Trailhead – the road will dead-end into the Gross Reservoir Campground.
- Travel Time: 3-3.5hours
- Bonus: The route up is one of the most popular road rides in Boulder. Enjoy weird looks (and maybe some props) from the roadie crowd on your way up.
Want to find your own spot?
One of the most useful tools for bikepacking near Boulder is the Boulder Motor Vehicle Use Map (PDF), a document that maps out all forest roads and clearly denotes areas where dispersed camping is allowed.
Have a favorite Boulder bikepacking spot that we missed? Drop a line in the comments or get in touch on our About Page.