Hiking the Foothills Bench Trail

Overview

The Foothills Bench Trail is an underrated 4-mile out-and-back trail on the northwest corner of Boulder. The trail is relatively flat, rolling gently over the bottom edge of the Foothills, with lovely meadows and wildflowers. Friday, May 3 was a warm sunny day, and I couldn’t stay indoors, so I thought to spend some time outside photographing this trail in order to introduce it to others.

I’ve mainly used the street parking at the corner of Denver Street, but the trail is easily accessible and not too far from several parking spots, as you can see on the Hiking Project map.

Foothills Bench Trail

Starting Out

From the parking spot at the edge of Denver Street, you hike 0.1 miles to a fork in the trail and turn right, going on a short downhill. This fork connects with Hogback Ridge Loop, which is a 2.1 mile loop with nice views of Boulder and Boulder Reservoir. There is a turnoff on the Foothills Bench Trail soon to the right, but don’t take that – it goes to a different parking lot.

The start of the trail looks like this –

Foothills Bench Trail

After you turn off to Foothills Bench Trail –

Foothills Bench Trail

Not long after you start along the Foothills Bench Trail, if you turn around, you can see this view of the edge of town and the Flatirons in the background –

Foothills Bench Trail

A little bit further down the trail, with more and more hills filling the view –

Foothills Bench Trail

Along the Trail

During my hike, a few tail runners jogged by. It seems like this is a good trail for running because it is relatively flat with not a lot of obstacles like rocks.

Foothills Bench Trail

The trail continues straight for 2 miles.

Foothills Bench Trail

There are three short gulches that go through bushy areas such as below –

Foothills Bench Trail

One of the gulches is filled with these fragrant, flowering trees –

Foothills Bench Trail

I believe these are a type of blossoming pear tree. I’ve seen them in town, too.

Foothills Bench Trail

The Return Trail

There is a facility with a barbed wire fence marking the end of the trail at almost exactly 2 miles from the trailhead.

This is the view from the end of the trail looking back at Boulder –

Foothills Bench Trail

Views of the trail a bit further along on the way back –

Foothills Bench Trail

Foothills Bench Trail

And as you get closer to the trailhead –

Foothills Bench Trail

Wildflowers on the Trail

When I visited the same trail about a month ago in early April, I already saw a few wildflowers blooming. At the beginning of May, there was an even more stunning variety of flowers.

Most of the different types of wildflowers grow within the first mile of the trail. There still are wildflowers on the latter half, but less, and it’s more grassy.

White Wildflowers

Prairie Mouse-ear

Prairie Mouse-ear

Prairie Mouse-ear, or Cerastium arvense ssp. strictum, is a member of the Pink Family (Caryophyllaceae) and blooms spring to summer in alpine, sub-alpine, foothills, and grassland habitats throughout most of the U.S. and Canada.

Mesa Pepperwort

Mesa Pepperwort

Mesa Pepperwort, or Lepidium alyssoides var. alyssoides, is a member of the Mustard Family (Brassicaceae) and blooms late spring to early summer mostly throughout the southwestern U.S.

White Locoweed

White Locoweed

White Locoweed, Silky Locoweed, or Oxytropis sericea, is a member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae). A native plant, it blooms spring to summer in tundra, rock ledges, dry slopes, and meadows throughout most of the western U.S. 

Unfortunately, all parts of this plant are toxic at all stages of growth and can cause a variety of health issues through poisoning in farm animals and wildlife.

Star Lily

Star Lily

Star Lily, Sand Lily, Mountain Lily, or Leucocrinum montanum, is a member Lily Family (Liliaceae). A native wildflower, it blooms spring to early summer throughout most of the western U.S. It favors prairies, grasslands, deserts, and mountain meadows.

Largeflower Townsend Daisy

Largeflower Townsend Daisy

Largeflower Townsend Daisy, or Townsendia grandiflora, is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae). A native wildflower, it blooms late spring through summer in open forests, and on dry, grassy slopes throughout some western states.

I also saw these blooming when I visited the trail in early April.

Drummond’s Milkvetch

Drummond's Milkvetch

Drummond’s Milkvetch, or Astragalus drummondi, is a member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae). A native plant, it blooms late spring through summer in barrens and meadows as well as on rocky ledges and dry slopes throughout many western states in the U.S., as well as Canada.

There are a number of similar Milkvetch plants that grow in the Rocky Mountain region, but I was able to identify this one particularly because it has furry leaves and pods.

Pink / Purple Wildflowers

Nutall’s Oxytrope

Nutall's Oxytrope

Nutall’s Oxytrope, or Oxytropis multiceps, is a member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae). A native herb, it blooms spring to early summer in only a few western states, including Colorado. It favors barrens, rock ledges, dry slopes, and meadows.

There were a couple of tufts of these short plants (0.5-2 inches) growing along the rocky ground.

Prairie Flax

Prairie Flax

Prairie Flax, Blue Flax, or Linum lewisii, is a member of the Flax Family (Linaceae). A native flower, it grows throughout most of the U.S., blooming late spring through summer. It favors open forests and dry meadows.

Redstem Stork’s Bill

Redstem Stork's Bill

Redstem Stork’s Bill, or Erodium cicutarium, is a member of the Geranium Family (Geraniaceae). A non-native and invasive weed, it grows throughout the U.S. in spring and summer in fields and along roadsides.

Yellow Wildflowers

Narrowleaf Stoneseed

Narrowleaf Stoneseed

Narrowleaf Stoneseed, Fringed Puccoon, or Lithospermum incisum, is a member of the Borage Family (Boraginaceae). A native flower, it grows throughout most of the U.S. in spring and summer in sunny dry meadows.

I found the incised and wavy edges of the petals to be quite unique and interesting.

Western Wallflower

Western Wallflower

Western Wallflower, or Erysimum asperum, is a member of the Mustard Family (Brassicaceae). A native wildflower, it grows throughout most of the U.S. and Canada in late spring and summer. It favors meadows, sandy soils, and along sunny roadsides and rocky slopes. The color varies from yellow to orange-red.

False Salsify Flower

False Salsify Flower

False Salsify Flower, or Scorzonera laciniata, is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae). A non-native plant, it grows in the western U.S. in spring and summer in disturbed sites.

Stemless Indian Parsley

False Salsify Flower

Stemless Indian Parsley, or Aletes acaulis, is a member of the Parsley Family (Apiaceae). A native plant, it grows only in a few areas of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas in spring and early summer. It is found at a range of elevations, and always in full sun on rocky or sandy soils or rock cracks.

Recommended as a Wildflower Hike

The Foothills Bench Trail is an enjoyable trail for an easy hike if you want to avoid the crowds and also see a great variety of wildflowers. Wildflowers start blooming here as early as the beginning of April.

The trail is accessible from a number of parking lots and easily connects with the Foothills North Trail & Foothills South Trail, if you are coming from the North Boulder/ Wonderland Lake area and want to add miles to your hike. Indeed, if you started with the Foothills South Trail and went all the way to the end of the Foothills Bench Trail, it would be 4.1 miles one-way, or 8.2 miles round-trip. If you want to start at the same Denver Street parking lot that I mentioned earlier and add miles to the hike, you can always also do the 2.1 miles of the Hogback Ridge Loop to create at 6.2 mile hike.

When I’ve visited, I usually only see one or two other people on the trail. With so many options for hikes and so many wildflowers, I think this underrated trail deserves more attention and visits.

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