Birdwatching Destinations in Boulder County

Nearly half of Boulder County is public land, so there are literally hundreds of trails available to birdwatchers, from the plains to the Continental Divide. Here are a few of our favorites. For a comprehensive list of wheelchair accessible trails, visit Trails Accessibility Guide. For finding trails, we recommend the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks trail map (available online or at their offices at Chautauqua Park and 66 South Cherryvale Rd.) and the Boulder County Topographic Map (available at the Map Gallery in Boulder).

Click a photo to see a larger, captioned version.

  1. Plains Destinations
  2. Foothills Destinations
  3. Mountain Destinations


Plains Destinations

Sawhill and Walden Ponds Wildlife Areas, City of Boulder and Boulder County Parks and Open Space (Wheelchair Accessible)
big_Yellow-headed-blackbirdDirections: From 75th and Valmont, go north 0.5 miles and turn left at the Sawhill Ponds sign. The Walden entrance is 0.5 miles north of the Sawhill entrance.

Attractions: These reclaimed gravel pits along Boulder Creek support waterfowl, marsh-nesting species, and birds of cottonwood-willow riverbottoms.big_heron_ducks_mist Summer residents include American Bittern, Cinnamon Teal, Bald Eagle, Spotted Sandpiper, Virginia Rail, Sora, Eastern Screech-Owl, Bank Swallow, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. This is the only known Colorado nesting location for Least Bittern. As many as 75 species have been observed on an early May morning.

Recent Rarities: Green-Backed Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Marbled Godwit, Red-necked Phalarope, Bonaparte’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Barn Owl, Long-eared Owl.

Teller Farm, Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (Wheelchair Accessible)
South Entrance: From Boulder, 2 miles east of 75th on Arapahoe Road. Entrance is on north side of Arapahoe. Look for brown “Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks” sign. A 0.2-mile dirt road leads to ample parking lot and trailhead.
North Entrance: 2 miles east of 75th on Valmont Road. Entrance and parking lot and trailhead are on the south side of Valmont. (Look for brown “Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks” sign).

Attractions: This old pastureland next to a working farm hosts a rich variety of birds that have been spotted in the cover of century-old cottonwoods, a riparian area running through the middle of the land, a small pond near the south parking lot, and a small lake with an observation deck. The trail that runs the full length of the property, north and south, is flat, wheelchair accessible, and is popular with runners, dog-walkers and birders during all seasons.

Spotted during a cold but clear October 7, 2007 morning: Northern Harrier, Merlin, Sandhill Crane, Great Horned Owl, Mountain Bluebirds.
Recent Rarities: Snow Goose, Dickcissel, Bobolink (nesting).

Foothills Destinations

Doudy Draw, Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (Wheelchair Accessible)
big_mule_deerFrom State Highway 93 one mile south of Boulder, turn west on Eldorado Springs Drive. After 2 miles, turn left into the fenced parking area.big_lazuli

Attractions: Foothills shrub vegetation and willows attract flycatchers, warblers, and sparrows. A paved trail goes a half-mile up the draw to a shaded picnic area. An unpaved trail continues for another mile, eventually connecting to the Flatirons Vista trail to the southwest. Since the draw faces north, fall migrants, including sage thrashers and pinyon jays, may linger here. Gray Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-breasted Chats, Lazuli Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and Grasshopper Sparrows all nest in Doudy Draw.

Recent Rarities: Flammulated Owl, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird.

Shadow Canyon, Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks
big_South-Mesa-Trail-Dunn-houseDirections: From State Highway 93 one mile south of Boulder, go west 2 miles on Eldorado Springs Drive, and park on the right at the South Mesa Trail trailhead. Hike north 0.2 miles across the bridge and take the middle trail fork (Towhee Trail) at the Stone House. Continue 1.3 miles up Shadow Canyon.

Attractions: Extensive areas of foothills shrub and ponderosa pine woodlandbig_towheeSong support more than 60 species of nesting birds, including Cooper’s Hawk, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, Virginia’s Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, and Red Crossbill. Peregrine and Prairie Falcons fly over the canyon from nesting cliffs to the west.

Recent Rarities: Bushtit, Winter Wren, American Redstart, Indigo Bunting.

Lower Skunk Canyon, Boulder Mountain Park
big_chatDirections: Starting at Baseline and Broadway in South Boulder head south to Dartmouth (0.8 mile). Turn right and continue 0.2 miles to Kohler. Turn left and continue on Kohler for 0.8 mile. Take a right on Deer Valley Road for one block. The trail begins where Deer Valley Road deadends at Hollyberry Lane.

Attractions: Very diverse environment starting with foothill shrublands and continuing on for 1.3 miles through ponderosa pines and Douglas-firs. Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, and Peregrine Falcons nest on the Flatironsbig_SpotTowhee cliffs at the head of the canyon. Summer residents include Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Scrub and Steller’s Jay, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Gray Catbird, Virginia, Yellow-rumped, and MacGillivray’s Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Spotted and Green-tailed Towhee, Lazuli Bunting, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Winter residents include Downy Woodpecker, Red-breasted, Pygmy, and White-breasted Nuthatch, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Dark-eyed Junco.

Recent Rarities: Peregrine Falcon, Northern Mockingbird, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Indigo Bunting.

Meyers Gulch Trail at Walker Ranch, Boulder County Open Space
big_Meyers_HomesteadTrailDirections: From the west end of Baseline Road in Boulder, continue up Flagstaff Road approximately 7 miles. On the west side of the road, there is a sign for Walker Ranch Open Space Meyers Gulch Trailhead. A picnic shelter and restrooms are adjacent to the upper parking lot.

Attractions: Ponderosa pines and Douglas-firs are interspersed with open meadows and aspen groves.big_crossbill Small streams dissect the hills before joining South Boulder Creek. A 2.5-mile trail starts at the lower parking lot (elevation 7,380 ft.) and continues to an overlook (elevation 8,090 ft.). Habitat diversity and a continuous water source offer the opportunity to observe a variety of birds during migration and the summer breeding season. Common sightings include Wild Turkey, Warbling Vireo, Brown Creeper, Western and Mountain Bluebird, Vesper Sparrow, Red Crossbill, empid flycatchers, warblers, vireos, nuthatches, and a variety of woodpeckers including Red-naped and Williamson’s Sapsucker. In mid-summer, look for families of Dusky Grouse feeding in the upper meadows.

Recent Rarities: Northern Pygmy-Owl, Three-toed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Shrike, and Lark Bunting.

Mountain Destinations

Long Lake Willow Carr and Niwot Ridge, Indian Peaks Wilderness
big_IndianPeaksLongLakeDirections:From the Peak-to-Peak Highway (SH 72) west of Ward, turn west on CR 102. Drive approximately 6 miles to Brainard Lake and continue around the lake to the Long Lake and Lake Isabelle parking area (caution: in summer, this parking lot is often full by 8 a.m.). From here it is 0.2 miles to Long Lake and 0.5 miles to Niwot Ridge. Entrance fee in summer.

Attractions: The willow thickets around the big_Clarks_nutcrackerlower end of Long Lake support nesting American Dippers, Swainson’s Thrushes, Wilson’s Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows and Fox Sparrows. Ring-necked Ducks and Spotted Sandpipers nest around the lake. Clark’s Nutcrackers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Townshend’s Solitaires, Hermit Thrushes, and Pine Grosbeaks nest in old-growth spruce-fir forests on Niwot Ridge. White-tailed Ptarmigan, American Pipits, and Rosy Finches nest above treeline.

Recent Rarities: Boreal Owls have been heard and seen at the Brainard Lake entrance station. White-winged Crossbills have nested at Mitchell Lake.

Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park
big_OuzelFallsDirections: From Allenspark take State Highway 7 two miles north to the Wild Basin Entrance Station to Rocky Mountain National Park. Entrance fee.

Attractions: Copeland Willow Carr, on mostly private big_dipperland on the left just after you turn into Wild Basin, is the largest and possibly most productive willow carr in the county. Expect to see Spotted Sandpipers, Wilson’s Snipe, American Dippers, Soras, Swainson’s Thrushes, Common Yellowthroats, Wilson’s Warblers, and Lincoln’s Sparrows. The 2.7-mile trail to Ouzel Falls meanders through aspen groves and an old burn area where Three-toed Woodpeckers have been seen.

Recent Rarities: Boreal Owl (above 9500 ft.), Three-toed Woodpecker, White-winged Crossbill.

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