If you proceed to the backside of NCAR, you will find the Walter Orr Roberts Trail which leads to the Mesa Trail. The Mesa Trail can take you from NCAR to Eldorado Springs if you head south or to Chautauqua Park if you head north. In between there are many routes to take and on Sunday, we hit the Mallory Cave Trail.
J and I had a short window of time for our hike, the most important one was it was late afternoon and I wasn't sure what time the sun would be dropping (first day of time change). On a whim we picked Mallory Cave and I am so glad we did.
Here are some shots from our hike just taken from my iPhone. The trail was wonderfully carpeted with pine needles and leaves. Luckily most of the direct route up to Mallory Cave is south facing, so we had no issues with a mud or ice on the trail. The Mallory Trail is a great uphill climb, but tempered well with many switch backs. A handful of times there are wonderful open areas to get a great view of the city and eastern plains. If you look closely at the photo on the bottom left (above) you can see NCAR sitting off in the distance, it looks tiny from the trail. I couldn't believe how quickly we felt so far away.
The photo on the right is of J climbing the final 75 feet of the trail. You do have to scramble up the sheer rock face to get to the top. I promise it's worth it, but I don't want to spoil what you find up there with a photo, you'll just have to find out for yourself. Please note, there was only a bit of ice on this final ascent, use caution if it is wet or icy! The cave is not accessible because of a fungal disease affecting bats called White-nosed Syndrome, but none the less there is something worth seeing.
Close to sunset, the view on the way back. We couldn't help but ponder how incredibly grateful we are to have such amazing hiking access within minutes of our house.
From parking lot: 2.8 miles round trip (Mallory Cave trail climb closer to .75 miles up)
Elevation gain: 950 feet
City of Boulder, Trail Map and Information for Mallory Cave