Locals’ Loop: South Boulder and Bear Peak

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

This scenic 8.5-mile loop located minutes from town is one of Boulder’s best adventures—and a route still open after the 100-year flood wiped out many of the local trails. It’s perfect for any time of year, but our favorite season is winter when the trails are quiet and often covered in snow.

1. Head Out: South Mesa Trailhead

(39.938681917637034, -105.25756359100342) 

Follow the Mesa Trail as it climbs gently through open grassy meadows and forest while providing spectacular views of the Bear Peak massif and towering rock pillar, the Devils Thumb. After  approximately 1.8 miles, veer left to jump on the Shadow Canyon Trail. Enjoy the next .5 miles because what is now an old fire road with a friendly grade will soon morph into a punishing climb.

Let the Climbing Commence: Shadow Canyon

(39.945187, -105.286263) 

This is where the real fun begins as the trail turns sharply and ascends steeply to the left. Climb the the narrow, sharp ravine that is Shadow Canyon, gaining 1,620 feet in just 1.1 miles. Take time to enjoy the tight, twisting trail as you wander through a peaceful, boulder-strewn forest full of old-growth ponderosa and lodgepole. This long, sheltered canyon doesn’t get much sun, and ice and snow often persist here.

First Summit of the Day: South Boulder Peak

(39.953598, -105.299477) 

The grade finally eases up near the saddle separating South Boulder and Bear Peaks. At the saddle, turn south (left) and scramble up the final .3 miles to reach the highest point of your day, 8,549 foot South Boulder Peak. If the wind isn’t wicked, count yourself lucky and take a few moments to enjoy the unbeatable views of the Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park. Once you’ve taken it all in, retrace your steps back to the saddle.

Second Summit of the Day: Bear Peak

(39.9605, -105.295)

From the saddle, continue north on the Bear Peak trail. You’ll climb through a bit of forest, up a rocky hillside and will enjoy a quick scramble on a rocky ridge to reach your second mountaintop of the day. Bear’s 8,461 foot summit, which is only .4 miles from the saddle, also affords spectacular panoramic views. Take shelter in one of the many protected nooks along the ridge and rest. Climb down the summit ridge back to the trail and head north down the steep Fern Canyon Trail.

Homestretch: Hit the Mesa Trail

(39.965378, -105.285149)  

Shortly after the trail levels out, you’ll reach a junction. Veer south (right) and take the Mesa Trail. Do the same at the next trail junction to stay on the Mesa Trail. After a couple miles, you’ll return to the junction with the Shadow Canyon Trail. Hopefully, this looks familiar! Turn right (east) and retrace your steps over the last 1.5 miles of the Mesa Trail back to your car.

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