Bear Peak Trail Snapshot
|Hike Distance||7.4 Miles Round Trip or 8.4 Mile Loop|
|Duration||Approx 3-5 hrs|
|Trail Type||Out and Back and Loop Option|
|Elevation Gain||Approx +2800′ Bear Peak 8461′|
|Dogs||Allowed On Leash|
|Hike Trail Map||Click for a Map Bear Peak and South Mesa Trailhead|
|Denver Drive Time||45 Minutes|
|Driving Directions to Bear Peak from South Mesa Trailhead||Click for Google Map|
|Town Nearest Hike||Boulder, Colorado|
|Beauty||Peak Top Views, Canyon, Wildflowers, Sunrise, Meadows, Wildlife: Deer, Bear, Birding.|
|Activities||Hiking, Trail Running, Photography|
Parking & Trailhead Information for Bear Peak
Access to Bear Peak is from the South Mesa Trailhead off of Eldorado Springs Drive just South of Boulder. From Denver, drive North on interstate 25 to 36 toward Boulder. Take the McCaslin Blvd exit and then go South/West onto McCaslin. At the intersection of McCaslin and Marshall, take a right onto Marshall Road. Marshall will intersect with Eldorado Springs Drive. Here, take a left onto Eldorado Springs Drive. About two miles down the road, you’ll find the South Mesa Trailhead on your right. The South Mesa Trailhead is a part of the Boulder County Open Space and requires a daily parking fee, or an annual pass. I went online and bought an annual parking pass through the Open Space website. This gives you access to all the southern fee parking areas as well as the parking areas on Flagstaff Mountain. There are restrooms at the trailhead.
The Hike: Bear Peak
From the South Mesa Trailhead, the trail leads across a small bridge spanning over Boulder Creek. Willow trees arch over the stream making it worth a short pause to take in the sounds of water before you set off across the meadows of South Mesa. There are many trail options, but the most direct is to take the Homestead Trail, which heads West across a gentle grade toward Shadow Canyon.
This first mile or so of the hike is easy and offers stunning views of the Flatirons and views of the entrance of Eldorado Canyon. An old stone building, part of an early homestead is the first marker you’ll pass early in the hike.
After about 1.3 miles, the trail will split. Take the left (West) trail, which leads to the South Shadow Canyon Trail. After about a 1/2 mile, you’ll encounter a 2nd trail split. The Shadow Canyon Trail will again bear to the left and begin heading up steeper terrain.
As the trail ascends, you soon leave the meadow and enter into more dense ponderosa pine forest. The vegetation in the understory grows tall and green at the entrance to the canyon. You’ll see another cabin with a metal roof (pictured below). Soon past the cabin will be another important trail juncture. Again, the trail up Shadow Canyon will bear left (West).
Once in Shadow Canyon, the trail now becomes much more steep and requires navigating over rock and tree roots. This segment of the trail traveling up through the canyon is over a mile, so be ready for a steady and demanding climb.
The canyon is an access route for Devils Thumb, a prominent rock formation along this ridge. There are seasonal closures (see photo below) because of nesting raptors. Be sure to stay out of this area from Feb. 1st to July 31st. You are welcome to stay on the Shadow Canyon trail–it’s not closed during this time–but refrain from going off-trail or taking social trails during this time up to Devils Thumb.
Eventually, the trail emerges from the canyon onto the saddle between South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak. This area is marked by a burn area, and in the late summer, raspberry plants grow trailside full of ripe berries. The burn was ignited by lightning in June of 2012. Named the Flagstaff Fire, it consumed about 300 acres before being contained by firefighters.
Another trail sign notes the way to Bear Peak, a 0.3 mile trail segment curving North up the back of the summit.
You’ll notice more burn area on the left (West) side of the trail. The rock on the trail becomes increasingly brittle as you go, so be aware of those hiking below you and be sure to hike on the most secure and durable surfaces.
The final segment requires a scramble along about 25 yards of angled rock. Take your time and scope out the safest route to the summit. Most peaks along the Front Range have broad tops, but Bear Peak is tapered to a point. Several USGS markers are set into the rock (I think I counted 3–which is unusual). The views are great, both to the East and to the mountains in the West.
There are two options for the return hike: 1) to hike the 3.7 miles back through Shadow Canyon, retracing the same trails, or 2) to make a loop out of the hike by descending via Fern Canyon (about 4.7-mile return). The rest of this profile will follow the Fern Canyon to Mesa Trail return.
A sign marking the trail down Fern Canyon is located right at the base of Bear Peak (where the trail turns into a scramble up the summit). The descent into Fern Canyon is very steep and the rock is very loose. Hikers will also encounter people making their way up the trail, so be sure to move off to the side and grant right-of-way to hikers who are doing the harder work of ascending the trail. I would not recommend hiking up to Bear Peak from this route because the trail is way more demanding than the Shadow Canyon approach.
After about 1/2 of a mile descending this steep saddle, the trail will bear right (East) into Fern Canyon via a series of switchbacks. Eventually, the trail will emerge from Fern Canyon back onto the more gentle slopes of South Mesa. Look for signs for the Mesa Trail, and follow them South back to the South Mesa Trailhead.
The hike back on the Mesa Trail travels in and out of the shade of Ponderosa pines and along the pink and orange Flatiron mountains that make this area so spectacular. We took the Upper Bluestem trail to some small connector trails leading back to the trailhead. Another approach is stay on the Mesa Trail (see map) until it connects back to the Homestead Trail.
Tips & Resources for Hiking to Bear Peak
- TIP: Be ready for a hike that is really demanding on your legs, especially the descent through Fern or Shadow Canyon. Trekking poles would be helpful on the descent.
- TIP: Hike to South Boulder Peak. It adds just 0.6 mile to your trip.
- Trail Map: Bear Peak Map from South Mesa Trailhead
- Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
- Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
- After the Hike Cafe: Walnut Cafe in Boulder
- After the Hike Brewery: Sanitas Brewing Company
Map & Driving Directions
Click for Driving Directions