“A must-do hike for Boulder locals and visitors alike!
— Brian Smith
Birding · Cave · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
From South Boulder, this hike will take you to the top of Bear Peak (8,459 ft.) and back - an elevation gain of over 2,700 feet! Hikers are rewarded with an amazing workout and some of the best views around! Get ready for about six miles of beautiful, leg-burning trail and a great time.
From the street parking along Bear Mountain Drive, make your way to the Bear Canyon Trailhead
and start out on the trail. Cross a stream (can be running quickly in the springtime or after rain) and turn left onto NCAR - Bear Canyon Trail
. Follow this wide and flood damaged doubletrack up into Bear Canyon for about a mile until it merges with and becomes the Mesa Trail
Cross the stream again and put your head down for a steep climb up the wide Mesa Trail
. At the next junction, stay left on Mesa Trail
as Bear Canyon Trail
continues straight and on a much more level grade. Power up another half-mile or so of Mesa Trail
and look for the Fern Canyon
trail to diverge from the right side of the road.
climbs into the woods through a series of switchbacks and water bar stairs. After a short period, the grade backs off significantly - but don't be fooled. After Shanahan - Mesa Trail
merges from the left, Fern Canyon
gets very steep. Enjoy increasingly dramatic views as you ascend and check out the cool rock formations of the Boulder Flatirons.
Eventually, the trail will level out in a saddle and you'll be presented with amazing views of Bear Canyon, The Flatirons, Green Mountain, Boulder and the Continental Divide. This is a great place for a snack, but don't dwell for too long as the views only get better.
Follow the trail to the south for the final approach to Bear Peak. From here, Fern Canyon
turns into more of a rock scramble then anything, but it's a great workout and the summit is well worth the work. When you pop out at the top, you'll know it. Scramble up the boulder field to the true summit and take in the 360-degree views. On a clear day, you can see as far south as Pike's Peak and west to Winter Park and the Continental Divide. To the north you might glimpse Longs Peak, Lyons and Fort Collins, and to the east it seems like you can see to Kansas City.
From here, scramble off of the boulder field summit and begin the technical descent back the way you came. To add more mileage and lessen the grade (slightly) on the way down, you could follow the Bear Peak West Ridge
trail to the Bear Canyon Trail
Flora & Fauna
This route ventures through various ecosystems along the way. Starting in chaparral vegetation, you quickly transition into a densely forested environment before finishing in a rocky and exposed mountain top setting.