This enjoyable loop sees less traffic than the main attraction in this area, the Mount Sanitas Loop
. The other advantages of this loop include a less arduous ascent on a shiny new trail and a quick, efficient descent.
This loop combines several area trails into a varied, pleasant hike. Starting from the Centennial Trailhead at the mouth of Sunshine Canyon, find the start of the Red Rocks Trail
heading south from the toilets. Almost immediately, you'll leave the Red Rocks Trail
and follow the Sunshine Canyon Trail
as it branches off to the west and crosses a small ravine. Follow the nicely bench cut, contouring Sunshine Canyon Trail
as it parallels the Sunshine Canyon Road. This section of low angle trail is not steep and has a mostly smooth surface, passing through fields and fir forest.
The Sunshine Canyon Trail
ends at a residential driveway, adjacent to the Sunshine Canyon Road. To access the next part of the loop, carefully cross the road and head briefly up-valley until you reach the first dirt residential road on the right (east) side of the road. Hike only a few feet up this road and look for a faint footpath just after the culvert on the uphill side. This is the beginning of the Lion's Lair Alternate
The Lion's Lair Alternate
trail starts up a small ridgeline sparsely treed with fir. It is undergoing a re-route and partial re-build (as of spring 2015) so be aware that the start of the trail may be moved around a bit to include more switchbacks and prevent erosion. Switchback and contour up the western flank of Mount Sanitas, climbing gently past dry rocky outcrops. There are views of the continental divide and down into Sunshine Canyon. The trail is well constructed and features rock steps and good grading. The Lion's Lair Alternate
trail eventually joins the Lion's Lair Trail
at an early switchback.
Continue uphill on the recently built (completed in the fall of 2014) Lion's Lair Trail
. Take gentle switchbacks through the ponderosa forest. The grade is never steep, and at least for now, the surface is impeccably smooth. The corners and water crossings show off just how well this trail was constructed. As you ascend, the views get better and better. Be sure to turn around and enjoy the high peaks in the distance. From the end of the trail, at the rocky summit of Mount Sanitas, all of Boulder is laid out in front of you.
Take a breather before descending the Mount Sanitas Trail
. This is a steep, challenging descent down the spine and western edge of Mount Sanitas. Pass over rocky sections and numerous large step-downs. Expect a lot of hiker, runner, dog traffic on this section of trail. There are several rest spots where you can pull off to enjoy views of town and also the snowy peaks to the west. There are a few rutted steep sections with difficult footing. Towards the bottom, you'll pass some short cliffs popular with bouldering rock climbers. After one last series of tall wooden log steps, you'll cross an irrigation ditch and emerge into a small meadow. Keep to your right, crossing a stream and passing through a covered picnic pavillion. Carefully cross the Sunshine Canyon Road and head uphill to arrive back at the Centennial Trailhead parking area.
A suprisingly wonderful variety of wildflowers in the sunny spots- especially in the early spring months (April & May).