Shadow Canyon to South Boulder Peak, South Mesa Trailhead, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado

Shadow Canyon to South Boulder Peak - 6.7 miles

South Mesa Trailhead

South Boulder Peak seen from the Walker Ranch Loop (8,549')

South Boulder Peak seen from the Walker Ranch Loop (8,549')

Round-Trip Length: 6.7 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,645'- 8,549' (8,549' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,904' net elevation gain (+3,039' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Shadow Canyon to South Boulder Peak - 6.7 Miles Round-Trip

South Boulder Peak (8,549') is located 3.35 miles from South Mesa Trailhead via Shadow Canyon. This direct but strenuous route rises steadily through the foothills before splitting off on a rugged climb to the saddle between South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak. A short, fire-scarred trail continues south to the summit with panoramic views across the Eastern Plains and Continental Divide.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

There are several ways to reach Shadow Canyon - the following description follows the Towhee and Homestead Trails to Shadow Canyon, chosen for its varied terrain and lighter use:

From the South Mesa Trailhead, cross South Boulder Creek and bear left on the Towhee Trail (.1 mile). The Towhee Trail rises steadily through open slopes for .5 miles, then narrows in a brushy gully beside a small stream.

The Towhee Trail merges with the Homestead Trail at 1.15 miles, keeps right and continues on as the Shadow Canyon Trail. The Shadow Canyon Trail joins a fire road at 1.35 miles (6,275') - the first of three access points to the Mesa Trail.

Turn left on the groomed fire road, which climbs another .7 miles to the last Mesa Trail access point and into Shadow Canyon (2.1 miles : 6,582').

Here the trail grows markedly steeper, climbing 1967' in just 1.25 miles to the summit. The trail twists quickly on a faint path through large boulders and mature mixed pine. Use sign posts on trees for guidance. Though views are limited, the forest itself is quite pleasant.

Grades moderate up to the Shadow Canyon Trail - Bear Peak W. Ridge Trail split (3.0 miles : 8,155'). The area is badly scarred with a skeletal feel from the 2012 fire, but recovery is under way as ground vegetation anchors in to slow eroision. Turn left (south) for the last .35 mile, 395' push to the summit.

The final 100 yards run up steep and loose scree. South Boulder Peak (3.35 miles : 8,549') is small and pointed, but with ample room to maneuver. Views stretch across Walker Ranch to the Vazquez Peaks, James Peak Wilderness, Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 56.326 W105 15.493 — South Mesa Trailhead
  • N39 56.560 W105 15.906 — Traveling west on the Towhee Trail
  • N39 56.763 W105 17.220 — 3rd Mesa Trail junction; begin travel up Shadow Canyon
  • N39 56.847 W105 17.319 — Shadow Canyon 1
  • N39 57.124 W105 17.606 — Sahdow Canyon 2
  • N39 57.404 W105 17.834 — Shadow Canyon - Bear Peak West Ridge junction (saddle)
  • N39 57.281 W105 17.915 — Approach to summit
  • N39 57.215 W105 17.967 — South Boulder Peak Summit

Worth Noting

  • Bear Peak is only .4 miles north from the Shadow Canyon Trail - Bear Peak West Ridge Trail junction.
  • Note that several spurs stray off the main trail route during the first 2 miles.
  • Parking lots fill up quickly throughout the year, especially on weekends; arrive early to secure a space. Parking restrictions on Eldorado Springs Road are strictly enforced.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $5 parking fee at South Mesa Trailhead for cars not registered in Boulder County.
  • Dogs must be on a hand-held leash at all times unless they meet voice and sight control requirements, and on trail segments where specifically indicated (irrespective of tags).
  • This trail runs adjacent to Habitat Conservation space. Travel is prohibited across these well-marked boundaries.

Directions to Trailhead

The South Mesa Trailhead is located 1.8 miles west of Highway 93 on Eldorado Springs Drive (Highway 170) in south Boulder.

From Boulder, take Broadway South which will turn into HWY 93. Go for 2.6 miles on HWY 93 and take a right onto Eldorado Springs Drive / HWY 170. There will be a gas station at the corner. Follow Eldorado Springs Drive / HWY 170 for 1.8 miles towards Eldorado Canyon State Park and look for the parking area on the right hand side of the street.

Contact Information

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks
Phone: 303.441.3440

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Beautiful, beautiful hike - conditions were icy in parts throughout in shadow canyon but passable with just the trusty help of a pole and good shoes - also icy/snowy on the way down in Fern canyon, especially at the steep beginning starting down from Bear peak on descent. Would recommend ice trekkers and poles during this time period, especially also for the ascent/descent of the South Boulder peak summit/Bear peak summit, and in and around the rocky areas. Took care to tread carefully around the rocks of course. I actually lost the trail towards the end of shadow canyon, as I approached the fire devastated area - path was somewhat unclear and I strayed onto rocky scree. Take care in this area and stay in the geographical canyon dip where the trees are thickest - not sure if I just didn't take enough care with the path but in any case it was unclear. Enjoy!"
Jackie  -  Was in Boulder - otherwise, nomadic  -  Date Posted: February 13, 2017
"A great but VERY strenuous hike! Also much longer than expected -- was anticipating roughly 8 miles round-trip to South Boulder Peak from the Mesa trailhead, and actually logged near 11 miles as others have mentioned. pI'm guessing this is probably due to the re-routing of Towhee/Homestead from the floods in 2013 and perhaps a change to Shadow Canyon from flood, or fire in 2012. It is enough distance to make a difference in how much water I bring so it is worth noting! "
Jennifer  -  Boulder, co  -  Date Posted: September 6, 2016
"We started hiking this trail around 4:50PM today. We took the Homestead trail to Shadow Canyon Trail and followed the trail until about 6:15PM, which was our set turnaround time. A few pieces of advice: 1. If you intend to try to reach the summit, begin the trail MUCH EARLIER than 4:50PM (depending on your pace, 1:00PM may be a reasonable starting time). Sunset in Boulder in the fall is around 6:53PM. 2. The rocky part of the trail is very strenuous - it consists of jagged rocks that one must climb up (think of this as doing several sets of squats at the gym). It's not as dangerous as that may sound, but nonetheless, it requires care. Long pants may be a good idea. High-quality shoes are an absolute necessity. Do not attempt to proceed on to the rocks if the weather is too wet or windy. Doing so may result in you slipping and falling. The rocky part of the trail is in a remote area, and it may be some time before rescuers arrive. 1.5-3.0 liters of water per person may be a good idea. 3. There are several openings in the rocks that may house various animals such as snakes, mountain lions, etc. Be making noise as you are proceeding so that you don't, say, startle a mother bear with her cubs. And watch where you place your hands. This is a beautiful trail, and we don't mean to make everyone paranoid. Just be prepared, use your better judgment and don't exceed your limits. We did not make it to the summit, but we will try again this following Monday. "
Victor  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: September 27, 2015
"Round trip from South Mesa trailhead to Shadow Canyon to South Boulder Peak, then to Bear Peak and down Fern Gulch is approximately 10 miles. Trail is easy to follow. Would agree this hike is strenuous but you need to do it. "
Skibo  -   -  Date Posted: September 19, 2015
"Logged this hike with GPS, it's actually about 9.8 miles round trip from South Mesa trailhead to South Boulder Peak, probably because of all the switchbacks in shadow canyon. Apparently this section of the trail got redone when the flood in 2013 washed out shadow canyon. "
Lily  -  lakewood, co  -  Date Posted: August 17, 2015
"There's been some changes to the Towhee portion of this trail. The Towhee is now NO DOGS and it doesn't intersect with the Homestead trail anymore. It comes out at the Mesa trail, which you follow until you hit the turn to Shadow Canyon trail farther up."
Ron  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: July 2, 2015
"Trail Condition Update: Conditions are changing fast as deep snow melts. Shadow Canyon holds snow but is passable without too much interference. Travel from the saddle up to the summit follows a north-facing route with heavy snow cover on talus and deadfall. Some deep post-holing on the summit approach as of 3.15.15."
ProTrails Admin  -   -  Date Posted: March 16, 2015


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