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

Shadow Canyon to Bear Peak - 6.8 miles

South Mesa Trailhead

Mt Meeker and Longs Peak stand above all others on the NW horizon from Bear Peak

Mt Meeker and Longs Peak stand above all others on the NW horizon from Bear Peak

Round-Trip Length: 6.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,645' - 8,461' (8,461' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,816' net elevation gain (+2,951' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Shadow Canyon to Bear Peak - 6.8 Miles Round-Trip

This challenging hike to Bear Peak rewards visitors with sensational views of the eastern plains, front range foothills, Indian Peaks, and Continental Divide. Bear Peak's central location within Boulder's extensive trail network offers several routing options: the following describes the Shadow Canyon-Bear Peak West Ridge route, and is recommended for its compelling scenery and lighter traffic.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

This is the shortest but most strenuous route to Bear Peak (longer but more moderate routes can be formed by connecting the The Mesa Trail with either the Bear Canyon or Fern Canyon trails).

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 1,967' 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 West Ridge Trail split (3 miles : 8,155'). The area is badly scarred from the 2012 fires, but recovery is well under way. Turn right (north) for the last .4 mile, 305' push to the summit.

This short segment scales Bear Peak's narrow SW flank, the latter stage of which is over rugged talus. Mind your footing, especially when strong winds or moisture is present.

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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 spur #1
  • N39 57.124 W105 17.606 — Shadow Canyon spur #2
  • N39 57.404 W105 17.834 — Shadow Canyon - Bear Peak West Ridge junction (saddle)
  • N39 57.612 W105 17.715 — Bear Peak West Ridge Trail - summit spur junction
  • N39 57.616 W105 17.713 — Bear Peak

Worth Noting

  • South Boulder Peak is only .35 miles south of 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.

  • Dogs must be on a hand-held leash at all times unless they meet voice and sight control requirements.

  • Though seldom encountered, bear and mountain lion inhabit this area. Dawn and dusk travelers should exercise vigilance.

Rules and Regulations

  • There's a $5 parking fee at South Mesa Trailhead for cars not registered in Boulder County.
  • Dogs are not permitted on the Towhee Trail.
  • On trail segments where permitted, 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

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.


"As an alternative to avoid parking costs & be able to take your dog the whole way, you can start at the Shanahan Ridge trailhead. This way the entire route is green-tag off leash or leashed dogs permitted (there is a section on Bluestem that is on-leash on weekends only, green-tag all other times). Take a clockwise route if you would like to cool your dog in the pond on the North Shanahan fork (the pond is just west/uphill of the Shanahan Connector) at the end of your hike. (There are several shallow creek crossings along the trail, so you can cool them in fresher water earlier in the hike as well.) The lower portions in the Shanahan area are a little more traveled, but certainly not "crowded." Go south from Lehigh & Lafayette onto the fire road trail, head down the hill, pass the fork that heads east toward more houses (there is a map at this junction), and farther on, continue south off the fire road (the road turns west up the mountain here for the South Shanahan fork) onto Lower Big Bluestem (this is a narrower trail, a bit muddy in places early in the season, but passable). Continue through the cattle gate into a broad meadow. When you get to the junction with Upper Big Bluestem, instead go left, through the cattle gate, and after a short distance with a small creek crossing, you will join the broad Mesa trail. Turn right (west) and head uphill. You will see the Towhee turnoff on your left as well as Homestead (skip these). Continue until you come to the left fork at Shadow Canyon (still a broader fire road). Then continue on the trail as described. Going this way, the loop is certainly more than 6.8 miles, as it is 6.5 miles alone (approx. 970' net gain) if you were to shortcut in front of Devil's Thumb & skip Bear Peak (Shadow Canyon North Spur, cuts back north to Mesa Trail), continuing north to the junction of Fern Canyon & North Shanahan trails & then east down N. Shanahan back to Lehigh & Lafayette trailhead. This trail is unusually lush this year due to all the spring/summer rain, and is just gorgeous, with fields of yellow and purple flowers. I counted at least 30 types of wildflowers blooming today, and have seen most of these blooming for the last 6 weeks. There are several pleasant creek crossings and after getting onto the Shadow Canyon trail, there is a good amount of shade to keep you cooler."
Melissa R  -  Broomfield, CO  -  Date Posted: July 20, 2015
"The trail is actually a little over 8 miles round trip rather than 6.8 according to my GPS. I followed the suggested route exactly. Also dogs are not allowed on the Towhee Trail. I would recommend hiking poles for this trip, especially coming down Shadow Canyon. "
Rhys Ennin  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: July 5, 2014


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