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A must-do run for Boulder locals and visitors alike!

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8,342' 2,543 m


6,103' 1,860 m


2,541' 774 m


2,540' 774 m



Avg Grade (10°)


Max Grade (35°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Cave · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife


From South Boulder, this run will take you to the top of Bear Peak (8,459 ft.) and back - an elevation gain of over 2,700 feet! Runners 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.

Runner Notes

This is a strenuous run that will almost certainly have you working hard in sections. Fern Canyon Trail is very steep and is comprised mostly of rock steps. A great workout for those glutes!


From the NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) parking area, start out on the NCAR Trail. The trail climbs a gentle slope up and over the small ridge behind NCAR via a wide dirt and gravel path. The trail ends at the Mesa Trail where you'll turn left.

The Mesa Trail initially depends but only for a short while. After about 1 mile into the run the grade begins to steepen as you climb up the wide Mesa Trail. At the next junction, stay left on Mesa Trail as Bear Canyon Trail continues straight. Power up another tenth of a mile or so of Mesa Trail and look for the Fern Canyon Trail to diverge from the right side of the road.

Fern Canyon 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.

Another great option from the summit of Bear Peak is to continue on to South Boulder Peak. The views from Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak are incredible. On clear days (which are most), it's possible to see the front range all the way from Pike's Peak to Long's Peak. When you get to the top of Bear Peak, you're going to want to scramble up the rocks to get the good views. Then you can head back towards the trail but instead of heading back the way you came, you'll notice the trail continues around the peak and you can take the ridge all the way to South Boulder Peak as well.

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.


Shared By:

Brian Smith

Trail Ratings

  4.6 from 151 votes




  4.6 from 151 votes
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in Colorado


92 Views Last Month
71,073 Since Dec 24, 2014
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Bear Peak panorama
Jun 27, 2015 near Boulder, CO
The Continental Divide from Bear Peak in Boulder, CO
Aug 17, 2019 near Boulder, CO
Looking down toward Boulder from Bear Peak. Boulder is under that lovely cloud, somewhere.
Sep 2, 2019 near Boulder, CO
Looking northward from Bear Peak, with Boulder under a cloud.
Sep 2, 2019 near Boulder, CO
NCAR Trail in the fall.
Nov 25, 2020 near Boulder, CO
First light while heading up Fern Canyon.
Mar 29, 2019 near Boulder, CO



Current Trail Conditions

All Clear 15 days ago
Add Your Check-In


Jun 16, 2024
Elizabeth Stapleton
9.5mi — 2h 45m
Aug 12, 2023
Noah Chirico
Oct 12, 2022
Dominik Schmitt
Oct 2, 2021
ryan dougovito
steep, scrambling, some exposure. amazing views 6.5mi
Apr 28, 2020
Stephen Bush
6.8mi — 1h 58m
Aug 11, 2019
Shweta Bhandare
Jul 22, 2019
Grey Liedtke
Jul 18, 2019
Carolina de la Torre
5.7mi — 2h 45m

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