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Bear Peak Out and Back

Intermediate/Difficult

Trail

5.7 mile 9.2 kilometer out and back
64% Runnable
Intermediate/Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 2,541' 774 m
Descent: -2,540' -774 m
High: 8,342' 2,543 m
Low: 6,103' 1,860 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 17% (10°)
Max Grade: 69% (35°)

Dogs

Leashed
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Trail shared by Brian Smith

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

Brian Smith

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

Overview

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!

Description

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.

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Check-Ins

Aug 11, 2019
Shweta Bhandare
6.5mi
Jul 22, 2019
Grey Liedtke
Jul 18, 2019
Carolina de la Torre
5.7mi — 2h 45m
Jul 7, 2019
Abel Corona
Jun 25, 2019
Sam Miga
Hard 6.4mi
May 4, 2019
John Winters
Challenging but rewarding. Get there early to beat the crowds.
Apr 20, 2019
Jenna Nicol
Just to top- one way. 20 min to Fern. 31 more to viewpoint. 29 more to top. 4 min walk/stop. 2.9mi — 1h 24m
Jan 12, 2019
Joseph Parks

Trail Ratings

  4.6 from 112 votes

#1

in NCAR

#6

Overall
  4.6 from 112 votes
5 Star
61%
4 Star
38%
3 Star
1%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
1%
Run Rankings

#1

in NCAR

#4

in Colorado

#6

Overall
607 Views Last Month
56,390 Since Dec 24, 2014
Intermediate/Difficult

0%
2%
6%
51%
40%
1%

Photos

Bear Peak panorama
Jun 27, 2015 near Boulder, CO
The Continental Divide from Bear Peak in Boulder, CO
Aug 17, 2019 near Boulder, CO
Sunset off the western ridge of Bear Peak.
Aug 31, 2016 near Boulder, CO
Looking west from Bear Peak
Jan 30, 2015 near Boulder, CO
Looking down on the approach of Bear Peak West Ridge trail
Aug 17, 2019 near Boulder, CO
The Mesa Trail overlooking NCAR and the valley below. Dogs are allowed off leash if they have their Blue tags
Apr 13, 2015 near Boulder, CO

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