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.
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
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.