Sunshine Lion's Lair Loop

 17 votes
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Featured Run

5.3 Miles 8.5 Kilometers






1,302' 397 m


-1,321' -403 m


6,802' 2,073 m


5,523' 1,684 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (18°)

All Clear

16 days agoUpdate

Great Mount Sanitas views are the reward for this gentler loop in Sunshine Canyon.

Megan Wilder


Some parts of this loop are closed to dogs.
This enjoyable loop sees less traffic than the main attraction in this area, the Mount Sanitas Loop. The other advantages of this loop include a less arduous ascent on a shiny new trail and a quick, efficient descent.
Features: Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Dogs: No Dogs

Runner Notes

It's very smooth, runnable, non-rocky, and non-rooty on the Sunshine Canyon Trail, Lion's Lair Alternate, and Lion's Lair Trail ascent. It's steep, technical, and rocky on the Mount Sanitas Trail descent.


This loop combines several area trails into a varied, pleasant run. Starting from the Centennial Trailhead at the mouth of Sunshine Canyon, find the start of the Red Rocks Trail heading south from the toilets. Almost immediately, you'll leave the Red Rocks Trail and follow the Sunshine Canyon Trail as it branches off to the west and crosses a small ravine. Follow the nicely bench cut, contouring Sunshine Canyon Trail as it parallels the Sunshine Canyon Road. This section of low angle trail is not steep and has a mostly smooth surface, passing through fields and fir forest.

The Sunshine Canyon Trail ends at a residential driveway, adjacent to the Sunshine Canyon Road. To access the next part of the loop, carefully cross the road and head briefly up-valley until you reach the first dirt residential road on the right (east) side of the road. Run only a few feet up this road and look for a faint footpath just after the culvert on the uphill side. This is the beginning of the Lion's Lair Alternate Trail.

The Lion's Lair Alternate trail starts up a small ridgeline sparsely treed with fir. It is undergoing a re-route and partial re-build (as of spring 2015) so be aware that the start of the trail may be moved around a bit to include more switchbacks and prevent erosion. Switchback and contour up the western flank of Mount Sanitas, climbing gently past dry rocky outcrops. There are views of the continental divide and down into Sunshine Canyon. The trail is well constructed and features rock steps and good grading. The Lion's Lair Alternate trail eventually joins the Lion's Lair Trail at an early switchback.

Continue uphill on the recently built (completed in the fall of 2014) Lion's Lair Trail. Take gentle switchbacks through the ponderosa forest. The grade is never steep, and at least for now, the surface is impeccably smooth. The corners and water crossings show off just how well this trail was constructed. As you ascend, the views get better and better. Be sure to turn around and enjoy the high peaks in the distance. From the end of the trail, at the rocky summit of Mount Sanitas, all of Boulder is laid out in front of you.

Take a breather before descending the Mount Sanitas Trail. This is a steep, challenging descent down the spine and western edge of Mount Sanitas. Pass over rocky sections and numerous large step-downs. Expect a lot of hiker, runner, dog traffic on this section of trail. There are several rest spots where you can pull off to enjoy views of town and also the snowy peaks to the west. There are a few rutted steep sections with difficult footing. Towards the bottom, you'll pass some short cliffs popular with bouldering rock climbers. After one last series of tall wooden log steps, you'll cross an irrigation ditch and emerge into a small meadow. Keep to your right, crossing a stream and passing through a covered picnic pavillion. Carefully cross the Sunshine Canyon Road and head uphill to arrive back at the Centennial Trailhead parking area.

Flora & Fauna

A suprisingly wonderful variety of wildflowers in the sunny spots- especially in the early spring months (April & May).


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4.5 from 17 votes

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Apr 10, 2017
Alyssa Countway
Centennial trailhead. Up sunshine canyon. Lions layer. Down the east side of sanitas, the Dakota ridge back to parking lot. Chilly! 5.8mi
Mar 1, 2017
Hillary Schmidt
Have some work to do! 5.5mi
Feb 19, 2017
Allan Schoenberg
A worthwhile climb up East Ridge trail to see the sunrise over Boulder. 7mi
Feb 12, 2017
Brianna Coy
Jan 29, 2017
Paul Antonio
Beautiful run. Trail a little icy for first mile or so
Sep 17, 2016
Raúl Gross
Post work run. 1.25 hours. Out and back to lookout. 8.0 miles
Sep 4, 2016
K.O. Campbell
Apr 2, 2016
JonathanC Callahan
from/to Centennial parking lot. Mostly dry, highly tacky. N. Facing areas snow covered but soft. 5.2mi

Trail Ratings

  4.5 from 17 votes


  4.5 from 17 votes
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All Clear 16 days ago

Getting forecast...

Personally, I prefer going in the opposite direction on this loop. The steep climb a pretty good workout, and then you can stretch the legs back out during the descent. Great loop though. (Probably ran it at least a dozen times this year.) Dec 9, 2015

One of my favorite loops from downtown. The plush trail on Lions Lair makes for a great run. Beware of that Sunshine trail in the winter though as it can get ice packed and super slippery across the slope as its north facing. Dec 11, 2015

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