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greenBlue South Mesa Loop

  4.0 ( 12 )

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3.0 mile 4.8 kilometer loop
88% Runnable


Ascent: 512' 156 m
Descent: -515' -157 m
High: 6,123' 1,866 m
Low: 5,621' 1,713 m


Avg Grade: 7% (4°)
Max Grade: 14% (8°)


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Trail shared by Tom Robson

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Minor Issues 47 days ago See History
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Stunning scenery and a little history...

Tom Robson

Features Views · Wildflowers


The South Mesa area offers a wide variety of resources that reflect the history of Boulder County. A fun day run here will take you to see everything from historic ranches to stone walls to summer retreats.

Note that on the return, taking the Towhee trail is roughly the same distance, not very different, and thus a fine alternative.

Need to Know

There's one theme that keeps popping up in all the oral histories for this area - the people who lived here all remember rattlesnakes!

Runner Notes

This is some of the best trail running in Boulder County. The trails are wide and low angle, but lead to harder, less-populated trails; if you're into that.


From the South Mesa trailhead, run northwest on Mesa Trail. This section is wide and very easy. Shortly after crossing South Boulder Creek, bear left onto Towhee.

Towhee trail starts directly adjacent to the historic Dunn House, just to the west of the Mesa Trail. From the get-go you'll have wide-open, sweeping views of the South Mesa area.

If you're running this trail during Spring, you'll most likely be treated with wildflower views as well as the usual mountain vistas. At the first intersection you encounter, turn left onto Homestead Trail.

Homestead, named for the historic homesteads surrounding this trail, doesn't actually directly encounter any of the historic sites. Although it does allow you access to other trails that do!

Starting from Towhee, Homestead Trail heads due west and contours the hillside. At ~.25mi, the trail heads due directly north and switchbacks four times to gain the ridge. Once on the ridge, Homestead Trail is very straightforward. The last semi-technical aspect of this trail is a drop into and out of Shadow Canyon proper. From here the trail contours north, eventually connecting with Mesa Trail.

Turn right onto Mesa Trail, which eventually takes you back to the South Mesa trailhead. Mesa descends into Eldorado Canyon and proves to be one of the most heavily crowded sections of trail in Boulder. This portion of trail is also very sun-exposed, so using it during summer can prove a scorcher.

Flora & Fauna

Black bears and mountain lions inhabit this area. The area is rich with wildlife including Peregrine Falcons, Red-tailed Hawks, songbirds, mule deer, and coyotes.

History & Background

Historic Dunn House. McGillvray Cabin on Towhee Trail at Shadow Canyon. Old Schoolmarm Cabin on Mesa Trail. Stockton Cabin on Shadow Canyon Trail at South Boulder Peak.

Be sure to check out the South Mesa Historic Route provided by Boulder County Open Space.


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Apr 26, 2018
Daylene York
Aug 13, 2017
Jen McMurtrey
Jul 4, 2017
DwightD Dettloff
Check website for closure details as they are rebuilding the damaged trails.
Sep 14, 2016
Thomas Lawrence
Part of Mesa trail out and back, start el dorado, hit chataqua and back

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