Backpacker Magazine Boulder, CO: Bear Peak via Fern Canyon 

The climb on this 7.6-mile loop to Bear Peak is, well, a bear, gaining 2,800 stair-studded feet. The payoff: Long views into Boulder, Denver, and the Indian Peaks.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 13 Jun 2008 3:33:50 PM
Activity: Hiking
State: Colorado (CO)
Distance: 7.6 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 3417 ft
Total Loss: 3417 ft
Net Change: 0 ft
Difficulty: 7 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Eldorado Springs
Tags: Boulder, Colorado, Denver
Rating:   4 rating(s) Rate it

Visible—and just a few minutes away—from downtown Boulder, 8,461-foot Bear Peak is a popular destination for dayhikers. The five- to seven-hour hike begins at the Bear Canyon trailhead and intersects the Mesa Trail to begin a challenging clockwise loop.

At mile 1.5, turn up Fern Canyon—a stair-studded trail with sweeping views of the city and CU-Boulder (identified by the red-roof buildings). Stop at a rest-worthy saddle a half-mile from the peak. The final uphill stretch rolls over red-stained sedimentary rock to a big stone, requiring a hand-over-foot move to summit. After taking in 20-mile plus summit views of Denver and nearby Indian Peaks, descend via the West Ridge Trail (steep switchbacks for 0.3 mile).

The trail drops into the forested floor of Bear Canyon then crosses its self-named creek a dozen times before turning south to complete the loop. Turn downhill to follow the Mesa Trail for a half-mile back to Bear Canyon. Retrace your steps to the trailhead.

-Mapped by Kristy Holland and Jeff Chow

TO TRAILHEAD: From Broadway St. and Table Mesa Dr., head west on Table Mesa Dr. In 0.7 mile, turn left at Lehigh St. In 0.1 mile, right onto Bear Mountain Dr. Go 0.4 mile to trailhead on the right.

Position Format: Datum:


Distance: 7.61 mi Points: 614
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Bear Peak Trail

Points of Interest


Location: 39.974651, -105.266815
There is a kiosk and plenty of parking at the trailhead on Bear Mountain Drive, but no toilet and no water.


Location: 39.974834, -105.267975
After looping north across a small footbridge, turn left at this T-junction to join the main Bear Canyon trail.


Location: 39.974949, -105.276573
Continue straight along the main path at the Y-junction.


Location: 39.973835, -105.283852
Continue straight at the Y-junction toward Eldorado Springs. Ahead, the trail crosses Bear Creek.


Location: 39.971424, -105.283653
Turn left at this Y-junction to begin the loop to Bear Peak via Fern Canyon. You'll cross this intersection again after another 4.7 miles of hiking (up Bear Peak and down the West Ridge trail).


Location: 39.969830, -105.283653
Turn right at the Fern Canyon trail. Begin a long, steep, pine-shaded stair climb.


Location: 39.965576, -105.285210
Turn right at the T-junction following the Fern Canyon trail.


Location: 39.965118, -105.288498
Large boulders hover above a stone staircase. Continue climbing.


Location: 39.965618, -105.292091
This windy saddle is 0.5 miles from the summit. Rest here before the final 1,000-foot climb.


Location: 39.961021, -105.294838
The trail turns to large, reddish-colored rocks. Watch your step as you scramble along the ridge to the 8,411-foot summit.


Location: 39.960278, -105.295166
There are two U.S. Geological Survey markers at the summit and 360-degree views of Boulder (NE), Denver (SE), Roosevelt National Forest (W) and Rocky Mountain National Park (NW).


Location: 39.960491, -105.295387
Follow the trail signs toward Shadow Canyon to reach the summit's west side, turn right at the junction with the West Ridge trail.


Location: 39.962704, -105.300644
The trail flattens and the remaining 4.5 miles are a gentle downhill toward the trailhead.


Location: 39.974266, -105.308052
Cross Bear Creek and turn right at the Y-junction. For the next 1.4 miles, footbridges and rock-hops criss-cross the creek.


Location: 39.972057, -105.284424
Turn right at this fenced high-voltage area to complete this loop and return to the Mesa Trail junction and waypoint 005.

Longs Peak

Location: 39.964844, -105.293030
Looking northeast, a view of 14,255-foot Longs Peak in Rocky Mountail National Park. © Jeff Chow

Bear Peak View

Location: 39.974770, -105.267921
A glimpse of Bear Peak, rising nearly 2,800 feet above the trailhead. © Jeff Chow


Location: 39.973209, -105.273430
In June, dozens of wildflower species bloom along the trail. © Jeff Chow

Wide trail

Location: 39.975174, -105.280106
The first (and last) mile of this route is realtivly a popular wide and gently-graded trail. © Jeff Chow

Northeastern trail view

Location: 39.971230, -105.283569
The entire trail offers good views of Boulder's foothills and the Flatirons. © Jeff Chow

Fern Canyon

Location: 39.968544, -105.284538
The trail levels briefly after the first steep climb in Fern Canyon. © Jeff Chow


Location: 39.965435, -105.286812
There are many popular climbing routes near the trail. © Jeff Chow

Overlook view

Location: 39.965469, -105.286789
© Jeff Chow

Steep Trail

Location: 39.960720, -105.294975
It's a steep climb to the summit. © Jeff Chow

Trail Sign

Location: 39.960457, -105.295120
This sign directs hikers to three trails that converge near Bear Peak. This route climbs Fern Canyon and descends along the Bear Peak's western ridge. © Jeff Chow

U.S. Geological Survey

Location: 39.960327, -105.295166
USGS marker on Bear Peak's summit. © Jeff Chow

Bear Creek

Location: 39.974114, -105.307770
The trail criss-crosses the canyon floor and passes over Bear Creek almost a dozen times. © Jeff Chow


Location: 39.971615, -105.305351
Aspen groves shade parts of the Bear Canyon trail. © Jeff Chow

Stream Crossing

Location: 39.971729, -105.289894
Some of the Bear Creek crossings require hopping over rocks.

Bear Canyon

Location: 39.971699, -105.286118
Hugging the contours of Bear Canyon above the creek, you'll see impressive rock formations on your left. © Jeff Chow


Location: 39.971825, -105.285042
Catch a glimpse of the trail leading to NCAR and the Bear Canyon trail that heads downhill to the trailhead. © Jeff Chow


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