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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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.

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

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.2

Waypoints

FCT001

Location: 39.9746513, -105.2668152

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

FCT002

Location: 39.9748344, -105.2679749

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

FCT003

Location: 39.9749489, -105.2765732

Continue straight along the main path at the Y-junction.

FCT004

Location: 39.973835, -105.2838516

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

FCT005

Location: 39.9714241, -105.2836533

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).

FCT006

Location: 39.9698296, -105.2836533

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

FCT007

Location: 39.9655762, -105.2852097

Turn right at the T-junction following the Fern Canyon trail.

FCT008

Location: 39.9651184, -105.2884979

Large boulders hover above a stone staircase. Continue climbing.

FCT009

Location: 39.9656181, -105.2920914

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

FCT010

Location: 39.9610214, -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.

FCT011

Location: 39.9602776, -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).

FCT012

Location: 39.9604912, -105.2953873

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

FCT013

Location: 39.9627037, -105.3006439

The trail flattens and the remaining 4.5 miles are a gentle downhill toward the trailhead.

FCT014

Location: 39.9742661, -105.3080521

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

FCT015

Location: 39.9720573, -105.2844238

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: 39.9648438, -105.2930298

Looking northeast, a view of 14,255-foot Longs Peak in Rocky Mountail National Park.

Bear Peak View

Location: 39.9747696, -105.2679214

A glimpse of Bear Peak, rising nearly 2,800 feet above the trailhead.

Flower

Location: 39.9732094, -105.2734299

In June, dozens of wildflower species bloom along the trail.

Wide trail

Location: 39.975174, -105.2801056

The first (and last) mile of this route is realtivly a popular wide and gently-graded trail.

Northeastern trail view

Location: 39.9712296, -105.2835693

The entire trail offers good views of Boulder's foothills and the Flatirons.

Fern Canyon

Location: 39.968544, -105.2845383

The trail levels briefly after the first steep climb in Fern Canyon.

Climbers

Location: 39.965435, -105.2868118

There are many popular climbing routes near the trail.

Overlook view

Location: 39.9654694, -105.2867889

Steep Trail

Location: 39.9607201, -105.2949753

It's a steep climb to the summit.

Trail Sign

Location: 39.9604568, -105.2951202

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.

U.S. Geological Survey

Location: 39.9603271, -105.295166

USGS marker on Bear Peak's summit.

Bear Creek

Location: 39.9741135, -105.3077698

The trail criss-crosses the canyon floor and passes over Bear Creek almost a dozen times.

Aspen

Location: 39.9716148, -105.3053513

Aspen groves shade parts of the Bear Canyon trail.

Stream Crossing

Location: 39.9717293, -105.2898941

Some of the Bear Creek crossings require hopping over rocks.

Bear Canyon

Location: 39.9716988, -105.2861176

Hugging the contours of Bear Canyon above the creek, you'll see impressive rock formations on your left.

Trail

Location: 39.9718246, -105.2850418

Catch a glimpse of the trail leading to NCAR and the Bear Canyon trail that heads downhill to the trailhead.