Boulder, CO: Shadow Canyon

This 3.5-mile out-and-back climbs into Shadow Canyon, passing an old homestead and striking views of Boulder's Flatirons.
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This 3.5-mile out-and-back climbs into Shadow Canyon, passing an old homestead and striking views of Boulder's Flatirons.

Perfect for a short dayhike or trail run, this popular route on the outskirts of Boulder climbs gently into Shadow Canyon for postcard-worthy views of the Flatirons. From the Mesa Trailhead, cross Boulder Creek, then hike northwest toward Shadow Canyon. After 650 feet, turn left at the 3-way junction onto Towhee Trail. The trail passes an old homestead, then veers right, climbing steadily into the foothills. Look to the northwest for views of 8,461-foot Bear Peak and Devil's Thumb, a large cylinder of rock.
As the trail climbs further into Shadow Canyon, make sure to turn around for wide-open views that extend to Denver. Most days, the wind funnels down the canyon and races toward the eastern plains; the surrounding meadows and trees rustle in spurts, breaking the silence. At mile 0.8, bear left at the Y-junction. Less than half a mile later, keep straight at the 3-way junction.
After 1.3 miles, the route turns left onto Shadow Canyon Trail. Follow this trail for another half mile to the turnaround point near the Matron, a towering rock formation popular with climbers. Enjoy the views around Shadow Canyon before turning around for the return trip back to the trailhead.
Note: To extend this route, hikers can continue up Shadow Canyon to summit Bear Peak and/or South Boulder Peak.
-Mapped by Kim Phillips

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 5.6

Waypoints

SHD001

Location: 39.9387868, -105.2581778

Begin hiking northwest on the Mesa Trail toward Shadow Canyon. Note: Multiple paths lead to Shadow Canyon, so lengthen or shorten the hike depending on your mood.

SHD002

Location: 39.9394901, -105.2594787

Cross Boulder Creek. Bear Peak frames the skyline directly ahead. Devil's Thumb, a large cylinder of rock, rises to the northwest.

SHD003

Location: 39.9397493, -105.2599856

Turn left @ 3-way onto Towhee Trail and hike toward an old, stone homestead.

SHD004

Location: 39.9396649, -105.260219

Turn right @ 3-way onto Towhee Trail. Side trip option: Continue straight @ 3-way to check out the Doudy-Debacker-Dunn Homestead.

SHD005

Location: 39.9426838, -105.2651811

Rock hop across a small stream.

SHD006

Location: 39.9427291, -105.2654386

Continue straight, heading west.

SHD007

Location: 39.9430128, -105.2673885

Catch your breath and turn around for wide-open views that extend to Denver. Most days, the wind funnels down the canyon and races toward the eastern plains. Surrounding meadows and trees rustle in spurts, breaking the silence.

SHD008

Location: 39.9436133, -105.2707922

Continue left @ Y-junction. Note: Depending on snowpack, an unmarked trail entering from right may not be visible.

SHD009

Location: 39.9437963, -105.2762881

Continue straight @ 3-way.

SHD010

Location: 39.943383, -105.279724

Turn left @ T-junction onto Shadow Canyon Trail.

SHD011

Location: 39.9442426, -105.2837205

Continue straight on Shadow Canyon Trail @ 3-way. Look northwest to view Devils Thumb, which is now only a few hundred feet away.

SHD012

Location: 39.9431959, -105.2848577

Enjoy views of Shadow Canyon and the Matron, a nearby rock formation popular with climbers. Next, return to Waypoint 6, then bear left @ Y-junction. Add mileage: Continue straight into Shadow Canyon to summit Bear Peak and/or South Boulder Peak.

SHD013

Location: 39.9428278, -105.2642584

Turn right @ T-junction onto the Mesa Trail and follow it back to the trailhead.

Trail Views

Location: 39.9428113, -105.265975

Mesa Trailhead

Location: 39.9387889, -105.2581429

Bridge Crossing

Location: 39.9394881, -105.2594304

Sign Post

Location: 39.9397472, -105.2599534

Trail Junction

Location: 39.939669, -105.2601868

Doudy-Debacker-Dunn Homestead

Location: 39.9395457, -105.2602029

Flatirons

Location: 39.9397513, -105.2603745

Cactus

Location: 39.9398253, -105.2605247

Stream Crossing

Location: 39.9426838, -105.2651462

Steps

Location: 39.9429224, -105.2667072

Eastern Views

Location: 39.9429512, -105.2668977

Views of Devils Thumb

Location: 39.943017, -105.2690113

Towhee Trail

Location: 39.9428607, -105.2646017

Trail Junction

Location: 39.942836, -105.2641779

Robin

Location: 39.9410346, -105.2601814

Rabbit

Location: 39.9392495, -105.2590334