8,461 ft. Bear Peak offers unobstructed 360 degree views of the glorious Rocky Mountain landscape. It happens to be a mighty fine hike as well, with several route options including a prehistoric, fern-filled canyon and a ravag...
At 8,461 ft. Bear Peak is Boulder Mountain Parks and Open Space second highest summit but it features the best unobstructed 360° views in the city. A brief, fun scramble atop the iron-rich, exposed summit block looks out upon the 13,000 ft. Indian Peaks to the west, Rocky Mountain National Park and 14,259 ft. Longs to the north, Boulder and Denver to the east and the foothills mountain chain all the way to Golden to the south. There are two excellent and very different trail to the summit. Fern Canyon is the more direct, steep option that climbs through mellow section of the flatirons through a shady, verdant forest while Bear Peak’s West Ridge trail ventures through flower festooned meadows and quiet woods before abruptly climbing through a burn zone and topping out via a rocky scramble. And if that wasn’t enough, a third option from Shadow Canyon deposits hikers in a saddle between Bear and South Boulder Peaks, with a 15 minute jaunt to either.
What Makes It Great
Bear Peak is a great year round adventure -- and in case you were wondering, it does live up to its ursine name. There is a healthy black bear population active on the peak, more so along the Bear Canyon / West Ridge Trails. No matter what route you choose, the hike to the summit is scenic, steep and spectacular. Intermittent views of the Flatirons alternate with various views of the city below. From the summit, both Walker Ranch to the west (with its own burn zone) and the futuristic buildings of NCAR to the east are visible.
The iron rich summit is particularly interesting. Smooth, red rock is a favorite summer haunt of great populations of ladybugs. If you happen to have the misfortune of being on the summit as a lightning storm draws near, the rock will actually hum from the iron content (needless to say, don’t stick around)!
With at least over 2,400 ft. of elevation gain, Bear Peak is a great workout. It’s often climbed with its slightly higher neighbor South Boulder Peak (8,549 ft.), a mere 20 - 30 minute walk from summit to summit. It can also be combined with South Boulder Peak and Green Mountain to the north for the Guardians of the Flatirons loop that traverses all three peaks.
Who is Going to Love It
Bear is a legit mountain hike and can be enjoyed year round. Because it is mostly in trees, it’s sheltered from the elements until the very top. The steep trails and relatively high elevation make it ideal for training for Colorado’s higher peaks without having to leave Boulder. If the mountains of Boulder are a draw, Bear Peak may be the pinnacle of local mountain adventures.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Both the West Ridge and Fern Canyon Trails start from NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research). From the intersection of Hwy. 93 (Broadway) and Table Mesa Drive, turn west on Table Mesa and follow the road 2.4 miles to its terminus at the futuristic-looking NCAR office. There is plenty of parking here and it’s all free.
Dogs are allowed on-leash (no off leash allowed on the West Ridge and Fern Canyon routes). If you want to take your pup off leash to Bear Peak, your only option is Shadow Canyon (directions can be found at the South Boulder Peak article; simply turn north rather than south at the top of Shadow Canyon).