Nicki stands atop the peak of Bear Peak, which is an excellent hike near Boulder.

Hike to Bear Peak: The Best Summit in Boulder

Hike to Bear Peak Reading Time: 17 minutes

In my opinion, the hike to Bear Peak is one of the best hikes in Boulder Colorado. It has everything I look for in a good hike: a good challenge that makes me feel accomplished afterward, the feeling of being right in the middle of nature, and incredible views from the summit. The Bear Peak Trail has all of that and more. For more information on where to park, the Bear Peak Trailhead, difficulty level, and hot tips on for the Bear Mountain Hike, read on!

I use AllTrails Plus when I go hiking. I highly recommend it as you can download offline maps, and send out “lifelines” to friends and family to let them know exactly where you are. You can rate trails, and get inspired to try new ones. Click here to get 30% off of your own AllTrails Plus account. The membership is $35/year, but with this discount, it is just $25 for the year. That’s barely $2/month.
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Check out my Bear Peak hiking reel on Instagram

Bear Peak is the second tallest peak in Boulder, CO, the first being South Boulder Peak. It can definitely be difficult, especially the last hour going up, but once you reach the peak, you’ll be glad you did that for yourself! The Boulder Bear Peak is one of the best hiking trails in Boulder Colorado.

You can see a view of Boulder in the distance between an opening in the trees.
Don’t forget to turn around for the views


I absolutely love Bear Peak in Colorado. I had been saving this hike for a day when I was really ready for the challenge, as I had heard it was quite difficult. Once I finally did it, all I could think was ‘Why didn’t I do this sooner?’ It quickly shot up on my list of favorite Boulder hiking trails. That’s why I believe everyone who can, both locals and visitors, should definitely take advantage of this incredible summit right in our Boulder backyard.

Nicki sits on the summit of Bear Peak. It's very sharp with large boulders.
Nicki sits on the Bear Peak summit, Boulder down below

Click here for the Bear Mountain Hiking Trail Map on AllTrails.

Bear Peak is located on the south side of Boulder. The Bear Peak trails can be reached by several South Boulder trailheads such as the Cragmoor Road Trailhead, Shanahan Ridge Trailhead, NCAR, etc.

Nicki stands on the summit of Bear Peak. It's very sharp with large boulders.
Nicki on the Bear Peak Summit

You can preview this hike with a virtual tour of the Bear Peak Boulder hike with an AllTrails Plus account.

I totally think getting AllTrails+ is worth it. You can do virtual tours of all hikes, but this one is pretty cool to preview before going. You can really see the elevation gain and the intensity of the summit.

I hiked to Bear Peak in early October. The conditions were perfect. It was not too hot, there was no snow or ice, and the fall leaves were changing. I think you can probably do this hike all year round, with the exception of snowy days in the winter. The trail is very steep, so if you do want to hike up in the winter, I suggest bringing spikes. These are the spikes that I use for winter hiking.

This is the last push to reach the summit on the hike to Bear Peak. You need to climb up very rocky stairs.
The last push to reach the summit

If you have the chance, I absolutely suggest hiking up to Bear Peak. It is very difficult and challenging at parts, but the sense of accomplishment once you reach the summit is grand. It makes everything worth it. Those swollen fingers. Those sore thighs. Worth it. Worth it for the incredible views and the sense of pride in completing something hard. I stand by my statement that the hike to Bear Peak is one of the most challenging, yet best hiking trails in Boulder.

This is a side view of The Slab in the distance. In the foreground there are many trees.
You can see a side view of The Slab from the trail

The elevation gain from parking at the Cragmoor Trailhead up to the summit is 2673 feet. The peak of Bear Peak sits at 8458 feet high. Check out the Bear Peak Boulder Trail Map to see the changing elevation as you go up.

On the backside of Bear Peak, you can see South Boulder Peak in the distance.
You can see South Boulder Peak from the back of Bear Peak

There are three main locations where you can park in order to reach Bear Peak: Cragmoor Road, Shanahan Ridge Trailhead, and NCAR. You can find NCAR at the top of the hill, at the very end of Table Mesa Road. The Cragmoor Trailhead and the Shanahan Ridge Trailhead begin just a little bit lower.

  • NCAR– There are a ton of parking spots in this massive lot. Just drive as far as you can go on Table Mesa and you’ll easily find the parking lot.
  • Cragmoor Road– Go west on Table Mesa, turn left on Lehigh, and then right on Cragmoor Road. The trail begins right at the end of the street. It’s obvious. You can park on the street.
  • Shanahan Ridge– Go west on Table Mesa, turn left on Lehigh, and pass by Cragmoor Road. After the curve, you’ll see the trailhead on the right side of the road.
This is a residential street where you can park to begin the hike at the cragmoor connector to hike to bear peak
You can park here in the neighborhoods
  • NCAR– Park and walk to the right side of the building. The NCAR Trail will start here. Follow the NCAR Trail until it hits the Mesa Trail. Take the Mesa Trail south until it hits the Shanahan Fork Trail and go up. You can also go to Bear Peak via Fern Canyon. The Fern Canyon trail cuts to the right, just off of the Mesa Trail.
  • Cragmoor Road– At the start of the trail, you can go immediately left or straight along the Cragmoor Connector.
  • Shanahan Ridge– Follow the trail up along the Lehigh Connector until it hits the North Fork Shanahan Trail.
This is the Cragmoor Connector Trailhead. There is a metal gate and two dirt trails that lead into the mountains- one to the left and the other straight.
The Cragmoor Connector Trailhead

Here I’ll explain a bit about each section along the Bear Mountain Trail so you can have an idea of what you’re getting yourself into.

From the Cragmoor Trailhead, you’re immediately confronted with two choices. You can go up and to the left to get yourself quickly onto the North Fork Shanahan Trail. Or, you can go straight up the stairs, which you can see in the photo below. The stairs way is called the Cragmoor Connector. It really doesn’t matter which way you go as they’ll both lead you to your ultimate goal: getting onto the Shanahan Trail. Go with what your heart says.

This is a green trailhead sign that says "Cragmoor Connector." Behind it you can see stairs and a trail.
This is where the hike begins

This section of the trail is pretty easy compared to the rest of the trail. The hiking trail is wide and well-manicured. No big boulders, just small pebbles. It is a steady incline, but nothing too crazy. This part of the trail is mostly forest-like and you’ll be walking through dense trees with a few sections without tree cover. You’ll appreciate that if it’s sunny. You’ll see many people walking their dogs along this path. You’ll also see some rock climbers, as The Slab, a popular climbing rock face, is at the very end of this trail before it turns to keep going up. You’ll be able to see The Slab rising up in front of you for several minutes. It’s massive and imposing.

This is the Shanahan Trail. It's well manicured and wide. There is a continuous ascent but not too difficult.
Along the Shanahan Fork Trail

You’ll cross over the Mesa Trail, which is perpendicular to the Shanahan Mesa Trail. If you parked at NCAR, you’ll most likely be coming from the Mesa Trail. The last push to The Slab is still on a fairly nicely manicured trail. Once you reach The Slab, you’ll turn right and the trail starts to get thinner, more narrow, and more wild. Everything will suddenly feel very green. You’ll go down and cross over a small stream.

After the stream, the trail starts getting very steep. You’ll be hiking along narrow rock staircases, weaving in and out of boulders along the trail. If you start feeling tired, don’t worry, the last hour of the hike will get even harder! Keep following the trail up along Fern Canyon and you’ll eventually get to Nebel Horn. That is the large rock you’ll see to the right of the trail. You can take a small detour to go climb up on the rocks if you desire.

This is a trail sign with arrows to the Mesa Trail and arrows for the North Fork Shanahan Trail.
Follow the signs for Shanahan Fork Trail

Once you reach Nebel Horn, the whole area opens up a bit. It’s here that you’ll cross over to the other side of the ridge. You will get to see pretty incredible views of the Flatirons here. Bear Mountain hiking is no joke. Things are about to get serious from this point.

From Nebel Horn, you have about one more hour of pretty intense inclines. The last hour’s push is steep and full of rocky terrain, like in the photo below. You’ll need to use your hands at several parts along this portion. I had heard this last section was quite hard, so I made sure to conserve some of my energy once I reached this point. Just go slow and steady, you got this!

The very last push to reach the summit gets even rockier. Then to reach the true peak, you’ll need to scramble up several large boulders and maintain balance.

The last hour of the hike to bear peak starts to get really steep and rocky. The trail gets very hard.
After Nebel Horn, the trail gets super steep and rocky

The Bear Peak via Shanahan Ridge Trail is 5 miles out and back. It took me about 2.5 hours to reach the peak, and then it took me about one hour to get back down to the car. But definitely make sure to budget some time up top because you’ll want to spend some time there eating snacks, taking photos, and admiring the views.

From the trail junction near Nebel Horn, you can get a great view of the Flatirons in the distance.
View of the Flatirons from near Nebel Horn

It’s hard. The Bear Peak Trail is easily one of the most difficult hikes in Boulder, in my opinion. A large portion of the hike is incredibly steep and rocky terrain. You may want to bring walking sticks if you’re not accustomed to hiking and need a little balance help. You really just need to be prepared, mentally and physically, for that last hour of the straight-up rocky trail.

From this view, you can see the Nebel Horn to the right and the Flatirons in the distance on the left.
Flatirons on the left, Nebel Horn on the right

The Bear Peak Trail in Boulder has a lot of varying terrain and it’s quite difficult, so you should dress accordingly to protect your ankles and knees along the trail, and your face from the sun. Here are a few suggestions:

Check out my blog post about the best hiking gear for beginners.

The entire hike may take you 3.5-5 hours, so don’t forget these things:

  • Go early in the morning as this hike is long.
  • Park in the NCAR parking lot, Cragmoor Trailhead, or Shanahan Ridge Trailhead.
  • Remember to bring water and SPF.
  • Dogs are allowed in the area, but only on a leash.
  • Don’t forget to carry out your dog’s poo bags.
  • Stand aside and let other hikers pass if they approach behind you quickly.
  • Uphill hikers always have the right-of-way; stand aside for them.
  • Take your trash with you. Leave no trace.
  • It gets cold and windy at the peak.
  • Pace yourself as the last hour is difficult.

If you’re new to Boulder, or not yet used to altitude, I don’t suggest doing this hike right away. Definitely do a few other hikes at slightly lower elevations to build up to this hike. Prepare yourself mentally as well as physically.

Almost to the summit of Bear Peak, there is a sign with an arrow to Fern Canyon and an arrow to reach the summit of Bear Peak.
The trail sign at the top of Bear Peak

Yes, this is a dog-friendly trail.

BIcycles can go on the Shanahan Ridge Trail, but they won’t be able to go up through Fern Canyon and to the summit of Bear Peak.

There is not only one way to reach Bear Peak. Here are a few options for Bear Peak Boulder Routes.

Nicki stands on the summit of Bear Peak. It's very sharp with large boulders.
Nicki stands on the summit of Bear Peak

I prefer this way up because there tend to be fewer people. It’s easy to find parking in the neighborhoods and I felt my car was safe here. The trail starts out steadily inclining but not too steep, so it was a nice transition to the more difficult parts of the trail.

From the trail, looking up. This is a wide angle with tall trees on each side of the trail and a giant climbing rock called The Slab straight ahead.
Nearing The Slab (straight ahead)

If you choose to park at NCAR, follow the NCAR trail up and just past the water tank. Once you reach the Mesa Trail, go left and follow it until you reach Fern Canyon. Turn right onto the Fern Canyon Trail and go up; this will eventually meet with the second part of the Fern Canyon and will bring you up to Nebel Horn.

A wide angle photo. Many tall trees all around, and the rocky trail is getting steep with many rock stairs.
The trail begins to get steep and rocky
Nicki stands on Bear Peak and looks at South Boulder Peak in the distance.
Nicki looks at South Boulder Peak in the distance

Bear Peak and South Boulder Peaks are like twin sisters. The South Boulder Peak is technically taller, but Bear Peak is much cooler. The trail between the two peaks takes only 30 minutes so you can easily do both of these peaks in the same day, which is what I did.

If you prefer to hike up through Shadow Canyon, you can park at the South Mesa Trailhead. From there, go up through Shadow Canyon on the Towhee or Homestead Trails. You’ll then come to the Mesa Trail which you’ll walk along for a small section of the trail. You’ll eventually reach the Shadow Canyon Trail, passing the Devil’s Thumb on your right. You’ll then come to a junction where you can go left for South Boulder Peak, or right to Bear Peak. Why not do both?

You can find the Southern Sun at the corner of Table Mesa and Broadway, set slightly back from the main street. This is a brewery and restaurant with great beers and food. You can only pay in cash. No credit cards.

Address: 627 S Broadway Ste E, Boulder, CO 80305

If you go hiking early in the morning and want a hearty breakfast to follow, stop in the Southside Walnut Cafe.

Address: 673 S Broadway, Boulder, CO 80305

If you have come to visit Boulder to be close to nature, here are a few suggestions for the area:

Description: This hotel is located on South Boulder Road (Table Mesa) just next to the Highway 36 onramp. There is free parking, fitness center, and wifi. Continental breakfast is included.

Price: Rooms range in price from $160-$220 in the summer, and around $130-$200 in the winter.

Description: The Homewood Suites is an apartment-style hotel with a swimming pool, kitchenette, and living room. You can also find BBQ grills near the swimming pool area.

Price: Rooms are around $250 – $350/night in the summer and can go as low as $150/night in the winter.

Description: The cottages are located inside the Chautauqua Park, just near the base to many hikes as well as the Chautauqua restaurant. There is a summer concert series in the park as well. The cottages include a living room and a front porch. There is free wifi, parking, and breakfast for an additional charge.

Price: A cottage runs about $350/night in the summer months, and $200- $250 in the winter.

You should absolutely not miss this trail. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging. But yes, it is also completely worth it! I think this is easily one of the best hiking trails in Boulder CO, and if you have the opportunity to hike to Bear Peak, seize that moment!