The Flatirons provide the iconic backdrop for the city of Boulder, Colorado. The name applies to a series of jagged sandstone peaks west of the city that form the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. These mountains provide endless opportunities for adventures to residents and visitors, but some technical experience may be required to reach the most prominent points. The Bear Peak Trail offers a strenuous but more accessible opportunity to take in the Flatiron experience and enjoy beautiful scenic views of the surrounding area.
Free parking is available at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The trailhead starts at the edge of the NCAR facility, and the trail is flat and well maintained as it winds through meadows of tall grass and trees. Wildlife ranging from deer and elk to black bear is common early in the area. Wildflowers are also common throughout the hike.
Follow the trail for about 1.5 miles where you'll reach the turnoff for the Fern Canyon Trail. From here the trail winds steeply through jagged rock spires and dense green foliage. The trail zigzags across small creeks, and trail conditions may be muddy throughout the year depending on weather and snowmelt.
At the top of Fern Canyon you'll reach a saddle where you'll have your first views of the Colorado Front Range including Arapahoe Peak and Audobon Peak to the west and Longs Peak to the north. Areas north of the Fern Canyon Trail are sensitive to raptor nesting during certain times of the year, so please observe any posted signage.
From the saddle, continue south approximately a half mile to the summit. The trail steeply winds through quaking aspen trees, across a small boulder field, and finally to a summit covered in large boulders. The summit is marked by a U.S. Geological Survey marker atop the boulders. Bear Peak offers outstanding views of the NCAR Trailhead below, the city of Boulder, and even the distant skyscrapers of Denver. The panoramic views alone are worth the journey.
From the summit, additional loop options are available through Shadow Canyon or the Bear Peak West Trail through Bear Canyon. Both options return to the NCAR Trailhead.