The Open Space and Mountain Park system near Boulder is one of the best in the country, with over 45,000 acres of protected land and over 150 miles of maintained trail. Each part of the park system has a different charm, some without established trailheads or parking areas of any kind. The neighborhood access to some of the best trails in the Front Range shows just how special it is to live in an area that values outdoor activities as much as Boulder. The Shanahan Fork trails are an example of just that kind of neighborhood trail, active as much during the week as on the weekend. There are least five different access points without anything but street parking to accommodate, so be courteous to the homes nearby when picking your trailhead.
This loop involves the Shanahan South Fork, Mesa Trail, and the Shanahan North Loop. Either direction makes for a great hike; this description will follow the Clockwise direction. The signage along the trail is fairly good, but it is still a good idea to have a map with you. Starting from Shanahan Hill at one of the neighborhood trailheads, make your way south along the Shanahan South Fork Trail until intersecting the Bluestem Connector Trail. Turn right and keep going uphill. When a large water tank comes into view, it will signify a left turn followed by another left turn at the next intersection about a half-mile later.
As you make your way higher and higher along the South Fork Trail, you can really see the forest changing due to the differing temperatures and amounts of precipitation. Once you meet the Mesa Trail, turn right and keep looking behind you because this is the most scenic portion with occasional views in both directions. The best view will be at the large clearing shortly after joining the Mesa Trail; look behind you and down into the valley on the right where you can see the Denver Skyline, Boulder, and more.
Soon a four-way intersection will signal it’s time to unfortunately start heading back down. Continue on the North Fork Trail as it weaves its way to Shanahan Hill. Find your exit point where you entered the trail, and leave with a new appreciation for how good a local trail system can be.