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South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon

Denver Metro Area, Colorado

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South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon

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  • View of Shadow Canyon from slightly off-trail just before the cabin.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Hiking along the Shadow Canyon trail before the climb starts.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • The cabin, a good reference point that the route is about to get steep.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • View of the south ridge of Bear Peak.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Climbing through the trees.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Nearing the dead-tree zone near the saddle.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Northern side of South Boulder Peak from near the saddle.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • The burn area between South Boulder and Bear peaks.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Devil's Thumb formation off the Bear Peak south ridge.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Looking south toward Pikes Peak.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • The saddle; go left here.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Looking back at Shadow Canyon from the saddle.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Final hike up to South Boulder Peak summit.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • View south from the summit.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Endless sea of forested peaks.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Looking west at the Continental Divide.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • James Peak (left) all the way to the Indian Peaks Wilderness.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Close-up of South Arapahoe to Audubon Peaks.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Close-up of Audubon to Longs Peak.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Longs Peak, the northern-most 14er in the Rocky Mountains.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • The main group of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Bear Peak, a much sharper and more technical summit, but also more crowded.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Denver skyline.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Eldorado Mountain and the foothills in front of Denver, with Pikes Peak in the distance.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Longs Peak on the way down to the saddle.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Back on the Shadow Canyon Trail.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Views down through the trees into the plains.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
  • Interesting formation on the lower Shadow Canyon Trail.- South Boulder Peak via Shadow Canyon
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Beautiful views. Lower crowds than nearby Bear Peak. Easily accessible.
Cons: 
None.
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Region:
Denver Metro Area, CO
Congestion: 
Moderate
Pets allowed: 
Yes, with restrictions
Highest point: 
8,549.00 ft (2,605.74 m)
Net Elevation Gain: 
2,939.00 ft (895.81 m)
Year round: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
General Day Use Fee
Permit required: 
No
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
7.50 mi (12.07 km)
Total elevation gain: 
2,949.00 ft (898.86 m)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
5,610.00 ft (1,709.93 m)
Typically multi-day: 
No
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

The Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park system is essentially the best city park system in the country, and one of the most evident ways of discovering this is to climb one of the prominent mountains sitting just a few miles outside of Boulder itself. When people talk about the Boulder skyline, they’re not talking about the buildings that make up the city; they’re talking about the six major mountains that make up the skyline, rising up right out of the edge of town and towering, in some cases, 3,000 feet into the air. The tallest of these is South Boulder Peak, sitting at 8,549 feet and normally not visible from town due to the slightly shorter Bear Peak that takes all the attention and more of the daily allotment of hikers, runners, and climbers. The other mountains in the skyline are Eldorado Peak, Bear Peak, Green Mountain, Flagstaff Mountain, and Mount Sanitas.

There are many ways to climb South Boulder Peak, most of which start at the South Mesa Trailhead, which this description will follow. But you can also leave from NCAR, Shanahan Ridge, South Boulder Creek, Bear Canyon. Or, if you’re feeling like a really long day, you can easily connect from Boulder itself at Chautauqua. The main portion of the hike involves Shadow Canyon, and you can take either the Homestead Trail, Towhee Trail, or the most heavily trafficked Mesa Trail to the west. Make sure you keep going up and to the left; the canyon should be fairly obvious in front of you and the signage is decent. You know you’re at the right place when you reach an old cabin in the trees near the creek that signifies the main part of the climb. From the cabin it is a steep 1,800-foot climb over just 1.1 miles to the saddle, where a short finishing hike to the Class II summit block is on your left.

From the top you can see a full panoramic vista in all directions including the vast plains, Pikes Peak to the south, Mount Evans to the southwest, the full Indian Peaks range, and most impressively, Longs Peak looming to the northwest. In evening light and with snow still in the high country, this is easily the best view you can get from any trail right from Boulder itself. When you’ve soaked in all the views you can, make your way back down the way you came to South Mesa Trailhead. Keep an eye out in the evening if you are planning to hike around sunset since bears, mountain lions, snakes, and other wildlife can be more active in the evening hours, and while this is a highly trafficked trail, it is also a wilderness mountain area.

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(13 within a 30 mile radius)

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