The Mesa Trail, Chautauqua Park Trailhead, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado

The Mesa Trail - 13.4 miles

Chautauqua Park Trailhead

The Mesa Trail

The Mesa Trail

Round-Trip Length: 13.4 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,710' - 5,645' (6,465' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -65' net elevation loss (+3,250' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

The Mesa Trail - 13.4 Miles Round-Trip

The Mesa Trail runs 6.7 miles along Boulder's Flatirons and foothills, connecting Chautauqua Park (north) with Eldorado Canyon Road (south). This popular trail offers diverse terrain, multiple trail connections, 4-season utility and abundant wildlife.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Access to Green Mountain, Bear Peak, South Boulder Peak, Mallory Cave, Royal Arch, Fern Canyon and Shadow Canyon provide dozens of destination and routing options that vary in distance and difficulty. The following description begins at Chautauqua Park and travels south:

The hike officially begins on Blue Bell Road, climbing .6 miles and 300' from the parking lot to its formal connection with The Mesa Trail. Bear left for a steady climb through uniform ponderosa to the Kohler Mesa Trail split (1.15 miles : 6,250').

The trail emerges from timber and winds about the foothills' contours with good views east. This mild stretch is interrupted only once by a steep descent down tightly wound, reinforced mud-stairs (1.85 miles).

The trail rises back through open space past splits for NCAR and Mallory Cave (2.05 miles : 6,207'), then drops in a rolling forest to a service road (2.4 miles) - bear right.

The service road climbs steeply past the Bear Canyon (2.7 miles : 6,262') and Fern Canyon (2.8 miles : 6,318') splits before veering (right) back onto single track (2.85 miles : 6,338').

Here the Mesa moderates for 1.5 miles through intervals of dense forest and narrow meadows.

The trail undulates steeply between the North Shanahan (3.25 miles : 6,346') and South Shanahan (3.75 miles : 6,403') splits, then drops sharply to the Big Bluestem Trail junction (4.2 miles : 6,290').

The Mesa continues south, climbing steeply for a short distance before leveling through sparse forest and grassy hillsides. The Mesa Trail passes 3 different access points for Shadow Canyon between 4.35 and 5.1 miles, all of which lead to South Boulder Peak.

The trail gradually tilts down and merges with another service road that begins a long, fast descent through open space to South Mesa Trailhead (6.7 miles : 5,645'). The Mesa Trail connects to the Towhee Trail, Homestead Trail, Big Bluestem Trail and South Boulder Creek Trail on this final leg.


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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 59.930 W105 16.970 — Chautauqua Park Trailhead
  • N39 59.496 W105 17.119 — .6 miles : Bluebell Road - Mesa Trail junction
  • N39 59.126 W105 17.157 — 1.15 miles : Mesa - Kohler Mesa Trail junction
  • N39 58.677 W105 17.055 — 2.05 miles : Mesa - Mallory Cave Trail junction
  • N39 58.268 W105 17.010 — 2.75 miles : Mesa - Bear Canyon Trail junction
  • N39 58.176 W105 17.002 — 2.9 miles : Mesa - Fern Canyon Trail junction
  • N39 58.163 W105 16.922 — 2.95 miles : Bear right off fire road onto Mesa
  • N39 57.867 W105 16.766 — 3.35 miles : Mesa - North Fork Shanahan Trail junction
  • N39 57.524 W105 16.823 — 3.85 miles : Mesa - South Fork Shanahan Trail junction
  • N39 57.194 W105 16.812 — 4.3 miles : Mesa - Big Bluestem Trail junction #1
  • N39 57.080 W105 16.927 — 4.45 miles : Mesa - Shadow Canyon split #1
  • N39 56.806 W105 16.777 — 4.85 miles : Mesa - Shadow Canyon split #2
  • N39 56.668 W105 16.605 — 5.15 miles : Mesa - Shadow Canyon split #3
  • N39 56.743 W105 16.267 — 5.55 miles : Mesa - Towhee Trail junction
  • N39 56.836 W105 15.967 — 5.7 miles : Mesa - Big Bluestem Trail junction #2
  • N39 56.722 W105 15.798 — 6.1 miles : Mesa - South Boulder Creek Trail junction
  • N39 56.573 W105 15.853 — 6.3 miles : Mesa - Towhee Trail junction #2
  • N39 56.330 W105 15.490 — 6.7 miles : South Mesa Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Area wildlife includes deer, coyote, fox, bear, mountain lion, bobcat, bats, rattlesnakes and numerous raptor species. Be cognizant of wildlife activity updates, warnings and resulting trail closures or usage limitations.
  • Parking lots fill up quickly throughout the year, especially on weekends; arrive early to secure a space. Parking restrictions on Baseline Road and Eldorado Springs Road are strictly enforced.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • The Mesa Trail and surrounding areas are day-use only. No camping is allowed.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted along South Boulder Creek near the South Mesa Trailhead. A Colorado State Fishing License is required.

Rules and Regulations

  • All dogs must be leashed in the parking lot and trailhead areas. Beyond the trailhead, dogs must be on a held leash unless they meet Voice and Sight Control Standards and display a City of Boulder Voice and Sight Tag.

  • Horses are permitted on the Mesa Trail. Honor yield protocols.

  • Mountain Bikes are not permitted on the Mesa Trail and its offshoots.

  • Camping is not permitted in this area.

  • Choke cherry, wild plum, berry, apple or flower picking on open space is illegal and strictly enforced.

Directions to Trailhead

From Boulder, take Baseline Road west of Broadway 1 mile to the Chautauqua Park entrance on the left hand side of the road.

From Denver, take I-25 North to HWY 36 towards Boulder. As you enter Boulder, turn left onto Baseline Road and turn left. Take Baseline Road for about 1-2 miles and Chautauqua Park will be on your left.

Contact Information

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks
Phone: 303-441-3440

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Does anyone know about the Big Bluestem trail spur being re-routed off the Mesa Trail here in Boulder? Not such a big deal per se, but I want to time myself running the Mesa Trail and am curious about this stretch. Anyone have any existing run times for the Mesa for me to compare? Thanks! - Stacey"
Stacey A.  -  Boulder, Colorado  -  Date Posted: November 12, 2013


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