Fern Canyon Trail to Bear Peak, Chautauqua Park Trailhead, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado

Fern Canyon Trail to Bear Peak - 8.3 miles

Chautauqua Park Trailhead

Looking north at Green Mountain from the Fern Canyon Trail

Looking north at Green Mountain from the Fern Canyon Trail

Round-Trip Length: 8.3 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,710' - 8,461' (8,461' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,751' net elevation gain (+3,217' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Fern Canyon Trail to Bear Peak - 8.3 Miles Round-Trip

Fern Canyon joins the Mesa Trail on a 4.15 mile route to Bear Peak. The Fern Canyon Trail is direct but strenuous, climbing 2100' in just 1.2 miles to the summit. Visitors will enjoy diverse terrain and exceptional views across the plains, foothills and Continental Divide:

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

From Chautauqua Park, head south on Blue Bell Road to the Mesa Trail (.55 miles : 6,010). Damage from the 2013 floods is pronounced along Bluebell Creek. The Mesa Trail climbs steadily through uniform ponderosa to the Kohler Mesa Trail split (1.15 miles : 6,250'), past which it levels across east-facing contours in open space.

The Mesa wraps past Skunk Canyon to a steep, twisting descent that's been nominally re-routed since the floods (1.85 miles : 6,278'). It nadirs across a small stream, then rises back to a large meadow with connections for NCAR (2.0 miles) and Mallory Cave (2.08 miles : 6,215').

The trail undulates down to a fire road (2.45 miles : 6,101'), which crosses a newly-formed gorge along Bear Canyon Creek. Once over it winds steeply up a rutted track past the Bear Canyon Trail split (2.8 miles : 6,280') to the Fern Canyon Trail (2.95 miles : 6,360').

The Fern Canyon Trail climbs several hundred yards before leveling parallel to the Flatirons in a mixed pine forest with good viewing lanes for wildlife. Travel moderates to the Shanahan Ridge Trail (3.28 miles : 6,667'), where the Fern Canyon Trail turns west on an increasingly steep and strenuous path.

It rises sharply through large boulders, outcrops and rock chutes to a brief respite with excellent views of Dinosaur Mountain and Green Mountain (3.65 miles : 7,405'). Honor well-marked closures for Peregrine Falcons that nest in this vicinity.

Grades steepen considerably on a direct line for the summit, passing through fire scars just before clearing treeline. The trail emerges from timber at the foot of a steep boulder field, up which you'll scramble 50-75 yards to Bear Peak (4.15 miles : 8,461').

The pointed, wind-swept summit is little more than a jagged boulder pile that can limit exploration, however cautious maneuvering leads to sheltered nooks with rangy panoramas across the Eastern Plains, Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park. Burn scars from the 2012 Flagstaff Fire come in full view from the summit, especially down the west slope of South Boulder Peak.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 59.930 W105 16.970 — 0.0 miles : Chautauqua Park Trailhead
  • N39 59.496 W105 17.119 — .55 miles : Bluebell Road - Mesa Trail junction
  • N39 59.129 W105 17.155 — 1.15 miles : Kohler Mesa Trail split
  • N39 58.935 W105 17.118 — 1.55 miles : Skunk Canyon Trail split
  • N39 58.744 W105 17.154 — 1.85 miles : Descend twisting stairs
  • N39 58.681 W105 17.054 — 2.08 miles : Mallory Cave Trail split
  • N39 58.418 W105 17.027 — 2.45 miles : Drop onto fire road; begin steep climb
  • N39 58.269 W105 17.008 — 2.8 miles : Bear Canyon Trail split
  • N39 58.174 W105 17.001 — 2.95 miles : Fern Canyon Trail split
  • N39 57.927 W105 17.130 — 3.28 miles : Shanahan Ridge Trail split
  • N39 57.916 W105 17.436 — 3.5 miles : Steep climb through boulders and rock chutes
  • N39 57.761 W105 17.689 — 3.95 miles : Forest opens through burn area
  • N39 57.621 W105 17.709 — 4.15 miles : Bear Peak (8,461')

Worth Noting

  • Peregrine Falcons nest in outcrops off the Fern Canyon Trail. Respect seasonal closures.
  • The lightning-induced 2012 Flagstaff Fire burned over 300 acres across Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak, primarily on the west and north slopes. Fire scars are evident on the final ascent to Bear Peak, and fully revealed from the summit. Despite aesthetic losses, fire is essential for thinning forests, replenishing soils and clearing space for new growth.
  • The trail can be difficult to follow when snow-covered, and treacherous in places. Consider the Bear Canyon Trail under difficult conditions, a longer but somewhat more moderate route.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs are allowed on the Mesa Trail and Fern Canyon Trail. Be mindful of leash restrictions that may apply to various sections of each trail, at various times of year. Owners must always carry a leash even when voice and sight rules apply.

Directions to Trailhead

Chautauqua Park is located on Baseline Road in Boulder Colorado, 1.2 miles west of Broadway. Parking is limited at the trailhead and spaces fill quickly, especially on weekends.

Street parking is permitted on the south side of Baseline Road in designated spaces only, and is strictly enforced. Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.

Contact Information

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks
Phone: 303.441.3440

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"One of my favorite local hikes. Great variety of terrain, from open meadows, to lush forest to rock scrambles. The Fern Canyon trail section is so steep but so rewarding. The summit block of Bear is awesome and narrow. I do this hike every May to help kick my butt back into shape before hiking bigger peaks. However, this hike is steeper than a number of 14ers by their standard route!"
Chris G  -  Denver  -  Date Posted: May 17, 2017
"This is a great hike. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be that many REALLY steep (but non-technical) hikes along the front range. By really steep I mean the equivalent of the fern canyon route to the top of Bear Peak (1900 feet of climbing over one mile). I know the front range pretty well, but, this hike, Shadow Canyon and the Manitou incline aside, are there any other sustained (mile plus), non technical 30% climbs that I may have missed?"
LarryM  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: March 26, 2015
"This trail is difficult. I'm glad I did it, but I think I would go up one of the other routes to Bear Peak next time. "
Ben Toews  -  Boulder, CO  -  Date Posted: July 6, 2014


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