Welcome to our comprehensive route guide for Bear Peak via Shanahan Ridge, one of Boulder’s most beloved hikes. Standing majestically at an elevation of 8,461 feet, Bear Peak is a renowned landmark offering stunning panoramic views of the Boulder cityscape to the east, and the spectacular snow-capped Rockies to the west. This moderately challenging hike provides a delightful blend of terrain variety, natural beauty, and a bit of scrambling thrill as you approach the summit.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the details of the most direct trail to Bear Peak summit, starting from Shanahan Ridge Trailhead. You’ll get insightful information about the trail, including step-by-step directions, trail conditions, and unique features you’ll encounter along the way. Our aim is to equip you with all the necessary knowledge for an enjoyable and safe hike. Let’s embark on this exciting adventure together!
Bear Peak Near Boulder Colorado: Hike Fast Facts
Hiking Bear Peak via Shanahan Ridge
There is limited parking at this trailhead, which is really just the end of a residential street without formal parking spots. I recommend arriving early and having a backup plan in case it is already full.
Directions to the Trailhead:
Head north along US 93 in Boulder, and take a left onto Chambers Drive, followed by a left onto Greenbriar Blvd. Continue about a half mile until you see the trailhead on your left.
Begin your journey at the Shanahan Ridge Trailhead located at the end of Lehigh Street. The trail starts off by gently ascending through the diverse ecosystem of the ponderosa pine forest, letting you absorb the soothing scent of the trees. While there are multiple routes to summit Bear Peak, this path offers the most direct route.
As you venture westwards, you’ll follow the North Fork Shanahan Trail, which gradually transitions from a wide road to a narrow single-track trail. Along the way, you’ll intersect the Mesa Trail. Keep your journey westward, navigating around the base of a prominent sandstone slab. Following this, you’ll cross Fern Canyon and reach the trail on the other side.
Prepare yourself for a bit of a challenge as the Fern Canyon trail intensifies, leading you through a steep canyon ascent. However, your efforts will be rewarded with softer switchbacks providing a bit of respite before reaching the saddle, a point where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the majestic Continental Divide.
From the saddle, turn southward and push onward, keeping in mind the trail here can be steep and laden with loose rocks. As you approach the summit of Bear Peak, the trail transforms into a bare rock scramble – a test of your hiking skills, but also a thrilling part of the adventure.
Once at the peak, take time to revel in your achievement and immerse yourself in the 360-degree views encompassing the Continental Divide, the sprawling plains of Boulder, and more. After drinking in the spectacular landscape, carefully descend along the same path, ensuring to step carefully over the loose rock and steep sections.
Remember, the best hiking experiences are those where you respect your limits and the environment around you. This route to Bear Peak, while challenging, provides an incredibly rewarding journey through diverse landscapes and culminates in a breathtaking panoramic view. Enjoy the adventure!
Never rely 100% on your phone for navigation. I recommend saving a digital copy on your phone and printing out a paper backup copy in case something happens to it. Phone screens shatter and batteries die – best to be prepared!
Below is the National Weather Service forecast for Bear Peak near Boulder, Colorado. Scroll through the entire page to see current conditions and a detailed extended forecast for the next seven days. It is important to check conditions several times leading up to the day of your hike. Make note of the high and low temperatures, precipitation, wind, and any risk of storms.
Note: In summer, thunderstorms are common during the afternoon. Start early, before 9 am, to ensure you are finished by 1 pm when lightning becomes more likely.
Looking for hiking gear to help you tackle Bear Peak? We have you covered; here are some of our favorite hiking boots, backpacks, navigation devices, and other gear for those visiting Boulder, Colorado.
Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots
Power through ascents and stay comfortable on your way back down in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support.
Backpack: Osprey Talon 22
Osprey is known for the quality of its bags and backpacks and the Talon 22 is no exception. The Talon 22 is my standard choice for day hikes, with enough space for the ten essentials and some extra food and water, along with helpful accessories like a place to stash your trek poles and climbing helmet for class 3 and 4 routes. I highly recommend it for day hikes and 14ers too.
Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain.
Always Pack the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.
1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything.
3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life.
4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills or life straw.
5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.
7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.
8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit with matches and a tinder for starting a fire.
9. First Aid Kit
For day hikes you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness.
10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will be very happy you brought it with you. Nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.
Satellite Messenger/SOS Device: Garmin InReach Mini
When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Many areas in the mountains do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives.
I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, which also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features.
Campsites near Boulder aren’t always easy to find due to the large number of people in the area. Check out the campgrounds below and reserve a site in advance to ensure you have a place to stay.
Camping near Bear Peak and Boulder, Colorado:
- Aspen Meadows Campground
- Gordon Gulch Dispersed Camping Area
- Kelly Dahl Campground
- Magnolia Road Camp Site
There are also some dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads in the area, most require staying in signed, designated campsites.
Lodging near Bear Peak and Boulder, Colorado:
Not a fan of camping? Here are some great motels and hotels in Boulder for those visiting the area to hike Bear Peak.
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Boulder
- Hilton Garden Inn Boulder
- Foot of the Mountain Motel
- The Bradley Boulder Inn
- Fairfield Inn & Suites Boulder
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Boulder. They’re a perfect solution for staying the night before or after hiking to the summit of Bear Peak.
Note: As a Booking.com affiliate I receive a small commission if you book a room using the links above – but your price remains the same. Thanks for supporting The Next Summit.
Bear Peak is climbed by thousands of people every year. To help limit the impact of these growing numbers, please follow these simple Leave No Trace practices to protect and preserve these mountains for future generations to enjoy.
Plan Ahead and Prepare: Research the park’s rules and regulations, trail conditions, and weather forecasts before embarking on your adventure. Ensure you have the right equipment, clothing, and food to minimize waste and reduce your reliance on park facilities.
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces: Stay on designated trails and avoid creating new paths, as this can damage fragile ecosystems. When camping, use established sites or camp at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams, and trails to protect water quality and minimize disturbance to wildlife.
Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter to prevent pollution and the spread of disease. Use designated bathroom facilities or, when not available, dig a “cathole” at least 6 to 8 inches deep and 200 feet away from water sources. Cover and disguise the hole when finished.
Leave What You Find: Respect the park’s natural and cultural heritage by leaving rocks, plants, and other natural features undisturbed. Do not build structures, dig trenches, or remove any historical artifacts.
Minimize Campfire Impact: Use a camp stove for cooking instead of making a fire, as this helps prevent damage to the environment and reduces the risk of wildfires. If you must build a fire, do so in established fire rings or use a fire pan to contain it.
Respect Wildlife: Observe animals from a distance and never feed them, as this can harm their health and alter their natural behaviors. Store food and trash securely to prevent wildlife from accessing it, and give animals plenty of space to avoid disturbing their natural activities.
Be Considerate of Other Visitors: Respect the experience of fellow park-goers by keeping noise levels low, yielding to other hikers on trails, and following posted rules and guidelines.
Hiking in the mountains can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but it’s crucial to prioritize safety. Here are seven safety tips for mountain hiking:
Plan and prepare: Research the trail, its difficulty, and weather conditions before you start. Obtain a detailed map, and familiarize yourself with the route. Make a realistic plan for your hike, considering your fitness level and daylight hours. Let someone know your plans and estimated return time.
Dress appropriately: Wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the terrain and weather conditions. Dress in layers, as temperatures can change rapidly in the mountains. Choose moisture-wicking fabrics, sturdy and comfortable hiking boots, and don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Carry essential gear: Always bring the “Ten Essentials” for outdoor activities, which include a map, compass, extra clothing, rain gear, a flashlight or headlamp, first-aid kit, firestarter, knife or multitool, extra food, and water. A fully charged phone and a portable charger are also helpful.
Stay on designated trails: Follow marked trails and avoid shortcuts, which can lead to erosion and harm the environment. Staying on the path reduces your risk of getting lost or encountering dangerous terrain.
Know your limits: Be aware of your physical limitations and do not push yourself too hard. Take breaks, stay hydrated, and maintain a comfortable pace. Turn back if you’re not feeling well or if the weather conditions worsen.
Be aware of wildlife: Understand the types of wildlife that inhabit the area you are hiking in and learn how to react in case of an encounter. Keep a safe distance from animals, store food properly to avoid attracting them, and never feed them. If you encounter a potentially dangerous animal, follow established guidelines for how to respond.
- Take time to acclimatize to the altitude: If you are visiting from lower elevations (below 7,500 feet), it is a good idea to take your first day or two in the park easy. Your body will gradually adjust to the altitude over time and reduce your risk of developing altitude sickness. If you are prone to this issue, talk to your doctor before your trip about medication options.
Bear Peak is a remarkable geological marvel located near Boulder, Colorado. The mountain’s rich history dates back to more than 290 million years when ancestral Rockies started to erode, depositing a vast amount of sediments in the area. Over time, these sediment layers were uplifted, forming what we now know as Bear Peak. Its distinct formation is thanks to the Fountain Formation, characterized by coarse sandstone. If you observe closely, you might notice the reddish hue of the rocks, especially vibrant under the afternoon sun.
Nestled at an elevation of 8,461 feet, Bear Peak offers a sweeping view of Boulder to the east, the Indian Peaks to the west, and Denver to the southeast. Its geography is diverse, with grassy, open meadows at the lower elevations transitioning into dense forests of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir as you ascend. Once above the treeline, the terrain transforms into bare rock, presenting an exciting scramble towards the summit.
In terms of flora and fauna, the mountain is a thriving habitat for a variety of species. You’re likely to spot mule deer, elk, and even black bears in the dense woodlands. Smaller creatures like Abert’s squirrels and a variety of bird species also call this area home. The trail winds through stunning wildflower displays in the spring and summer, showcasing Colorado’s rich biodiversity.
The mix of sun and shade along the trail, along with the rush of wind through the trees, makes hiking up Bear Peak a truly sensory experience. Plus, the dramatic change in the landscape as you ascend adds a unique touch to this spectacular trail. All of this comes together to make Bear Peak a destination that’s not just about the summit, but the journey to it as well.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A: Bear Peak hike is a moderately challenging trail due to its steep inclines and rocky terrain. It’s an excellent route for experienced hikers or beginners looking for a challenge. Remember, the trail involves a final scramble to the summit, which requires a bit of sure-footedness. Always be mindful of your comfort level and turn back if the scramble feels beyond your abilities.
A: Bear Peak proudly stands at an elevation of 8,461 feet. The prominence and isolation of the peak allow for uninterrupted, panoramic views from the summit. It’s a worthy reward after a strenuous ascent!
A: No, Bear Peak is not a 14er. In Colorado, a “14er” refers to mountains with peaks that exceed 14,000 feet in elevation. Despite its impressive stature, Bear Peak’s summit reaches 8,461 feet, making it an excellent challenge without the intense altitude of a 14er.
A: Both Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak offer rewarding hikes with stunning views, and they’re often hiked together. However, “better” is subjective and depends on what you’re looking for. Bear Peak can be slightly less crowded and offers an exciting scramble at the summit. South Boulder Peak, the highest point in Boulder, also boasts amazing views and less rocky terrain. Consider your preferences and perhaps even attempt both for a well-rounded hiking experience.
A: The round-trip hike to Bear Peak from Shanahan Ridge Trailhead typically takes around 5-7 hours. However, this can vary based on your pace, breaks, weather conditions, and overall fitness level. Always remember to start early, especially in summer, to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and to enjoy ample time on the trail and at the summit.