Bear Peak via Fern Canyon, West Ridge

Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

This trail offer a challenging and steep climb through forest bounded by and stone monoliths up to a rocky summit.  From the top, make sure to bring your camera as you will take in 360 degree views of the eastern plains, the city of Boulder, Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park.  The descent passes through gentle meadows before nestling alongside a stream in a deep canyon for the trip back to the bottom of Bear Peak.    

Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Elevation Gain: 2,998 feet
Start to End Elevation:  6,104 feet to 8.461 feet (8,461 max elevation)
Rating: Moderate to Difficult
Round trip distance: 7.6 miles
Round-trip time: 4-6 hours depending on your fitness level
Nearest Landmark: NCAR
Season:  All year, but winter and spring can make for slippery sections
Popular with Hikers, Runners, Dog Walkers

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Comments:   Bear Peak can be an excellent workout and a greatly rewarding hike if you can handle the elevation change and if you are in pretty decent shape.  Bring lots of water and your camera.   This trail is very steep for 2,000 plus feet for 1.3 miles.

How to Get There:  From south Boulder, take Table Mesa Drive west from Colorado 93 all the way until you get to a large parking lot for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

Trailhead GPS:    N39.978277, W105.276077

The Hike:  Walk west along the parking lot road to find the Walter Orr Roberts Trail, on the north side of NCAR.  Follow the trail west across the mesa, keeping  left when possible.  The trail then takes a dive to the left and down 0.2 miles, then back west.  Follow the trail another 0.5 mile through a meadow, past a green water tank and then down to the Mesa Trail.  You will come to a big sign and 3 forks in the road.  Go left (south) on the Mesa Trail.  Then when you get to the junction of the Bear Canyon Trail, go right (west) until it crosses Bear Creek.  Continue 0.5 mile on the Mesa Trail going south, and up until you see a slightly hidden sign to turn right onto Fern Canyon Trail.

From here things are looking up as you will be gaining about 2,400 feet.   You will be traveling between the towering walls of the Fountain Formation sandstones.    At 2.3 miles, take a much needed break from the saddle, at 7,400 feet, nestled between Bear Peak and a smaller, closer summit on your right called Nebel Horn.  Head west along the saddle and follow the sharp incline up through the forest.  You may have to use your hands to get up some of the more abrupt sections.   In the winter and spring, this section can be quite slippery.   After a grove of aspens, the trail winds its way to the western side of the summit ridge and pops out of the trees.  Follow the trail up the rocky plates and then you will have to do some scrambling and climbing to get to the actual peak’s capstone.   After all your hard work, you will be rewarded with stunning 360 degree views.  To your east you can see NCAR, some 2,000 feet below and the High Plains, Denver to your south, Mount Audubon to the west and Rocky Mountain National Park’s many peaks to your north.

After taking in the view and a nice rest, you can experience a change in scenery by returning down Bear Canyon where the elevation change is much easier on the body.   Return to the signpost at the bottom of the summit ridge and then drop down to the west on the West Ridge Trail.  If you have the time, head left just beneath the summit for 0.7 miles to South Boulder Peak, the highest peak in Boulder’s foothills.  Continue down steep talus and notice that the sandstone suddenly gives way to granite.

Enjoy 1.8 miles down a moderate descent with pine-studded ridge with views of the Indian Peaks.  You will then intersect the Bear Canyon Trail.   Turn right and follow the creek downhill.  Some of the rocks at the stream crossings can be slippery.  At the bottom of the canyon, you will link up with the Mesa Trail again where you can retrace your path back to the NCAR parking lot.

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Aspens in Bear Canyon,Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Bear Peak Canyon, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Autumn Leaves, Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

View of Flatirons, Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Sunflower, Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Close to Mesa Trail, Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Bear Peak Panoramic, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

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2 Responses to Bear Peak via Fern Canyon, West Ridge

  1. John Shearer

    Thanks for this beautiful, helpful web site. My son and I reached the summit today. Wish I had found this one day sooner.

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