Guardians of the Flatirons

Top of Bear Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Bag the three peaks of the Flatirons (South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak and Green Mountain) on this challenging loop.  The elevation gain and mileage not only gives you a superb workout but this route is good preparation if you plan on doing any 14ers nearby.  Enjoy the summits which divide the plains and mountains.  

Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

From top of Green Mountain, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Total Elevation Gain:  5,171 feet
Start to End Elevation:  5,833 feet to 8,549 feet
Rating:  Strenuous
Round trip distance:  12.2
Nearest Landmark:  Boulder
Hiking Time:  7-10 hours
Season:  Year round
Popular:  Hikers, Trail Runners, Leashed- Dogs, No Horses, No Bikers

How to Get There:   In Boulder, go west on Baseline Road and pass Chautauqua Park.  Baseline Road will become Flagstaff Rd and here you will see a sign for the Gregory Canyon Trailhead on your left. Cautiously turn left and drive up to the parking area.  This small, often-crowded parking lot is a fee area for non-Boulder County residents.  Arrive early or expect to have to park along Baseline Road and walk back to the trailhead.

Trailhead GPS:   Gregory Canyon Trailhead: N39 59.845 W105 17.572

The Hike:   Start at Gregory Canyon Trailhead, soon you will turn left  at the signpost for Saddle Rock Trail and begin hiking upward through the pine forest.  At 1.3 miles, the E.M Greenman Trail comes in from your right.  Bear left on E.M. Greenman Trail which will lead you to the summit of Green Mountain (8,144 feet) at 2.0 miles.    The summit is a large boulder with a cemented stack of stones.  There is a metal disc on top engraved with the names of other great peaks in the distance and their elevations.   The summit takes a little rock scrambling to reach and can be crowded if several people are on it.

Continue south off the summit for 0.2 miles till you get to a 4 way junction, turn left onto the Green-Bear Trail, which goes downhill  southwest.  Enjoy some good back views of Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak which you are about to climb.  This peaceful trail slowly ascends through forests, meadows and wildflowers.[

At 2.9 miles the Green-Bear Trail ends in Bear Canyon.  At the signpost, go right onto the Bear Peak West Ridge Trail.  You will gradually move up some switchbacks and then come to Bear Peak’s west ridge where the rocky slopes begin upward to steeper areas.   At 4.4 miles, the trail comes to the summit ridge of Bear Peak.  You will have to scramble the pointy rocks to find a spot on the summit (8,461 feet).  Enjoy stunning views of the plains to your east and the mountains to your west.

Exit the summit the way you came up and return on the west side of the peak below the summit, where the Bear Peak West Ridge Trail ended.  Take the connector trail that leads south to the South Boulder Peak.

At 4.9 miles arrive at a sign for Shadow Canyon Trail on your left.  This is the trail you will go down after you finish your South Boulder Peak summit.    Continue south toward the South Boulder Peak (8,549 feet).  You will then come to a scree field and scramble up the pointy-rock peak to find a spot to enjoy the spectacular panoramic views.  When you are done enjoying the tallest peak of your journey, return back to the Shadow Canyon Trail and head right (east).  Begin your descent through the rocky forest.   You will begin to see the Devil’s Thumb to your left.

At 6.5 miles, you arrive at the bottom of the canyon and enter a small clearing with a few trails intersecting.  Turn left (north) onto Mesa Trail and begin the lower tour of the Flatirons.  You will stay on Mesa Trail until you reach Chautauqua Park.   Since Mesa Trail is the central artery of many Boulder trails, you will see intersecting trails along the way.

At 9.1 miles, after passing the Fern Canyon cutoff, you will pass a small stream on your right.   The wide dirt trail you are on will continue to the west, just make sure you stay on the Mesa Trail which cuts off to the left (north) uphill and becomes a single-lane footpath again.  Follow it north through a four way intersection just below the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

The Mesa Trail turns into a gravel path as you drop down into Chautauqua.  To return to Gregory Canyon Trailhead, you can hike west on Baseline Road or take a footpath that parallels the road in the open meadow.   At 12.2 miles, return to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead.

Other Options:   If you’d like to cut an hour or two off your hike (and still bag the three peaks), bring two cars (or a bike and a car).  You can leave a vehicle at the South Mesa Trailhead, by heading south on Broadway (CO 93) and then taking a right onto CO Hwy 170 at a stoplight towards Eldorado Springs.  In about 2 miles you will see the South Mesa Trailhead on your right.   This parking lot gets full quickly, if full you can also try parking across the street at the Dowdy Draw Trailhead.    As far as your hike goes, instead of turning onto the Mesa Trail after your descent of Shadow Canyon Trail, take the Townee trail down and to the South Mesa Trailhead Parking Lot.

Another option:  You could also park a car at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) parking lot by taking Broadway south (CO Hwy 93) and then turning west onto Table Mesa Drive and following it to its end at the NCAR parking lot.   You would end your hike at NCAR by taking the Mesa Trail past Fern Canyon and turning right (east) at the 4 way junction towards the NCAR.

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Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Looking up Bear Peak, Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Top of Bear Peak, Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Pooped at South Boulder Peak, Guardians of the Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

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3 Responses to Guardians of the Flatirons

  1. john

    Your pictures and descriptions are stellar! It’s great to find your site which is a cache of trails to add to my list! I’ve done so many of the Boulder OSMP trails this summer and I look forward to heading west into RMNP and trying some you describe here.
    Maybe I’ll run into you on the trail someday.

  2. Alex

    Just found this out and wanted to let people know: if anyone is doing this and has a dog with them, be aware that you will need to add on another ~0.75 miles because the section of the EM Greenman trail at the top of Green Mountain does not allow dogs: there are several signs posted at the trail split. You will have to take the saddle rock/ranger trail down and then climb back up on the other side of the peak.

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