At 8,549 ft., South Boulder Peak is the highest summit in the Boulder Mountain Parks network. When viewed from Boulder, South Boulder Peak’s summit is hidden by the triangular summit of 8,461 ft. Bear Peak -- an illusion of perspective that makes Bear seem like the higher mountain. Along with 8,144 ft. Green Mountain, this trio of peaks makes up the “Guardians of the Flatirons”, the summits that tower over the iconic rock formations.
What Makes It Great
South Boulder Peak rises from the foothills and grants passage through three distinct eco-systems and a dramatic burn zone. It’s a steep, non-technical hike that offers a great workout and sees relatively low traffic. Views from the summit are amazing, especially during the winter. Locals often use South Boulder Peak as a training destination as they prepare for bigger mountains.
South Boulder Peak sees much less traffic than its two brethren mountains, mostly because the trailhead is 10 minutes out of town (compared to being right in town) and it’s a slightly longer hike -- 8.5 miles round trip with 3,100 feet of elevation gain. Yet, it may be the most beautiful of the three. Starting at the South Mesa Trailhead in the community of Eldorado, the standard route starts out on grassy meadows and ascends past old homesteads to the Shadow Canyon trail, a rocky, wooded path. In 2012 a wildfire blazed across the top of this trail, creating an eerie, spectacular burn zone. The last 0.4 miles to the summit meanders through this burn zone and tops out just above treeline in a jumble of large boulders. Many hikers opt to link over to Bear Peak (about 25 minutes peak-to-peak) and connect with some of the other descent trails rather than simply hike up and down on the same trail.
The scenery from start to finish is impressive. Shadow Canyon is a special treat thanks to the ever-looming presence of the enormous walls of the Flatirons on the north side of the trail. The 2012 burn zone is on its way to recovery but still has a creepy aura -- hike it on a foggy day for maximum ambiance!
Who is Going to Love It
Hikers who want a strong workout without going to high altitude and those simply wanting to experience a wonderful mountain hike without much of a drive. South Boulder can be linked to both Bear Peak and Green Mountain, making for an epic day right in town. And as mentioned, the views from the top are amazing -- the skyscrapers of Denver, Pikes Peak and Longs Peak are all visible on a clear day.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Go to rt. 170 off of Highway 36, or rt. 93. Take 170 in the direction of Eldorado Springs. From the 93 junction, it is two miles to the Mesa Trail parking lot on the right. Take a short trail, and follow signs to the Mesa trail. The trail winds around, with adequate signs for a couple miles. At the top of the first steep hill there is a fork. One way goes to S. Mesa trail, if you turn right. You need to go straight, and you will curve around and pass a cabin, and then a stream. You are now at the bottom of Shadow Canyon, where the real steep hiking begins. Follow this trail to the saddle between South Boulder and Bear Peaks and turn left for the summit.