Bear Peak belongs to the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It is near Boulder, between the Flatirons & South Boulder Peak. It is a recognizable landmark when viewing the foothills from afar, is just minutes away from Boulder, has some beautiful hikes, and has a great view of Boulder, the Great Plains, and even Denver (in the distance).
Two main trailheads are used to access Bear Peak:
I) NE trailhead- NCAR: take Table Mesa Dr. W to its terminus, and park at NCAR
II) SE trailhead- Mesa Trail: go to the town of Marshall (S of Boulder on highway 93), and take highway 170 (Eldorado Springs Dr.) W for 1.7 mi. There will be a dirt road turnoff on the R; take this down from the road to the parking lot
From the 2 trailheads listed, various paths will get you to the summit
from NCAR: take the Walter Orr Roberts trail (the interpretive trail starting a short ways from the parking lot) to its end, then take the trail down the hill to where the trails branch, where you can take:
- Bear Canyon -> Bear Peak W Ridge -> summit (4 mi one-way)
- Fern Canyon -> summit (3 mi one-way)
TRAIL MAP- NCAR trailhead
from the Mesa Trail trailhead:
- take 1 of 3 beginning trails- Homestead, Towhee, or Mesa (my favorite is probably the Towhee)- to their convergence at the Shadow Canyon trail, to the summit (all about 4 mi one-way)
TRAIL MAP (+ cool area historical 411)- Mesa Trail trailhead
For the most part, no red tape- free parking, & no permits required. True to its name though, there are black bears in the area (as well as some mountain lions, even though I haven't heard of any of them being a concern). During very dry years, usually in the fall before hibernation, some of these critters come down to lower elevations to get their fixin's. When this happens, the rangers post signs and clearly mark the trails off limits to local Homo sapiens (usually a little ways up the mountain)- you'll know. During one of these years a large pile of bear crap, berries and all, was unloaded right at the base of one of these signs, seemingly to verify its validity!
When To Climb
This hike can be done any time of the year, but is the most pleasant in the autumn, when it is dry, and not too hot (note: this area is dry frequently, even in the winter, so be ready then, too!)
As this is an excursion requiring anywhere from a few hours to half a day tops, camping is not an issue.
Another reason for making sure not to camp out there is that "no camping is allowed in the Boulder Mountain Parks sphere of influence." (this pointed out by Jon Bradford.
Typically, just look at the skies above Boulder! While there are sometimes variances, the weather is often the same on the mountain as it is in town.
Devil's Thumb is a rock pillar on the Bear Peak massif, visible from many places in Boulder. It can be accessed from the Shadow Canyon trail. Due to its phalic likeness from afar, it is also popularly known as the 'Boulder Boner.' Rock-climbing routes exist on this geologic anomaly.
Jon Bradford reports that the Thumb is off limits January through July due to raptor mating.
Get done with your cruise up Bear Peak early, and jonesin' to get your climb on? Well then hop back onto HIghway 170, and drive towards the mountains! Another 6 miles or so down the road you'll run smack dab into Eldorado Canyon, or 'Eldo,' one of Colorado's climbing meccas. Definitely have your skills dialed at the rating you want to climb. Some of Eldorado's most classic climbs are known for their run-out (and sometimes questionable) protection. A guide to the area is Rock Climbing Eldorado Canyon, by Richard Rossiter (another Falcon guide).