Bear Peak Boulder Colorado Hike Guide

The Virtual Sherpa

Bear Peak is a 7 mile out and back located in Boulder, Colorado. To access the summit there is a couple hundred feet of rock scrambles which provide great views into Rocky Mountain National Park, Arapaho National Forest, Boulder and on a clear day, Denver. This hike is great for beginner hikers and families and it does get busy on most days, especially weekends. Bear Peak can be hiked year round with snow on the summit during the winter months.

Bear Peak Quick Facts

Bear Peak Rating: ★★★ (3/5 Stars)

Distance: 7-8 miles RT (depending on trail)

Elevation Start: 5,655 ft

Summit: 8,293 ft

Total Elevation Gain: 2,600 ft

Estimated Time to Complete: 4 Hours RT (2.5 Hours Up, 1.5 Hour down)

Difficulty: Moderate What does this mean?

Class: Class 2 – technically the top has some low class 3 scrambling, but its literally 50 feet

Season: Year Round (Expect Snow October – April)

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Directions to Bear Peak

Traihead: South Mesa trailhead

Getting Here: Bear Peak is most commonly accessed via the South Mesa trailhead or NCAR trailhead.

Both parking areas can be entered directly into your favorite navigation app.

South Mesa Trailhead

NCAR Trailhead

Parking: Free parking is available at the base of the trailhead if you are a Boulder resident. Parking will fill up on most weekends and even some weekdays so be sure to get there early or avoid peak hours on this hike. The parking area does have bathrooms.

Fees: If you are not a Boulder Resident, the fee is $5 at a pay station.


Dogs: Bear Peak does allow dogs. If you plan on bringing yours, bring lots of water as it can get very hot. The trail itself is not terribly taxing for your pawed friend, with the exception of the summit itself. There is a small portion (10-20 yards) of class 3 scrambling that might give a dog some trouble.

Camping: Due to its proximity to Boulder, camping on or near Bear Peak is not allowed.

Make it a Loop: Bear Peak is located in one of Boulder’s many open space parks with a network of other trails. If you are looking to tackle two peaks, you can hike neighboring South Boulder peak. Bear Peak provides a great opportunity to hike two different trails up and down the mountain.

View complete map of NCAR trailhead here

View complete map of South Mesa trailhead here

Trail X Factors: Summit Scramble

Many mountains in Colorado have some sort of rock scramble at the top of the peak. However, the summit of Bear Peak might be my favorite local summit scramble that I have hiked to date. The scramble starts about 30 yards from the peak and is not difficult but can be slippery without the proper shoes. Once you reach the summit, there are several places to sit in the shade and enjoy the 360 degree views.

Hike Tip(s): If hiking Bear Peak in the summer months, get an early or later start to avoid the hot summer sun. Since Colorado is an elevated desert and Bear Peak is almost completely exposed, this hike can get very hot. If unfamiliar with the area, bring a map with you on this hike. This open park has many trails that connect a few different parking areas and it could be easy to get lost without one (raises hand).

Best Views: Bear Peak provides fantastic views into Boulder, Denver and the mountains to the west. However, it also provides a great opportunity to see wildlife along the trail. Bring a couple of lenses to adapt to the situation. Summit views west are my favorite on this hike.

My Trip to Bear Peak: June 2016

Bear Peak is one of my favorite front range hikes to do. It’s close to home, provides great views and can be completed without devoting your whole day to hiking. My last trip to Bear Peak was supposed to be a warm-up hike for a longer one I planned on doing the next day. Funny how that didn’t work out…

I generally start from the South Mesa trailhead because of its proximity to home. Jackie and I arrived to the parking lot around 7AM on a day when the temperature was supposed to flirt with 95 degrees by noon. Our plan was to get in and out before the summer heat arrived. We started on the Homestead Trail which works its way through the open space on the doorstep of Bear Peak. Eventually, we hooked up with the Valley Trail which is my favorite way to summit because it provides lots of shade in a otherwise exposed hike. We reached the 2012 wild fire area and continued our way to the summit where we were joined by 10 or so people and double that amount in chipmunks. The chipmunks on the summit of bear peak are very used to people and will come right up to you expecting their next payday.

The summit views were okay, but not ideal due to a forest fire down in New Mexico . On the way down we decided to take Fern Canyon trail to switch up the pace. As it turns out, this would be the first mistake of the day. The Fern Canyon trail was  great but it was somewhat rockier and steeper than South Mesa trail. I would probably recommend taking it down instead of up, due the large amount of loose rock and worn out trail which could be rather difficult to ascend. On the way down, we choose a few different trails that I was not familiar with and without a map, boy did that turn out poorly for us.

After about an hour of descending, we soon realized we were not in the area we started. As it turns out, we had made it over to the NCAR trailhead and were about 3 miles from where we wanted to be (South Mesa Trailhead). This was perfect because the temperature was now in the mid 90s and we had just run out of water.

Needless to say, the 3 miles we had to trek back to the South Mesa trailhead involved very little speaking between Jackie and I.  The blistering sun was beating down on us and the lack of water was very disheartening.  After a frustrating backtrack towards the south, we reconnected with the South Mesa trail and eventually made our way back to the parking lot. What was supposed to be a quick 7 mile hike turned into a 12 mile detour. I always write my hike reviews and add what gear is needed, but I didn’t follow my own rules on this one unfortunately.  This hike up Bear Peak would have been so much more enjoyable (and shorter) with a water filter and map of the area.

Regardless of my poor decisions on this occasion, Bear Peak is still a great hike for beginner hikers or families. The summit provides a unique opportunity to do some class 3/4 scrambling while rewarding you with great aerial views. The proximity of Bear Peak allows you to enjoy the outdoors without the long drive into mountains and is a hike I will continue to frequent in the future.

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Virtual sherpa provides free trail guides to hikes in Colorado & beyond. Whether you are hiking a "14er," visiting a National Park or trying to plan your next winter trip to the mountains, I have you covered. From virtual trail guides to gear reviews to hiking tips, my website and YouTube channel has it all! Visit my website here: Visit my YouTube Channel here:

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