Hike of the Month: The Skyline2Mesa Loop

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Boulder’s classic trail challenge, the Skyline Traverse, is a bucket-list feat for many hikers. And why wouldn’t it be? The opportunity to summit Boulder’s five beautiful peaks in one day is hard to pass up. At 16 miles and 6,000 feet of elevation gain, it’s an intense physical challenge and a great way to experience the best of Boulder’s trail system.

As enticing as it is, the Skyline Traverse has its drawbacks. The one-way route requires hikers to do a car drop or arrange a ride at the end point. And the inclusion of Mount Sanitas (the smallest of the five peaks) makes for some tricky off-trail connections.

Enter the Skyline2Mesa Loop. As the name suggests, this route is a combination of the Skyline Traverse plus the Mesa Trail. It begins and ends at Chautauqua Trailhead (no need to arrange a pickup) and it conveniently omits Mount Sanitas. Instead, this hike encompasses Boulder’s four contiguous peaks in one perfect 15-mile loop. At moderate hiking pace (about 30-minute miles) with some summit breaks, the Skyline2Mesa Loop takes about eight hours. It’s everything you love about the Skyline Traverse and nothing you don’t.

Ready to tackle it? Read on for everything you need to know about hiking the Skyline2Mesa Loop.

Skyline2Mesa Loop. Photo by Alli Fronzaglia

Plan It

This is a strenuous hike that requires adequate training and navigation. Breaking the route down into smaller sections will strengthen your legs and lungs while familiarizing you with the trails. Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks provides an interactive map, trail information and a listing of temporary closures to help you in this pursuit.

Skyline2Mesa Loop. Photo by Alli Fronzaglia

Gear Up

As always, be sure to pack the ten hiking essentials. Comfortable, sturdy trail shoes are a must. Trekking poles can take pressure off the knees and ankles, especially on steep descents. Foot traction may be needed from October through May.

Skyline2Mesa Loop. Photo by Alli Fronzaglia

Hike It

The Skyline2Mesa Loop begins and ends at Chautauqua Trailhead.

Head west on Baseline Trail toward your first summit: Flagstaff Mountain (7,283 feet). At approximately 0.5 miles, you’ll pass over Gregory Creek and arrive at Gregory Canyon Trailhead. Take Gregory Canyon Trail for a short stretch and turn right onto Crown Rock Trail. Crown Rock switchbacks up the hillside for 0.6 miles and connects to Flagstaff Trail. Continue on Flagstaff Trail to the junction with Ute and Rangeview trails. This is the Flagstaff Summit area. Though it’s rather anticlimactic compared with Boulder’s other summits, you’ve now completed your first peak of the day.

Onward to Green Mountain (8,144 feet). Take Ute Trail for 0.6 miles to Realization Point, cross the road and continue past the fire gate toward Green Mountain Lodge. You’ll soon reach the intersection for the EM Greenman and Ranger Trails. Bear right for Ranger Trail. Continue for 1.4 miles to the saddle and then turn left for the final 0.3 miles to the summit. Take a moment to check out the peak finder atop the large boulder. You’ve now bagged your second summit of the day.

Next up is Bear Peak (8,461 feet). Descend Green’s summit as you came. At the saddle, take Green Mountain West Ridge for 0.3 miles to the junction with Green Bear Trail. Turn left onto Green Bear and enjoy the gentle 1.5-mile descent to Bear Creek. Take a right onto Bear Peak West Ridge Trail and be prepared for some serious incline. Continue on Bear Peak West Ridge for two grueling but beautiful miles to the summit. If you’re not afraid of heights, enjoy the rocky scramble to the summit marker and the 360-degree views. Your third summit is done.

South Boulder Peak (8,549 feet) is the grand finale. Fortunately, it’s only 0.6 miles away. Return to the west side of Bear Peak and head south on the connector trail. Continue over the saddle and onto the windswept summit of South Boulder Peak, the highest point in the city of Boulder. It’s time to celebrate. You’ve just bagged four peaks. Be sure to refuel and recharge here, because you’re not done yet.

To complete the full loop and return to the trailhead, retreat to the saddle and take Shadow Canyon for 1.3 miles. This rugged descent can be difficult on the joints, so take extra care. When you reach the fork near the bottom of the canyon, bear left onto Shadow Canyon North for 0.6 miles and connect with the Mesa Trail. This is your final stretch.

Mesa is the backbone of the western portion of Boulder’s trail system. It’s intersected by multiple trails, so be sure to heed the signs and stay on route. In approximately 3.5 miles, you’ll reach the Bluebell Road. Take Bluebell for a half mile to return to Chautauqua Trailhead.

Skyline2Mesa Loop. Photo by Alli Fronzaglia

Bonus

Unlike most trailheads, Chautauqua has amenities galore. You’ll find everything you’d want at the end of a long hike: real restrooms, a seasonal ice cream shop and a full-service restaurant. Boom. Congratulations on completing the Skyline2Mesa Loop.

Skyline2Mesa Loop. Photo by Alli Fronzaglia

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