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N. Fork Shanahan to Fern Canyon To Mesa (B.5)

Description: The Fern Canyon route is an out and back with a small loop at the top, made up of the N. Fork Shanahan, Fern Canyon and Mesa trails.  It sits between popular Chautauqua and South Mesa trailheads and off the beaten path, so it doesn't get the traffic some of the trails do in the foothills.  Shanahan runs up toward the flatirons through open meadow sprinkled with pines and hardwoods on a broad, well-built trail bed.  Fern Canyon is a short, rocky loop that takes you up close to the flatirons and down through a lush fern-lined creek, linking up with the North-South Mesa Trail which will take you back to Shanahan and the trailhead.  About 4.2 miles total, this is a good quiet, morning hike before the sun gets too hot and can make the open Shanahan a little warm.

Difficulty: Middle Intermediate (B.5), 4.2 Miles, 1,000' Elevation, 2.5 Hours.  I hiked this trail with a friend and his dog Cody.  The humans agreed it was a moderately good workout.  Cody, who got to swim in the Shanahan pond at the end thought it was easy.  For visiting hikers I feel this should be an intermediate B.5 (middle of the pack) for the consistent uphill trek of about 1,000' over 1.8 miles, rocky terrain in places on Fern Canyon and the overall 4.2 mile length.  Take extra water and sunblock if it's sunny and hot due to the open terrain on Shanahan.

Driving Directions: 1915 Lehigh St., Boulder, CO  80305.  Take Broadway south from downtown to Table Mesa and turn right (west) heading toward NCAR.  About a 1/2 mile down Table Mesa you will turn left on Lehigh St.  Lehigh runs straight south for a bit and then veers left.  Just past this there will be a median in the middle of the road and Shanahan Ridge Trailhead is on the right.  Google Map directions here...

Parking and Trailhead: Parking along Lehigh St. is permitted.  The trailhead is right on the road.

Click image for Fern Canyon details on Google Maps

Click image for Fern Canyon details on Google Maps

Trail Guide: The trailhead actually starts as connector trail that will merge with N. Fork Shanahan after 0.2 miles.  This connector is a bit rocky, but Shanahan is wide and flat, so don't worry.  Note what the connector looks like as there is no sign post here and when you return you will want to remember to take the connector back to the trailhead.  Shanahan will run gradually uphill its entire length, so take breaks under the shade of a Ponderosa pine and drink lots of water.  After 0.8 miles there is a split where you will stay right for the Shanahan and Mesa trails.  At 1.4 miles you will come to the end of Shanahan and the intersection of Mesa and Fern Canyon trails.  Stay straight here following the sign posting for Fern Canyon.  The trail gets more narrow, rockier and a little steeper from here until you reach Mesa Trail again.  At 1.7 miles the trail will drop down into Fern Canyon.  This section requires a short descent on steep rock steps so take care.  Enjoy the coolness of Fern Canyon for a short time then you will climb back out and at 1.8 miles be at the Fern Canyon split.  This is the highest point of the trail and it is mostly downhill from here.  Turn right on Fern Canyon heading downhill toward Mesa Trail.  At 2.2 miles you will meet Mesa and turn right, heading back uphill for a 1/10 of a mile where you will turn right again at a sign board to continue on Mesa back to Shanahan.  At 2.7 miles you will reconnect with Shanahan at the intersection where you joined Fern Canyon earlier.  Head downhill, retracing your route on wide Shanahan boulevard to the rocky connector trail at 4.0 miles and the trailhead.

Map Resources: EveryTrail MapBoulder Open Space Map

Après Hike: Shanahan can get hot and on hot days when I'm in need of a cold craft beer I tend to lean away from the IPAs and their hoppyness, or the heavier, darker porters and stouts, preferring to cool off with a lighter beer, with citrus notes.  That does NOT include a Bud Lime!  Instead may I recommend a Belgian Wheat?  And there's no better in my book than Avery Brewery's White Rascal, and unfiltered Belgian Wheat with plenty of citrus notes.  Avery is located at their new and awesome brewery at 4910 Nautilus CtBoulder, CO 80301.  They have many award winning beers on tap, a great tour, good grub, and some great people to serve you.  Avery remains my favorite brewer in Boulder.  

Picnicking: None.

Restrooms:  No.

Dog Friendly: Yes.

Cell Sevice: Yes.