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Lion's Lair (G.3)

Description:  On my first hike up the newly constructed Lion's Lair Trail in 2015 I met a group of trail stewards finishing up the last section where the LLT meets the Mt. Sanitas Ridge Trail.  The only thing I could say was, "This is without question the best trail in the City of Boulder!"  They didn't disagree.  And it is.  Long, winding switchbacks reduce the incline to a very manageable hike for just about anyone who wants to stand atop Mt Sanitas.  Unlike the two alternate approaches to Sanitas, Mt. Sanitas Ridge Trail (1,300' over 1.4 very rugged miles) and Mt. Sanitas East Ridge Trail (800' in less than a mile), Lion's Lair has a much smoother grade, more shade, and better views of the divide.  While mostly pine forest and rocky terrain, you will be surprised with hidden meadows, sightings of deer, fox, and if you are lucky, perhaps a mountain lion.  But, regardless of the terrain the OSMP (Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks) has created in the LLT what I believe is arguably the best constructed trail in Boulder County.  It's definitely not one to miss! 

The "San" after its construction in 1896 with Mt. Sanitas in the background. - not by author

The "San" after its construction in 1896 with Mt. Sanitas in the background. - not by author

Boulder Trivia!  Most locals pronounce Sanitas with the emphasis on the second syllable, San-EE-tas.  However, those wise hikers like you know that Mt Sanitas was named for the sanitarium, the "San", that was built near the junction of Mapleton and 4th St in 1896, and that the correct pronunciation, like sanitarium, is to put the emphasis on the first syllable, SAN-ee-tas.  The word Sanitas is latin for 'health'.   

Difficulty: Moderately Easy (G.3), 4.8 Miles, 867' Total Elevation Gain, 2-3 Hours  Lion's Lair Trail is an example of how new hiking trails should be built.  It's smooth, leveraging long, flowing switchbacks, and makes the climb to Mt Sanitas not only very doable, but gorgeous as well.  There are several places to stop on the 2.3 mile ascent to rest and even have lunch if you desire.  The moderately easy rating comes from the almost 900' of total elevation gain and close to 5 mile round trip distance.  Of the hikes to any of the four main peaks of Boulder (Mt Sanitas, Green Mountain, Bear Peak, and South Boulder Peak), this one is by far the easiest.  

If you are looking for a more challenging and longer hike of Mt. Sanitas that includes Lion's Lair, check out our Lion's Lair and Mt. Sanitas Ridge Loop!

Driving, Parking and Trailhead Directions: 1929 Sunshine Canyon Dr, Boulder, CO 80302.  Ten minutes by car.  Head north on Broadway to Mapleton Ave and turn left (west).  Enjoy historic Mapleton Ave with homes built between the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Mapleton Ave turns into Sunshine Canyon Dr. just past the old hospital at 4th St.  Continue up Sunshine Canyon Dr. for 1.8 miles to where the road makes a tight U-turn to the left.  Just at the turn there will be a pull off parking area on the right.  The trailhead is easily seen from the parking area.  Google Map directions here...

Click image for Google Maps detail

Click image for Google Maps detail

Trail Guide:  Since there is not yet, as of July 2015, any signage marking the trail name I shall dub thee trail the Lion's Lair Connector, as it meets up with the Lion's Lair Trail after 0.2 miles.  At the juncture of the connector trail and the LLT turn left and continue uphill.  I felt the connector trail was steeper than the LLT and the rest of the hike was a much gentler ascent.

You are now officially on the Lion's Lair Trail.  The LLT got its name because you can sometimes see mountain lion in the area.  If you see one you are very, very lucky.  (If you are worried about coming across a lion, check out the facts on bears and lions on the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website.)  After another 2.2 miles you are almost to the top of Mt Sanitas, where you will connect with the Mt. Sanitas Ridge trail.  Turn left on the MSRT and you will very quickly find yourself looking over Boulder and beyond into the great prairie of Eastern Colorado.  Rest here and enjoy the views.  Below the overlook you can see parts of the Dakota Ridge and Sanitas Valley Trails, other trails which can be found on Beyond Boulder here...

For your return, head back down from whence you came, taking the right turnoff for the LLT.  Return to the connector trail split and turn right, heading downhill to the parking area.

Map Resources:  EveryTrail Map.  You won't yet, as of summer 2015, find Lion's Lair on any of the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Park maps.  It's just too new.  

Après Hike: Everyone makes mistakes, right?  That's the story I'm sticking with when people ask me how I went so long without finding Brü on East Arapahoe in Boulder.  Not only is their craft beer top notch, it's brewed to pair with their great eats.  That's because Ian Clark, owner and head beer chef, started out as a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute.  Try a flight with a crispy Bahn Mi or chili and stout glaze wings matched with a beautiful Rigley Red Rye IPA on their awesome happy hour.  Brü is located at 5290 Arapahoe Ave, Boulder, CO 80303

Picnicking: None.  A good picnic option is to head back toward town on Mapleton and turn left (north) on 9th.  After a few blocks you will come to North Boulder Park which has shelters and plenty of picnic tables.

Restrooms: No.

Dog Friendly: No. Dogs are not permitted on the Lion's Lair trail so as to protect the abundance of wildlife you will see there.  Please respect and protect our wildlife!

Cell Service: Spotty in the canyon.