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Shadow Canyon (G.2 to B.5)

Description: Like a velvety Cabernet, this hike can be considered very complex.  It moves from wide gravel pathways, through single track, into rocky goat track, to fire road, single track again and back to gravel pathway.  The terrain varies from open valley pasture covered in wildflower, to pine forest, rocky foothills, mountain vistas, and deep vegetation.  It is an ever-changing and beautifully diverse hike.  Additionally, there are several interconnecting trails that can completely change the hike and can be used as cutoffs to shorten and ease the adventure.  

Difficulty: Easy (G.2) to Intermediate (B.5), Up To 6 Miles, Up To 1,120' Elevation, 1.5 to 4 Hours.  I've labeled it as mapped as an intermediate (B.5) hike primarily because of length, altitude gain, some rocky terrain at it's highest elevations, and exposure during hot summer days.  As shown it is 6.0 miles with 1120' of elevation gain.  By hiking earlier in the morning or on cool days, taking one of the cutoff trails to avoid higher elevations, and returning on the Mesa Trail instead of the Towhee single track, this trail can easily be traversed as a G.2-3.  An easier loop of this area can be found in the Homestead hike on this website

Shadow Canyon loop elevation profile

Driving Directions: 4111 Eldorado Springs Dr, Boulder, CO 80303.  Fifteen minutes from downtown Boulder.  Take Broadway (CO 93) south from Canyon Rd toward Golden. At 5.2 miles turn right at the traffic light onto Edorado Springs Dr. heading west toward Eldorado Springs and Eldorado Canyon State Park.  After 1.7 miles you will find the South Mesa parking area on the right.  Google Map directions here...

Parking: South Mesa Parking Area. There are plenty of spaces here and across the street at the Dowdy Draw trailhead, but it can still get crowded in the summer and on weekends.  $5 fee for non-Boulder registered vehicles.

Trailhead: Follow the main trail across the two bridges spanning South Boulder Creek and then look for signs to the left for Homestead Trail.

Click image for Shadow Canyon detail on Google Maps

Click image for Shadow Canyon detail on Google Maps

Trail Guide: Because there are a lot of trails and options on this hike and it can get confusing I highly recommend that you take a good map or GPS with you.  If you don't have a GPS app with downloadable maps such as Everytrail, the Boulder Open Space Map (below) is a good hardcopy option to carry with you.

Look for the connector link to the Homestead trail near the old stone Dunn House after 0.2 miles.  Follow the Homestead trail to where it intersects with Mesa Trail at 1.7 miles.  If you are tired at this point, you can turn right and follow Mesa back to the trailhead, or use it to connect to Towhee, a rugged single track cutoff which will put you on Mesa closer to the trailhead (G.2).  However, to continue on the trail, turn left on Mesa toward Shadow Canyon.  At 2.0 miles you will arrive at the split of Mesa and Shadow Canyon trails.  Stay left on Shadow Canyon.  As you make your way up Shadow Canyon you will meet up with a connector trail back to Mesa at 2.4 miles.  Big decision point.  This connector is .3 miles long, but will cut off about 1.7 miles of trail and avoid the steepest, rockiest sections of the loop.  To take the cutoff follow the sign to Mesa Trail, then skip ahead in this guide until you see (Alternate Route Reentry) below.  Using the cutoff cuts the challenge rating to a (G.3).  Stay on Shadow Canyon to complete the full 6.0 mile loop.  You will come upon an old building at the 2.9 mile point.  Here the wide track narrows to single track, crosses a stream, and intersects with Shadow Canyon North trail.  From here Shadow Canyon to the left begins a very steep climb up to Bear and South Peaks, so we will smartly avoid that nightmare and turn right toward Mesa Trail.  

Shadow Canyon North meets up with Mesa Trail at the 3.7 mile point.  Here you will turn right toward South Mesa Trailhead.  At 4.1 miles you will meet the connector trail you passed at 2.4 miles.  Continue on Mesa Trail.  (Alternate Route Reentry - if you took the shorter route here you will turn right on Mesa Trail).  Soon you will retracing your route on Mesa and meet up again with the intersection of Homestead Trail at 4.6 miles.  Do not head back down Homestead, opting to stay on Mesa.  You will find the beginning of the Towhee trail at the 4.9 mile point.  Towhee is the trail mapped in this loop, but it is rocky single track that was affected somewhat by the 2013 flooding.  If you would prefer, you can stay on the smoother, wider albeit a bit longer Mesa to the trailhead, just stay to the right on Mesa if you come to any intersections, heading downhill toward the horse farm and the trailhead.  If you take Towhee, it will eventually merge again with Mesa.  Turn right to get back to the trailhead at 6.0 miles.

Map Resources: EveryTrail MapBoulder Open Space Map

Après Hike: Since you are in south Boulder, Southern Sun is a must.  Part of Mountain Sun brewery, they offer some of the best craft brew in the Front Range and have a great menu of burgers and such to compliment.  Their Colorado Kind Ale, a Rocky Mountain hoppy amber along with the S.O.B Burger are well-deserved after a workout on this trail.

Picnicking: At trailhead.

Restrooms:  Also at trailhead.

Dog Friendly: Yes, except on Towhee.

Cell Service: Good coverage in most places.