South Fork Shanahan Ridge Trail to Mesa Trail to North Fork Shanahan Ridge Trail
Living in Boulder is all about the trails. Hiking is exercise, recreation, a way to socialize, explore, confront your fears, and take loads and loads of scenic photos. Living at the base of a mountain, I understand now Monet’s repetitive painting of haystacks; like the constantly changing light he attempted to capture with oil paint, I find myself using a camera to explore the ever shifting cloud formations and effects of the sun on an otherwise unchanging subject. A favorite muse is Bear Peak, regularly featured on my Instagram feed. But getting into the mountains or on the mesa trails offer even more subjects to explore via the lens — from wide-open vistas, to layers upon layers of mountains, pine-lined paths, and majestic boulders.

With technology making it so easy to slip a camera (in the form of an iPhone) into a pack or pocket, documenting the trail becomes as much fun as hiking it. [Not to mention that on high altitude inclines stopping to take a photo is a great excuse to just catch your breath!]

Not all days and times yield the best light for photos, but Boulder weather is nearly always ideal for a hike. Late afternoon last Friday (February 1, 2013) had us at the foot of Bear Peak exploring the north and south forks of the Shanahan Trail which connect via a short portion of the Mesa Trail.

Loop trail route: Shanahan Ridge and Mesa Trails
Starting at an access point off Lehigh Street, the South Fork Shanahan Trail winds up into the foothills, the last 3/4 miles before it reaches the Mesa Trail offering quite a steep incline. Things then level off a bit for the 1/2 mile stretch of the Mesa Trail before gently sloping downhill on the North Fork Shanahan Trail. According to the Boulder OSMP trail maps, this particular loop runs roughly 4.2 miles.

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO
We started off at 3:30pm (MST), and at this time of year the sun was already low in the sky and approaching the front range. A sliver of Bear Peak peeks through a break in the trail.

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO
The first mile of the South Fork Shanhan Trail is an easy incline that transports you through a lovely savannah filled with ponderosa pines.

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO
Large boulders are also common and decorated by nature in an array of colored lichen.

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO
The weather was comfortably temperate despite the early February date, and while a thin layer of snow covered some spots in the trail, most was clear and the overall hike could be carefully traversed in hiking sneakers.

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO
Several clearings offering stunning views of Bear Peak. The trail seen here is the continuation of the south fork of the Shanahan Trail at the point where it connects to the north fork.

South Fork Shanahan Trail  - Boulder, CO
A distinguishing feature of ponderosa pine is its interesting bark. Older trees have a cinnamon-red bark with black crevices, while younger trees have black to reddish-brown bark.

Boulder View from Mesa Trail
Once on the short stretch of the Mesa Trail that connects the two forks of the Shanahan Trail, you can get wide vista views of Boulder and parts north.

Mesa Trail
This stretch of the Mesa Trail continues to wind upward with Ranger-built stairs on portions of the trail.

North Fork Shanahan Trail
Once back on the North Fork of the Shanahan Trail, the path is well graded and slopes moderately downhill providing some help from gravity for the last half of the trip.

North Fork Shanahan Trail
More ponderosa pines and large intriguing boulders provide plenty of visual interest. Perhaps because this is well traveled path favored by joggers and dog walkers, thus far we’ve encountered no wildlife except for the sound of the occasional bird.

View of Green Mountain from North Fork Shanahan Trail
Occasional breaks in the trees to the northwest provide glimpses of Green Mountain out of which the iconic Boulder Flatirons arise.

Bear Peak from North Fork Shanahan Trail

Bear Peak from North Fork Shanahan Trail
As the North Fork rounds back toward the South Fork, my favorite subject, Bear Peak, once again comes into full view.

South Boulder Peak from North Fork Shanahan Trail
Looking south as the trail completes its loop, the range now includes South Boulder Peak as the sun and clouds paint the sky nearing their finale for the day.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4 using the Camera+ app and the OlloClip wide angle lens

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