Mesa Trail - Big Bluestem Trail Loop, South Mesa Trailhead, Boulder - Denver - Golden - Fort Collins - Lyons, Colorado

Mesa Trail - Big Bluestem Trail Loop - 4.35 miles

South Mesa Trailhead

View of the Flatirons from the Bluestem Trail

View of the Flatirons from the Bluestem Trail

Round-Trip Length: 4.35 miles
Start-End Elevation: 5,645' - 5,645' (6,430' max elevation)
Elevation Change: 785' net elevation gain (+841' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy-Moderate
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Mesa Trail - Big Bluestem Trail Loop - 4.35 Miles Round-Trip

The south portion of the Mesa Trail joins the Big Bluestem Trail to form a short but varied loop through Boulder's foothills and open space. Its 2+ miles of wide tracks are well-suited for running and winter recreation, though large portions have been heavily rutted by the 2013 floods.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

Visitors will enjoy good views across the eastern plains, Flatirons and mouth of Eldorado Canyon. The following description travels counter-clockwise:

Cross South Boulder Creek and head northwest past connections for the Homestead and Towhee trails (.15 miles: 5,682'). The stone building to your left is the historic Doudy-DeBacker-Dunn homesite. Sylvester (Andrew) Doudy was the first settler in this area and built the original wooden portion of the house c. 1858.

The Mesa Trail rises steadily past a 2nd connection for the Towhee Trail (.55 miles: 5,799') and South Boulder Creek Trail (.75 miles: 5,803') to the Big Bluestem Trail split (1.0 miles : 5,912').

Bear right on the Big Bluestem Trail, which runs under power lines before veering left onto the Upper Big Bluestem Trail (1.15 miles : 5,915'). The Upper Big Bluestem turns west up a steep, rugged gulch.

Remain alert for mountain lion and bear activity in this narrow, cluttered corridor. Bears are especially active in late summer and fall as berries appear. Anticipate seasonal restrictions, and avoid running or traveling alone at dawn and dusk.

The Upper Big Bluestem joins the Mesa Trail (1.9 miles: 6,276') and turns left (south) on the Mesa to continue the loop. The trail climbs steeply for a short distance before leveling through patchy forest and grassy slopes.

The Mesa passes 3 connections for Shadow Canyon between 2.1 and 2.85 miles, all of which lead to South Boulder Peak.

The trail crests (2.3 miles : 6,430') and tilts down for a long, steady descent on what becomes a wide, groomed service road. The road emerges from the broken forest with sweeping views of the lower foothills and eastern plains. The road-trail glides easily through open space back to its terminus at the South Mesa Trailhead (4.35 miles: 5,645').

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 56.326 W105 15.493 — 0.0 miles South Mesa Trailhead
  • N39 56.388 W105 15.600 — .15 miles: Homestead - Towhee split
  • N39 56.571 W105 15.857 — .55 miles: Towhee Trail split
  • N39 56.721 W105 15.797 — .75 miles: S. Boulder Creek Trail slit
  • N39 56.836 W105 15.967 — 1.0 miles: Big Bluestem split (turn right)
  • N39 56.916 W105 16.031 — 1.15 miles: Upper and Lower Bluestem split (take upper)
  • N39 57.201 W105 16.814 — 1.9 miles: End Bluestem - turn left on Mesa
  • N39 57.083 W105 16.924 — 2.1 miles: Shadow Canyon split #1
  • N39 56.932 W105 16.745 — 2.3 miles: Crest of trail at 6,430'
  • N39 56.804 W105 16.773 — 2.40 miles: Shadow Canyon split #2 - hard left on Mesa
  • N39 56.671 W105 16.604 — 2.75 miles: Shadow Canyon split #3 - bear left on Mesa
  • N39 56.745 W105 16.269 — 3.15 miles: Towhee Trail split- remain on Mesa
  • N39 56.326 W105 15.493 — 4.35 miles: South Mesa Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Area wildlife includes deer, coyote, fox, bear, mountain lion, bobcat, bats, rattlesnakes and numerous raptor species. Be cognizant of wildlife activity updates, warnings and resulting trail closures or usage limitations.

  • Parking lots fill up quickly throughout the year, especially on weekends; arrive early to secure a space. Parking restrictions on Eldorado Springs Road are strictly enforced.

  • 7 picnic tables and a restroom are located at the South Mesa Trailhead. Grills and stoves are prohibited.

Fishing Information

  • Fishing is permitted along South Boulder Creek near the South Mesa Trailhead. A Colorado State Fishing License is required.

Rules and Regulations

  • Dogs must be leashed in the parking lot and trailhead area. Beyond the trailhead, dogs must be leashed unless they meet Voice and Sight Control Standards and display a City of Boulder Voice and Sight Tag.

  • Horses are permitted on the Mesa and Big Bluestem trails. Honor yield protocols.

  • Mountain Bikes are not permitted on the Mesa Trail and Big Bluestem trails.

  • Camping is not permitted in this area.

  • Choke cherry, wild plum, berry, apple or flower picking on open space is illegal and strictly enforced.

Directions to Trailhead

From Boulder, take Broadway south which will turn into HWY 93. Travel 2.6 miles on HWY 93 and make a right onto Eldorado Springs Drive - HWY 170. There is a gas station at the corner. Follow Eldorado Springs Drive - HWY 170 for 1.8 miles towards Eldorado Canyon State Park to the South Mesa Trailhead parking area on the right hand (north) side of the street.

Contact Information

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks
Phone: 303.441.3440

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"Nicely maintained, with flood damage as noted. No wildlife observed; heavy traffic on this weekend morning/afternoon. Great views. Well marked. "
cynthia  -  Michigan  -  Date Posted: October 9, 2016
"Really great experience hiking this well-maintained trail. Parking easy, great varied scenery throughout with a chance to see a wide range of vegetation and incredible colors. Friendly hikers all around, we had a great local guide :-). "
Carolann  -  New Jersey  -  Date Posted: July 22, 2015


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