Hiking the Homestead Trail, Shadow Canyon, and Mesa Trail Loop
On Friday, May 31 I went on a short hike with a friend of mine looping around Homestead Trail and the Mesa Trail, with some added mileage on the Shadow Canyon South Trail. These trails, located in South Boulder, provide lush green scenery at this time of year with beautiful views of the mountains, including the Flatirons, as well as an abundance of wildflowers.
It was a relatively easy hike of 4.15 miles with a total of 800 ft elevation gain.
In this post I reference the City of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) interactive trail map to confirm trail names and distances. This is a nifty feature to use!
In order to do this hike, we parked at the South Mesa Trailhead. We arrived around 8:15 am on a Friday and the parking lot was already busy, but not yet full. When we finished about 2 hours later the parking lot was full and hikers had to park across the street at the Dowdy Draw Trailhead parking lot (which also looked packed). According to my friend, it’s almost impossible to get a parking spot in this area on the weekends unless you come at 7 am. Both trailheads/parking lots have restrooms.
From the parking lot you walk 0.2 miles along the Mesa Trail to reach the Homestead Trail. Near the beginning, you cross a bridge with a refreshing view of South Boulder Creek –
The Homestead Trail is 1.3 miles long and passes by an old homestead that looks recently restored about halfway long the trail.
Even near the start of the trail, the sweeping grassy hills marked by sharp mountains in the background were a beautiful sight.
At this time of year many kinds of wildflowers are blooming, although there were still some varieties that were only still buds. It’s likely this area may have peak wildflower bloom in another week or two – perhaps by mid-June.
These vibrant purple flowers below are a type of Penstemon, perhaps the Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus). It’s a bit hard to tell for sure, considering my Wildflowers of the Rocky Mountain Region guidebook identifies 61 varieties of Penstemon flowers growing in Colorado and the surrounding states. I know for sure it’s not some of them, because they only grow in Wyoming or Utah or Idaho, but of those that grow in Colorado, several look similar.
Continuing on Homestead Trail
Continuing along, I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty of this relatively easy trail.
The trail is well maintained and climbs gently, winding along several verdant hills.
Soon, you start to see peeks of the mountains to the north through the trees.
And the view to the south is still lovely –
A bit further along the trail, you start to see more of the mountains –
And the trail passes through an area shaded by pine trees –
Some more views along the trail –
The Monument Plant, or Frasera speciosa, is a member of the Gentain Family (Gentianaceae). A native plant, it grows throughout much of the western U.S. An interesting fact – these plants may live 20 to 60 years before flowering and dying.
We saw a couple areas along there trail where these plants were flowering.
Shadow Canyon South Trail
There is a 0.2 mile connector trail from Homestead Trail to Shadow Canyon Trail you take by turning left. As you go along Shadow Canyon South Trail, you get closer and closer to the mountains.
And the mountains to the south look like this –
At the next trail junction –
Shadow Canyon South Spur
Although you can hike an extra 1.8 miles from the junction with Shadow Canyon South Spur to go to South Boulder Peak, we were opting for an easy hike this day, so we turned right onto Shadow Canyon South Spur, which is 0.3 miles long and connects to the Mesa Trail. There is a short steep climb that comes out onto an open grassy meadow –
And if you turn around to look at the mountains, it looks like this –
Soon you reach the Mesa Trail. The entire Mesa Trail stretches 6.3 miles up to Chautauqua Park, but the part that we walked on was only about 2 miles long back to the parking lot.
The trail soon gets wide and easy to walk on. It’s so smooth, we even saw a woman pushing a baby carriage up this trail.
As you walk along, if you look back, there are wonderful views of the mountains, including the Flatirons to the far right.
Along the Mesa Trail, an option for going back to the parking lot is the Towhee Trail 0.7 miles down from where you turned onto the Mesa Trail, but we did not take this way. This trail is more narrow and slightly less easy to walk on.
As you continue along the Mesa Trail, you can see even further along the mountain range, beyond the Flatirons.
The rest of the hike downhill was smooth and quick. Instead of following the Mesa Trail directly all the way, near the bottom we took a little bit of a shortcut of 0.1 miles on the Mesa Connector Trail.
Recommended as an Easy Hike
If you’re looking for a relatively easy trek with lovely views of the mountains, I would recommend this hike. Especially at this time of year, and moving into mid-June, the greenery and the wildflowers are a pleasure to see.