Mt. Sanitas via Sunshine Canyon & Lion’s Lair Trails
The 5-mile loop hike of Mt. Sanitas via Sunshine Canyon and & Lion’s Lair Trails is one of my favorite hikes in Boulder. However, it had just snowed, the trails were quite icy, and I didn’t want to have to deal with that along the very steep Mt. Sanitas Trail. Instead, I hiked to the summit of Mt. Sanitas along Sunshine Canyon Trail, and one of my all-time-favorite Boulder trails – Lion’s Lair Trail. In comparison, this hike was 7.3 miles long. Hiking these trails in the snow was a new experience for me, and brought out the beauty of the trails in a whole new way.
You start out at Centennial Trailhead, where there is a fair amount of parking, and you can usually get a spot on a weekday. Sunshine Canyon Trail is located just up the hill on the right side of the parking lot. After following Sunshine Canyon Trail for 1.3 miles, you hike another 2.4 miles up Lion’s Lair Trail to get to the summit of Mt. Sanitas (6,863′).
When you look at the official mileage of the trails on the Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks website it says Sunshine Canyon is 1.1 miles long, and Lion’s Lair is 2.7 miles long. I’m going by the mileage my Suunto Traverse GPS watch logged.
Sunshine Canyon Trail
The start of Sunshine Canyon Trail –
This trail winds along next to Sunshine Canyon Drive. You climb up gradually to the point where you are looking down on the road, and then back down again, because you need to cross the street to connect with Lion’s Lair Trail.
Microspikes were enough to walk along this path, even in the relatively fresh snow.
Note – after the snow melts, Sunshine Canyon Trail can get quite muddy.
Lion’s Lair Trail
At mile 1.3 you cross the road and head up some stairs to start the trek along Lion’s Lair Trail. As I mentioned before, Lion’s Lair is one of my favorite trails in Boulder. There’s just something lovely about the forest and how, as you gently and steadily climb, gradually see more and more of the surrounding mountains and beyond.
The views were a different type of magical with all the snow.
The trail features several switchbacks through a Ponderosa Pine forest, and passes through a couple open meadows.
When I hiked this time, there were beautiful icicle formations on the rocks –
My Favorite View
At about 3.2 miles into the hike, you reach my favorite view on the hike. I love this spot even more than the summit of Mt. Sanitas. Although on this day the clouds obscured them, on a clear day you can see all the way to the Indian Peaks in the distance. I usually stop here to enjoy the view while eating a snack.
From this point, it is about half a mile to the summit of Mt. Sanitas.
First Viewpoint of Boulder
Soon after you start walking along the ridge line, you pass by a viewpoint of the City of Boulder down below. This can be a good spot to stop and enjoy the views if you think the summit of Mt. Sanitas is too crowded, even though the views are not as expansive.
Continuing along the ridge line –
Summit of Mt. Sanitas (6,863′)
After 3.7 miles of hiking, you reach the summit of Mt. Sanitas and it’s iconic Boulder views.
Looking south toward the Flatirons/Green Mountain –
Looking north from the summit –
The Return Journey
Lion’s Lair Trail
Lion’s Lair Trail is truly a joy to hike in both directions. As you head down, you are treated to constant peeks of the mountains –
Sunshine Canyon Trail
On a winter afternoon Sunshine Canyon Trail is more shadowy than sunny, as the hills obscure the receding sunlight. But you still get some sunny patches –
Recommended as a Moderate Hike
The 7.3-mile option of hiking Mt. Sanitas via Sunshine Canyon and Lion’s Lair Trails out-and-back is now one of my favorite hikes in Boulder. You get the elevation gain of hiking Mt. Sanitas, while also getting to enjoy the beautiful views of Lion’s Lair Trail, and some good hiking mileage to boot. Especially when it’s icy in winter, I think it’s better to go on this route than doing the 5-mile loop with the Mt. Sanitas Trail, as the Mt. Sanitas Trail is very steep and I’d worry about my footing there.