Boulder – Mt. Sanitas via Sunshine Canyon & Lion’s Lair Trails in Summer

Hiking Mt. Sanitas via Sunshine Canyon & Lion’s Lair Trails in Summer

As I mentioned before when I wrote about hiking this trail in winter, Lion’s Lair Trail is one of my favorite trails in Boulder.

The Hike

This hike includes both Lion’s Lair Trail and Sunshine Canyon Trail to make for a 7.3-mile moderate out-and-back trek to the summit of Mt. Sanitas.

You start out at Centennial Trailhead, where there is a fair amount of parking. However, it is busier in the summer months. I got one of the last parking spots available at 6:30 am. Although, I do think most visitors only do the 2.6-mile Mt. Sanitas Trail out-and-back, and finish relatively quickly.

Sunshine Canyon Trail is located just up the hill on the right side of the parking lot. After following Sunshine Canyon Trail for 1.2 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

Sunshine Canyon Trail is sunny in the mornings and shady in the evenings. In the early morning, when I started, it was still quite shaded.

Sunshine Canyon Trail Boulder Colorado

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.

When I hiked this trail in late May, there were many different kinds of wildflowers in bloom.

Wildflowers on Sunshine Canyon Trail Boulder Colorado

Lion’s Lair Trail

At mile 1.2 you cross the road and head up some stairs to start the trek along Lion’s Lair Trail.  Lion’s Lair in particular is one of my favorite trails in Boulder. There’s just something lovely about the forest and how, as you gently and steadily climb, you gradually see more and more of the surrounding mountains and beyond.

Lion's Lair Trail Boulder Colorado

The trail features several switchbacks through a shady Ponderosa Pine forest, and passes through a couple open meadows.

Lion's Lair Trail Boulder Colorado

Views looking back at the other Boulder mountains –

Lion's Lair Trail Boulder Colorado

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 view from the summit of Mt. Sanitas.

Lion's Lair Trail Boulder Colorado

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.

Lion's Lair Trail Boulder Colorado

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 –

Mt. Sanitas Boulder Summit View

Looking north from the summit –

Mt. Sanitas Boulder Summit View

Looking out at the city below –

Mt. Sanitas Boulder Summit View

The Return Journey

The return hike along Lion’s Lair Trail is gentle and features views of the Boulder mountains.

Lion's Lair Trail Boulder Colorado

By the time I hiked back along Sunshine Canyon Trail, it was quite sunny.

Sunshine Canyon Trail Boulder Colorado

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. It can be a refreshing hike on a summer morning, as you pass through shaded forest areas along the way.

A couple points to note about this hike during the coronavirus pandemic – (1) Lion’s Lair Trail has increased in popularity since the start of the pandemic, (2) the trail is relatively narrow, so you have to step to the side of the trail to allow others to pass, and (3) because it’s narrow, it’s definitely necessary to wear a face covering/ mask when 6 ft of distance cannot be maintained for your safety and the safety of others.

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