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Left Hand Canyon
Boulder County, Colorado
Roosevelt National Forest
Boulder Ranger District
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map

Forest Service Roads: 286, 286C, 286E
Trail Type: Straight Through
Nearby Towns: Boulder, Longmont
Nearby Trails: Carnage Canyon, Gillespie Gulch, Castle Gulch, Fireman Hill
Season: Year Round
Trail Length: 4.36 miles
Elevation: 6,164 to 7,722 feet
Named Obstacles: Old Playground, Big Momma Hill, The Squeeze

Recommended by Ryan H.

As of 2005 the trail does not continue up to Fairview Peak. The maze of trails in the Playground were also closed and one single trail was created, put in place with fencing. There is only one hill left in the Playground, now called the Old Playground.

As of 2008, the "Lower Carnage" portion of the Carnage Canyon trail is permanently closed. The "Upper Carnage" portion remains open but it is now included with the Left Hand Canyon trail description. In addition, the portion of the trail continuing uphill from the top of the Old Playground was closed and there is now only one path up Big Momma Hill. Lastly, the optional, steep way up Left Hand Canyon from Five Points is closed.

The first 0.2 miles of the trail is shared with people working their way to the old Carnage Canyon trailhead, though this section is not difficult. There is parking at the old trailhead and you can continue on foot only. This is a popular shooting area. Continue past the parking area to stay on Left Hand Canyon.

You work your way uphill around some corners, and soon the trail will continue straight or go slightly right and up a hill. If you go up the hill to the right you will be at the base of Big Momma Hill on forest service road 286C (if you wish to continue straight, see the section later in this description). This is a spur off of Left Hand Canyon and you can connect back to the main trail at the top.

Big Momma Hill is a very long, very steep and often very challenging hill. There are very few places where your vehicle will be level, so expect to tackle it all at once, often with momentum. There is one path up the steep hill marked with posts and cable. Some of the sections of the hill are the most difficult parts of the entire trail, and many vehicles will have issues. This hill is especially challenging for dirt bikes.

At the top of Big Momma Hill it levels off and soon you arrive at the top of the "Old Playground" where there is a lot of parking room. You can no longer continue up the hill past this point, so you must turn left and go downhill, down the Old Playground. It is a steep hill with some big ruts that require careful tire placement. At the bottom of the hill you intersect with forest service road 286, the main part of the trail.

If you decide to skip Big Momma Hill you can stay on forest service road 286 from the trailhead all the way to Five Points, a large area where many trails meet. This section of the trail is fairly easy and it's a good way to skip the toughest section of the trail.

When you reach Five Points you will see six trails leading away from this intersection marked with a kiosk. If you are facing the kiosk, these are the trails as you spin in a clockwise direction, with the first one listed directly to your right.

  1. The trail directly to the right of the kiosk is a short spur that dead ends in a very short distance, with very little room to turn around. It is marked as forest service road 843.1A.

  2. The next trail to the right previously took you on an alternate path up Left Hand Canyon but it is now closed to motor vehicles, forest service road 843.

  3. The next trail to the right is the main trail for Left Hand Canyon, forest service road 286. See the description for this trail below.

  4. The next trail over is Upper Carnage, forest service road 286E.

  5. The next trail is opposite of the kiosk and is the start of the Fireman Hill trail, forest service road 286D.

  6. The final trail is directly to the left of the kiosk and is the lower section of Left Hand Canyon, how you got to the kiosk.

To continue along the Left Hand Canyon trail you can either take the regular trail or Upper Carnage. Upper Carnage is more difficult as it follows a rocky riverbed before it snakes up a few easy switchbacks to meet the easier section of the Left Hand Canyon trail. The intersection is just before the only obstacle without a bypass, The Squeeze.

The Squeeze is a fun slab of rocks that tips your vehicle off to one side. There is plenty of room to turn around if you decide it's too much for you and your vehicle. It gets a bit more dug out every year, making it more difficult. It was called The Squeeze because of a tree that you had to squeeze by on your way through the obstacle but that tree has been cut down. The obstacle is still challenging but it's not the danger to your vehicle's top as it used to be.

Continue along the trail and soon you will come to an open, flat area with another kiosk. The information on this kiosk is the same as the other kiosk. If you are facing this upper kiosk and spin in a clockwise direction, these are the trails with the first one listed directly to your right.

  1. The first trail to the right of the kiosk is the top of Fireman Hill, forest service road 286E. It is typically run so that you end at this point, but you can run it in either direction. It is a short distance from here to the Fireman Hill overlook, and that is worth checking out.

  2. The next trail is the one you just came up, the latest section of Left Hand Canyon.

  3. The final trail is directly to the left of the kiosk, and this is the trailhead for the Castle Gulch trail.

To get back to pavement you must return the way you came as Castle Gulch no longer goes all the way out.

You may see references to "Axle Biter" and other obstacles that no longer exist. These remain on the site for historical reference only. Do not attempt to drive on these obstacles as they are now closed.

Information last updated on June 22nd, 2011.

Member Reports

Driving Directions

From Boulder, go north on Highway 36 to County Road 94. This is also marked as Lefthand Canyon Road and the town of Altona. Take this paved road 3.7 miles. The trail begins at the right of the road next to a sign for Roosevelt National Forest, marked FSR 286.

Meeting Places

Meet at the Starbucks at 3033 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. This is also immediately next to a gas station, Moe's Bagels and King Soopers.

Low-End Rating: 4
High-End Rating: 6
Rock Crawling:
Dirt & Mud:
Water Crossings:
Cliffs & Ledges:
Climbs & Descents:
Other Activities:
What does this mean?

Trail Photographs

The Squeeze Coming down from the top of the Playground Near the Top
Big Momma Hill View from the Top Rocks at the Top

Trail Movies
(Right-click to save)

Maps and Coordinates
(Click a map to view full size)

Trail in Red with Big Momma Hill in Blue and Upper Carnage in Purple
1200 x 900 pixels
612 KB
Left Hand Canyon in Red, Fireman Hill in Blue, and Castle Gulch in Purple
1000 x 700 pixels
517 KB

Left Hand Canyon (GPS Exchange File)
Left Hand Canyon Trailhead (Google Earth Placemark)
Left Hand Canyon Spur Track (Google Earth Track)
Upper Kiosk (Google Earth Placemark)
Old Playground (Google Earth Placemark)
The Squeeze (Google Earth Placemark)
Big Momma Hill (Google Earth Placemark)
Upper Carnage Track (Google Earth Track)
Five Points Kiosk (Google Earth Placemark)
Left Hand Canyon Track (Google Earth Track)

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Trail information is only accurate on the date posted. Trails may have changed or closed since that date. Use this information for historical purposes only. Contact the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management for up-to-date trail information.

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