Discover: A city with a wild streak for outdoors

By: The Gazette
September 20, 2015 Updated: September 20, 2015 at 3:53 pm
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photo - As late day dark clouds gather to block the sunshine, Amiee Fooshee and her kids Casey, left, and Frank explore a rock formation near the Siamese Twins in the Garden of The Gods Sunday, January 15, 2012. Fooshee said she was "born and raised" in Colorado Springs and takes any chance to gets to explore the Garden of the Gods. Mark Reis, The Gazette
As late day dark clouds gather to block the sunshine, Amiee Fooshee and her kids Casey, left, and Frank explore a rock formation near the Siamese Twins in the Garden of The Gods Sunday, January 15, 2012. Fooshee said she was "born and raised" in Colorado Springs and takes any chance to gets to explore the Garden of the Gods. Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Think Garden of the Gods is the place to be?

It's pretty great, we admit, but there's so much more.

Dozens of parks, endless trails and the expansive Pike National Forest are a few of the other reasons that outdoor adventurers flock to Colorado Springs.

Feeling cooped up? Head to North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Bear Creek Regional Park or Palmer Park, and within minutes, you'll feel miles from civilization.

The region's parks are hubs for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, orienteering, hammock hangouts, adventure racing, yoga, bird watching, Frisbee golf and aimless sauntering - and with few exceptions, everyone gets along on the same turf.

Many parks connect with national forest land and serve as starting points for wilder adventures, such as a 13-mile hike to Pikes Peak's 14,115-foot summit.

Urban dwellers won't be disappointed, either.

In Acacia Park downtown, kids splash around in the Uncle Wilber Fountain and bands play in a historic band shell. Monument Valley and America the Beautiful parks mark serene waypoints along a 35-mile commuter corridor that carries you from Monument to Fountain.

In Memorial Park, you'll find farmers markets, cricket matches, a criterium for competitive cyclists, softball league play, community events, an annual fair with carnival rides and a lavish skate park built by industry experts. The park's Prospect Lake has swimming and a paved trail that winds through playgrounds and sandy beaches.

Looking for a park you can walk to? With 135 neighborhood parks totaling 903.9 acres, chances are good there's one just around the corner.

Parks are free, requiring fees only to reserve picnic facilities, swim and participate in organized sports.

TOP SIX MUST-SEE REGIONAL FEATURES

- Garden of the Gods Park: No stay in Colorado Springs would be complete without a visit to Garden of the Gods, known worldwide for its sculpted red sandstone towers. The park is a tourist favorite and a local picnic and hiking spot.

- Ute Valley Park: Nestled in Colorado Springs' western foothills, Ute Valley offers miles of hiking and biking in a sandy valley boasting interesting rock formations and lush meadows.

- Palmer Park: It's hard to overestimate the bounty in Palmer Park, which packs 30 miles of trails into a densely wooded refuge smack in the city's center. Hikers, bikers and equestrians coexist peacefully on a world-class trail network.

- Helen Hunt Falls: In North Cheyenne Cañon Park, these accessible waterfalls have long been a cool getaway from city life.

- Bear Creek Canyon: A high-country park with steep trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Changes are coming to the trail network, but portions are expected to remain open.

- The Paint Mines: Like nothing else in the region, this colorful eroded landscape offers hiking mild enough for just about everyone.

BIKING

In the Pikes Peak region, bikes are a way of life - used for commuting, family outings, hard-charging mountain bike sorties and weekend road rides.

From Palmer Park and Red Rock Canyon to Falcon Trail and Cheyenne Cañon, there are hundreds of miles of great trails. Variety rules the day: Some trails are great for beginners, and others will test experts. Road cyclists have plenty of opportunities for great rides. Within a few miles of downtown, you can hit mountain roads in North Cheyenne Cañon and Ute Pass or head east for a taste of country roads.

FIVE GREAT RIDES

- Palmer Park: Where professional mountain bikers go to hone their chops. Trails range from Templeton, with its double-black diamond thrills, to Grandview, a great place to learn the sport. Helmets are a must.

- Cheyenne Cañon: Road cyclists, test your legs and lungs with a steep climb at elevation. Mountain bikers, seek out Cap'n Jacks, a miles-long descent that threads a ridge separating Cheyenne and Bear Creek canyons before plunging through the foothills over whoop-de-doos, rollers and hucks.

- Palmer Trail loop/Section 16: Ride this gem clockwise for a demanding tour of three popular trails, including the rock-studded Section 16, a gnarly descent ranking among the region's most technical rides.

- For the intrepid, the Pikes Peak Highway packs 7,000 feet of elevation gain across 18 miles. Mountain bikers who brave the climb - or hop on a shuttle - are advised to seek out Elk Park Trail near the summit, which boasts adrenaline and technical challenge in equal measure.

- Red Rock Canyon Open Space: Where all mountain bikers eventually meet. This 789-acre city park sports diverse riding and many trails that connect to other popular destinations, such as Intemann Trail, the Bear Creek Regional Park system and Section 16. Whatever your riding style, this place is not to be missed.

HIKING

There's enough diversity in Colorado Springs to easily allow year-round excursions. Just remember to hit higher elevations before they're buried in snow. Hikers and bikers will find everything from paved urban trails connecting neighborhoods to quiet, rarely visited game tracks that lead to the middle of nowhere.

Here are some of the best tracks the region has to offer:

- Pikes Peak Greenway and New Santa Fe Regional Trail: Hands down the most heavily traveled trail in the city, this favorite of commuters covers 35 miles from Palmer Lake to Fountain. Use it to link up with a city park or ride the entire trail and enjoy the city's sweep.

- Red Rock Canyon Open Space: Garden of the Gods without the cars or tourists - Miles of trails plus connections to other trail systems make this a perfect hiking spot.

- Eagle Peak: Venture to the Air Force Academy for this demanding, 2.5-mile round trip to the top of Eagle Peak. The 1,900-foot climb is richly rewarded with 360-degree views of Pikes Peak and northern Colorado Springs. Eagle Peak is one of the few destinations that were accessible to the general public as of mid-August, the result of heightened security on base.

- Seven Bridges: This 4.75-mile out-and-back leads to Jones Park, home to idyllic aspen groves and crumbling cabin ruins - glimpses into Colorado Springs' rugged past. While not too far from Interstate 25, you'll feel miles away from everything. Be sure to allow extra time for exploring should you choose to check out other trails along the way.

- Barr Trail: A required item on local bucket lists. This historic trail leads to the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak, but be ready to work for it: It climbs a whopping 7,500 feet in 12.6 miles.

FISHING

For a place as dry as Colorado Springs, there's no shortage of fishing spots within driving distance.

Here are some recommendations:

- Rampart Reservoir, Teller County: A beautiful reservoir encircled by multiuse trails and equally popular with hikers and mountain bikers.

- Antero Reservoir, Park County: Offers excellent fishing opportunities for anglers. There is also boating and camping.

- Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area/Arkansas River, around Salida: This is a strong fishery and also recognized as one of the nation's most popular locations for whitewater rafting and kayaking.

- Eleven Mile State Park: This park hosts fishing tournaments year-round.

- Skaguay Reservoir, near Victor: Easy access. You can walk all the way around the reservoir. Trout and northern pike.

- South Catamount Reservoir: Fishing on the North Slope of Pikes Peak. It has mostly rainbows and cutthroat trout and is known for having large Mackinaw.

WINTER FUN

Getting in your downhill runs in Colorado's Rocky Mountains will likely require a 2-3 hour drive, but that's not to say you're out of luck once snow hits Pikes Peak.

When enough snow accumulates, local cross-country skiers enjoy rolling tours of Fox Run Regional Park in Black Forest and on The High Drive near Bear Creek Canyon. Blaze-your-own-path adventures are likewise waiting in many other neighborhood and regional parks.

The Crags Trail on Pikes Peak's western flank is sought out by snowshoe enthusiasts, as are the trails to Pancake Rocks and Raspberry Mountain, both in Teller county.

Mueller State Park in Teller County has the full range of winter activities, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and wildlife-watching.

Find sledding hills in Colorado Springs at Cottonwood Creek Park, at Dublin Boulevard and Rangewood Drive; Bear Creek Regional Park, at 21st Street and Rio Grande; and Monument Valley Park, either where Fontanero Street ends or just west of the Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St. Howbert Elementary School, 1023 N. 31st St., and the Manitou Springs Library, 701 Manitou Ave., are other good locations for sledding thrills.

LANCE BENZEL, THE GAZETTE, 636-0366, LANCE.BENZEL@GAZETTE.COM

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