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Columbine Trail, North Cheyenne Cañon
North Cheyenne Cañon Park has higher destinations, such as Mount Muscoco. That's one of the wilder escapes, along with St. Mary's Falls. But the Columbine Trail, spanning the mouth of the canyon to the upper reaches, might be the best way to experience the park's beauty.
The Lower Columbine trailhead is behind the Starsmore Discovery Center. It's easy to forget the closeness of the road once among the grasses and shade, the calls of birds and chirps of bugs and rushing of the creek. You'll be craning your neck at the curious walls and towers all around. At 0.6 miles, the trail switchbacks to the left, climbing until spilling back down to the road. Cross to the trail on the other side, continuing on the Middle Columbine Trail.
You should be warmed up; this segment will get the heart pounding. Switchbacks relentlessly rise above the road to magnificent vistas. Muscoco is over your shoulder, as is Mount Cutler, while the granite head of Almagre Mountain pokes between tree-covered slopes far west. The city and The Broadmoor eventually come into view, along with antenna-topped Cheyenne Mountain.
The trail flattens into the dense forest, a refreshing break before another climb to the panorama at the junction with Gold Camp Road. You'll drop down to the drainage before one more ascent. When you see Helen Hunt Falls, you'll be close to the finish, the Upper Columbine trailhead.
Trip log: 8.2 miles round trip (out and back), 1,036-foot elevation gain, 7,302 feet max
Getting there: Address for the Starsmore Discovery Center is 2120 S. Cheyenne Cañon Road. Parking lot at the front of the building. Upper Columbine trailhead is up the road, at the pulloff above the Helen Hunt Falls Visitor Center.
FYI: Rather than complete out-and-back, some bring two vehicles, parking at the Upper Columbine finishing point and shuttling back to start at Lower Columbine. Multiuse trail. Dogs on leash.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE