HAPPY TRAILS: PANCAKE ROCKS
Description: Teller County's higher country is graced with big groves of aspen, making the forest just west of Colorado Springs a prime hiking destination as the tree leaves glow gold. You can't go wrong on the backside of Pikes Peak with the Crags Trail or the Lovell Gulch Trail we recently spotlighted in this space. Here, we propose an adventure that leads to a unique sight.
Right off the road to historic Cripple Creek, the trailhead neighbors an abandoned railroad tunnel. You'll start into the woods on a path that immediately rises and switchbacks. Leave behind the traffic on Colorado 67 - busy especially in fall - for the tall spruces and pines. The dominating sound becomes the running water somewhere below the trail that flattens. Find yourself on an old wagon road and see rusted barbed wire, remaining from the Wild West days that gave this area its name: Horsethief Park.
You'll see spurs for the Ring the Peak Trail twice before the 1-mile mark. Continue straight to signage pointing ahead to Horsethief Falls, about a half-mile away through a meadow overlooked by the prominent rock field that is Devil's Playground. Hang right to Pancake Rocks a couple of miles away.
You'll feel the steady ascent in this elevation above 10,000 feet. The switchbacks continue, and while you may be inclined to keep your head down on the rocky terrain, don't forget to look up. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains loom gloriously through the trees to the southwest. The range joins the stunning scenery at the end of the trail's final stretch through aspens. Out of the shade, arrive at the rock slabs that appear to be stacked like flapjacks. It's a one-of-a-kind place with one-of-a-kind views of the valley sprawling to Pikes Peak and old mines.
Trip log: 3.51 miles round trip (out and back); 1,207-foot total elevation gain, 11,009 max elevation
Getting there: Off U.S. 24, at the traffic light in Divide, turn south onto Colorado 67. After about 9 miles, look left for the paved parking lot by the old tunnel.
FYI: Dogs on leash. Open to bikes and horses.