Combine short stretches on three trails to make a loop just west of Colorado Springs that makes a great spring and early summer jaunt, with seclusion and rocky outcroppings with fine views.
To get there
Turn left (south) onto 26th Street from U.S. Highway 24. Drive the winding hill to a four-way stop at Lower Gold Camp Road. Turn right (west) and continue for less than a mile as the road contours along the mountain. The clearly marked Section 16 trailhead is on the right. If the lot is full, drive a bit farther for more parking.
The trail starts by a clearly marked sign and climbs up stairs a third of a mile, past interesting rock formations to the upper rim of Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Unless you have all day, resist the urge to sneak off on the numerous side trails.
Stay left at a signed junction with the Paul Intemann Memorial Nature Trail and start climbing through a shady canyon that holds snow through early spring. This is marked as the Palmer Trail on the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map and the Redrock Loop Trail on the Pikes Peak Atlas. You won't care what it's called as you are grunting up switchbacks.
Reach a clear saddle at 1.5 miles. For a great view, turn left and wind along a ridge to a rocky outcropping and come back to the junction. Otherwise turn right as it traces a long horseshoe through a wide valley.
Keep left at a turnoff - right goes to the Crystal Park community - and wind down to a bridge over a babbling brook called Hunter's Run. Continue on the gentle downhill and turn left where the trail ends at the dirt road High Drive, which may or may not be open to vehicles. Saunter down the final stretch to the paved road and return to your car.
No fees. Dogs allowed. Some hikers prefer to do the loop clockwise instead, though snow on the steep downhill into Section 16 could make this unpleasant in early spring.
Pike National Forest, 636-1602, and Colorado Springs city parks, 385-5940
A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with severe elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length.