The Crags is a quintessential hike of the Pikes Peak region. If you have visitors, you'd be right to show off this trail on the mountain's northwest flank. The area is worth every return - for the wildflowers in summer, the colorful foliage in fall and, of course, the stunning panoramic views at the top.
While the trail has been popular for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, don't wait to go. In recent winters, the U.S. Forest Service has closed the road leading to the trail for tree removal. The plan is for closures to continue for the foreseeable future.
The path follows a creek and rises steadily to the fork for Devil's Playground, a difficult route to the top of America's Mountain. Stay left, continuing to rock spires standing sentinel over a lush meadow found before the 1½-mile mark. Dogs love to stop here for a water break in the ponds between tall grass. Continue to a soaring Hershey Kiss-shaped outcrop where people stop to take pictures.
More curious granite shapes lie ahead, jutting out from forested hillsides at an overlook where the Catamount reservoirs can be seen spanning the valley. As the ground becomes rocky and covered with roots, the path can be hard to spot. When it's covered with snow, don't trust the footpaths, as skiers might be venturing off trail. Look for the clear space in the trees and downed logs directing you.
The landscape seems to warp into some stone realm. Climb past the piles and the bristlecone pines and arrive at sweeping vistas. On a clear day, take in the great host of sights: the Sangre de Cristos, the Collegiate Peaks and other 14,000-foot caps to the west, the pinnacles known as the Crags and the rolling form of Pikes Peak Massif.
TRIP LOG: 5.43 miles round trip (out and back), 888-foot total elevation gain, 10,824 feet max
GETTING THERE: From Colorado Springs, head west on U.S. 24 and take a left at the stoplight in Divide for Colorado 67 south. After passing the Mueller State Park entrance, look left to the wooden post pointing to the Crags. Proceed on the dirt Forest Road 383 past the Rocky Mountain Mennonite Camp and come to the big parking lot.
FYI: Check the Forest Service web page for the trail (http://bit.ly/2zlUsKp) to make sure it's open. High-clearance, four-wheel drive not necessary but recommended, especially with muddy conditions. Icy in winter. Dogs allowed on leash. Camping only at Crags Campground.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE