The nearest national monument to Colorado Springs asks you to imagine a tropical place that existed 34 million years ago.
Cheesman Ranch loop, Mueller State Park
Fish Creek Falls is one of Steamboat Springs’ most iconic natural features, with the quarter-mile walk to the base of the 282-foot waterfall r…
Our last visit to Hartman Rocks was with Tim Kugler, head of Gunnison Trails, which stewards the 8,000 acres of granite splendor. “To have thi…
Up, down, up, down. That’s the theme of the Elder-Fehn Trail at Catamount Ranch, a Teller County open space. It won’t appeal to traditionalist…
At first glance, the trek up Uncompahgre Peak seems to require ropes, helmets and extensive climbing experience, for its north face is flanked…
Red Mountain and Iron Mountain
You can hike, pedal or ride your horse all around Dawson Butte, the craggy promontory that hides on the outskirts between Larkspur and Castle Rock. No trail leads to the top of the butte, but there’s plenty to enjoy below.
Blackmer Loop, Cheyenne Mountain State Park The Blackmer Trail is one of Cheyenne Mountain State Park's premier loops, as it showcases a rare "transition zone," where foothill shrublands meet the montane forest ecosystem. High-altitude cravings won't be satiated, but anyone seeking a stroll or bike ride through serenity will be pleased. Catch the Boulder Run Trail by following the sidewalks on the south side of the amphitheater parking lot, perched at a scenic point overlooking the mountain and Fort Carson to the east. The concrete paths give way to steps. Go down and see the marker for Boulder Run to your right. It stretches shortly to Blackmer's two-pronged trailhead. We walked straight and got the sense that mountain
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,
Bluffs Regional Park, Lone Tree Every trail has a purpose. And while the trademark trail in Colorado climbs to high altitudes with unparalleled views, many others are designed to simply get users out of their houses. Take, for example, the modest loop at Bluffs Regional Park, essentially in the backyard of some not-so-modest homes. Lone Tree residents of the gated, stucco-roofed neighborhood wake and get the blood flowing on the path circling a grassy knoll. Runners and horse riders share space on the 8- to 9-foot tread. Hard-core outdoor enthusiasts will dismiss it as just another urban trail, but those wanting a quick workout and the simple delights of nature are satisfied. Going clockwise or counterclockwise on the
Lizard Rock West of Colorado Springs and past Lake George, the Tarryall Mountains are wrongfully overlooked. They're set upon the Lost Creek Wilderness, a stream-fed expanse of rocky wonder 50 miles from the Springs or Denver. While Coloradans are fixated on higher elevations, this serene escape awaits discovery. Lizard Rock is but one destination where the imagination runs free. From the parking lot at the Spruce Grove Campground, you can make out the chameleon-looking head in the distance, its arching back and tail above the trees. Take the path behind the bathrooms and cross the bridge. A sign at the other end of the shimmering water points Lizard Rock to the left.
Mount Cutler Many Colorado Springs outdoor enthusiasts have shied away from Mount Cutler, one of the most pointed-to destinations for out-of-towners wanting to experience the city's beloved North Cheyenne Cañon Park. Flatlanders fare well on the short trail to a rocky top with terrific views. The scenery spoils those who hardly work up their heart rate, but that's the beauty of the Springs, where residents can feel deep in nature just minutes after the stress of work, for example. If that's what you desire but are running short on time before dinner, Cutler is a solid choice. The mountain is named for Henry Cutler, a pal of Gen. William Jackson Palmer, who envisioned an experience like this for the resort town he
Barneys Dome Barneys Dome watches high over Ute Pass, an impossible-to-miss sight driving west from Colorado Springs. The rock formation appears like a throne. And indeed, anyone up for the hearty adventure is granted a seat with awe-inspiring views. But the dome is hardly ventured, and that might be for the best. Some route-finding skills are required, as well as some considerable fitness. From Cascade, head up Park Street to the Heizer trailhead. Heizer has a lot of similarities with Barr Trail, from the constant elevation gain, to the summer wildflowers, to the mountain vistas. The difference is the popularity. You just might find yourself alone at the rocky overlook before 2 miles - a good place to catch your breath and
The Challenge Hill, Castle Rock Almost 50 miles north of Manitou Springs resides the little brother of the town's famous outdoor attraction. When dreaming up the ambitious Philip S. Miller Park, Castle Rock looked to the Incline. The Challenge Hill was born, becoming the centerpiece of the state-of-the-art community park that opened in 2014 and continues to expand. The 200 timber steps aren't nearly as daunting as the railway-turned-footpath that climbs nearly 2,000 feet in less than a mile. But with multiple laps, locals get their desired workout. And with the ease of parking, they don't regret sticking around rather than driving down Interstate 25 and navigating the tourist-heavy Manitou.
Castle Trail, Mount Falcon Park John Brisben Walker dreamed of a "castle in the clouds" or, as the project became known, a "Summer White House." The entrepreneur in the early 1900s envisioned U.S. presidents vacationing on his scenic mountain property not far from Colorado's Capitol. But fundraising failed, and the dream crumbled to the foundation that remains today, along with a 1911 cornerstone at the edge of a cliff. It is now the destination at the end of a trail. Jefferson County's Mount Falcon Park is a go-to escape for Denverites - though with the crowds, not all would consider it an escape. On summer weekends, cars line the streets of the neighborhood beside the east parking lot, preferred for the longer portion of
Spruce Mountain loop Between Colorado Springs and Denver, the most scenic stretch of Interstate 25 is near Larkspur. It's easy to look out the window and wish to be in that countryside, exploring those fields and cliffsides. At Spruce Mountain Open Space, you can do just that. The Douglas County trails are well-marked and well-made, and the mountaintop loop is the way to go. You might see the highway, but here birdsongs drown out the sound of traffic. From the parking lot, continue straight on the wide path. Go left into the woods of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir, following the sign for the mountaintop trail, which eventually widens to the delight of equestrians. Soon the path leaves the shade and skirts ridges that appear
Mays PeakOf the summits from North Cheyenne Cañon Park, mounts Cutler and Muscoco are most popular. The opportunity to reach two mountaintops from one trail is hard to pass - impossible, literally, as the trailhead sits beside the road from the park's main entrance. Lesser known is Mays Peak, with a trailhead reached by foot or bike. It's easy to see why motorists miss their access to High Drive. The wide, dirt road follows a ridge with broad views of the canyon before bending to overlooks of the city and plains. This is the most straightforward way to Mays Peak's trailhead. The other, more forested route is through Jones Park. After 1.3 miles on High Drive, come to the four-way trail junction. Look right to see a path
Iron Mountain, Manitou Springs Manitou Springs is famous for being the gateway to America's Mountain. From town, people walk to Barr Trail and embark on the 13.1-mile hike to Pikes Peak. Lesser known are the trailheads of lower-profile mountains. They, too, are found in town, hiding in neighborhoods. They're not as heralded as the route to the 14,115-foot summit or to the uber-popular Incline. But anyone who seeks them is guaranteed solitude and views. Take Iron Mountain, for example. The trailhead is up Pawnee Avenue, the street rising up the hill at the downtown stoplight. But for a worthwhile extension of this trip, we recommend starting at the Intemann trailhead reached off Ruxton Avenue.
Raccoon Trail, Golden Gate Canyon State Park Less than an hour's drive from Denver is an enormous outdoor hub. Hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders, rock climbers, anglers and hunters are all invited to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, its wild 12,000 acres sprawling across two counties. Not many state parks offer backcountry camping as Golden Gate Canyon does. And with all there is to see and do, an overnight makes plenty of sense, whether in the backcountry or at the sites maintained year-round. From Reverend's Ridge Campground perched at 9,100 feet, one trail is a good first trek in the park, leading to the best views of the Continental Divide. Raccoon Trail starts behind the service station at the campground.
Lake of Glass, Rocky Mountain National Park If you've never been to Rocky Mountain National Park, be advised: The hike to Lake of Glass should not be your introduction. Certainly, more treacherous journeys can be had in the 265,000-acre treasure, such as the ascent up resident fourteener Longs Peak. But there are many other safer bets if you're unfamiliar with the park or not in the best backcountry shape - options in which you won't be scrambling up beside a waterfall to the destination. Rockymountainnationalpark.com, the go-to Web source, calls the final approach to Lake of Glass "one of the park's better kept secrets - unmarked, inconspicuous, and at first glance, unlikely.
Homestead loop, Mueller State ParkFor residents of Colorado Springs and Woodland Park, Mueller State Park is a go-to, all-seasons getaway. Nearly 40 miles of trail web through 5,000 acres, where wildlife sightings are common in spring-fed meadows framed by forests and Pikes Peak granite. Fall is the best time to visit, when golden aspens everywhere make the park more picture-perfect. The loop we present here won't grant the mountain views of another trip we reported on Outlook Ridge. Nonetheless, start on the Homestead Trail for a solid introduction to the park. The wide trail, numbered 12, tumbles down to a grassy, hilly patch. You'll think you're strolling through a pastoral painting amid the serenity.
Paint Mines Interpretive Park Many consider the drive east of Colorado Springs dull, with nothing to see but flat prairie and steadily developing neighborhoods. But all eyes widen at a 750-acre expanse that emerges out of nowhere off U.S. 24. Throughout this colorful state, nothing is quite like Paint Mines Interpretive Park. With her sorcery involving water, wind and erosion, Mother Nature has left a masterpiece: Tall sandstone spires and hoodoos morph between pigments of purple and orange. A gully weaves through the formations, contributing to the nearly 4-mile-long figure-8 path encompassing the rugged park.With the loops washed out in many places, we recommended not fretting to find a "proper" trail.
Quandary Peak, east ridge routeWhen climbing season comes around (June through September), novices look to 14,265-foot Quandary Peak as the way to break into Colorado's fourteener craze. None of the state's 54 summits above 14,000 feet should be viewed as easy, but this one outside Breckenridge is considered relatively friendly to fit beginners. That is because it requires no technical skill; the top can be reached on foot, as long as the hiker has the leg strength and lung capacity. Following Quandary's "standard" route along the east ridge, you'll reach the summit in just 3 miles. But don't take the journey lightly. If you're not accustomed to the altitude, you'll feel it immediately.
Seven BridgesEveryone needs a quick escape. And in Colorado Springs, many find it on a path that enters silent woods - silent except for the rushing North Cheyenne Creek. They find solitude as they focus on the steady climb, counting seven lumber bridges on their way to a clearing. North Cheyenne Cañon Park offers more challenging trips (Trail 624 to St. Mary's Falls) and arguably more scenic destinations (Mount Muscoco). But especially on a hot day, two or three hours are wisely spent on the Seven Bridges Trail.Reach the cool water by starting on Gold Camp Road, the wide, gated path at the west side of North Cheyenne Cañon's top parking lot. Seven Bridges Trail, marked as Trail 622, starts at the 0.8-mile mark on the
Templeton Trail, Palmer ParkPalmer Park is the rugged, wild escape that Gen. William Jackson Palmer intended for Colorado Springs residents when he donated the property. Unfortunately, advocates today say, it's also an example of an underfunded parks system. Posted maps are outdated, trail signs damaged beyond recognition, and more markers are needed. Templeton Trail can be difficult to follow. But it's central to the bizarre beauty of Palmer Park, where one never really gets lost among the bluffs and hoodoos close to the city's center.Start on the wide path on the north side of the Yucca Flats parking lot. Templeton Trail begins with the thin spur on the right, stretching through grasses and Gambel oak before
Heizer TrailHeizer Trail has a history as deep as Barr Trail's. The former, however, is not nearly as visited as the latter. Ascending from the town of Cascade, which Colorado Springs then-Mayor David N. Heizer helped develop in the 1880s, the trail does get enough year-round use so it stays easy to follow, with snow packed down on the north-facing slope it straddles. Wildflowers burst in the summer. Fall colors are brilliant in the fall. And the variety of mountain vistas make the trail worthy of greater popularity. From Cascade, head uphill on Park Street to the trailhead. The thin path relentlessly climbs and switchbacks through the woods for 1.69 miles, gaining 1,350 feet to the craggy overlook where some choose to
Goose Creek Trail to Shaft House, Lost Creek Wilderness Sprawling across 119,790 acres, and only 50 miles from either Colorado Springs or Denver, the Lost Creek Wilderness is stocked with countless wonders. One could spend a lifetime exploring the 130-plus miles of footpaths, feasting upon rock formations, lakes and mountain plateaus. More than the eye candy, the solitude is what makes the wilderness so great. For some reason - the relatively low elevation? The spread-out variety? - Lost Creek doesn't get the crowds. If you haven't been, this day hike is an excellent introduction and suitable for any season. The destination offers a glimpse into the history of the area.
Garden of the Gods
If you have a visitor in town, you'd be wise to show off North Cheyenne Canon Park. It represents what some consider to be Colorado Springs' greatest characteristic: how one minute you can be downtown and another minute immersed in nature. And there's plenty to show off along this trail leading to one of the park's more prominent points. At the half-mile point it splits off to the left to Mount Cutler. Hang the other way for the longer, more challenging option. The grander views of Mount Muscoco come with the price of more ascents, beginning nice and steady with the timber steps that start soon after the spur, up through patches of scrub oak. Continue along the ridgeline above the dense, rolling
HAPPY TRAILS: HORSETOOTH ROCK, FORT COLLINSIf you're an outdoor lover living in Fort Collins, this trail doesn't sound like a good idea. "Hike these trails instead of Horsetooth Rock" reads a headline from the town's paper. Don't expect seclusion at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, where Larimer County charges $6 for day visitors. If the crowd and fee disappoint you, the views won't.Your destination is the highest point of the park, the striking formation in sight from afar. Horsetooth Rock has the shape of a hogback and is steeped in Native American legend.The scenery is supreme immediately as the trail rises through wide grassland, allowing for lookouts to Horsetooth Reservoir tucked in this hilly countryside west
HAPPY TRAILS: MOUNT HERMANSeeking a quick escape into nature? You won't go wrong with this Monument-area trail, which comes with the added bonus of a scenic drive. Here we propose a short out-and-back, but perhaps you'll want to join the crowds who take Mount Herman Road to find a weekend camping spot in Pike National Forest. The trail begins at a Forest Service post marked 716, which was hidden in the shrubs on this visit. Its place, however, was no secret due to the vehicles parked on the side of the road, which climbs above 9,100 feet, allowing passengers and careful drivers sweeping views of the town and far plains. The road curves where the trail starts into the woods, following a creek and dense vegetation.
HAPPY TRAILS: PULPIT ROCK PARKThe web of trails through Pulpit Rock Park offers fantastic views of the city and, from the top of the rock formation, a panoramic view of the Rockies. This park can be a choose-your-own-adventure. The loop around the park is about 4 miles, but a straight shot from the parking lot to the top of Pulpit is a quick and hard 2 miles.From the parking lot, a counterclockwise hike will take you through a mild-hilled meadow to the base of the Pulpit formation. The climb is steep with slick and loose rocks, so mind your feet. At the top, catch your breath and then spend some time exploring all the crevices and crannies.