A land of wonder hides east of Interstate 25, less than an hour from Colorado Springs. Colorado 83 runs straight through rolling, mostly undeveloped grasslands, north to eye-opening vistas of Pikes Peak and the snowy range far ahead. And then another stunner emerges: Castlewood Canyon State Park, a wild preserve sprawling more than 2,600 acres.

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 ranking as one of the top hikes in the northwest Colorado mountain town. But beyond the bridge, up a series of steep switchbacks, a second waterfall and a quiet lake are enjoyed by a few visitors who expend the extra effort.

Hartman Rocks “is one of Gunnison’s greatest gems,” declares the tourism website, dubbing Hartman Rocks “one of western Colorado’s best-kept secrets.” Not in mountain biking circles. Guardians of the 45-mile singletrack network say this high desert route rivals Fruita’s farther west.

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 traditionalists preferring a steady uphill that ends at some overlook. And that’s fine by the frequenters of this protected paradise. 

At first glance, the trek up Uncompahgre Peak seems to require ropes, helmets and extensive climbing experience, for its north face is flanked by a 700-foot cliff. But with 7 miles and 3,000 feet of hard effort, you can bag this sixth-highest fourteener in Colorado.

If you’re looking for the quick satisfaction of conquering some steep switchbacks without spending an entire day scaling a fourteener, you’re in luck. Rising over the quaint town of Green Mountain Falls, the Crystal Trail fittingly has its share of rushing waterfalls.

In Manitou Springs, one peak rules supreme. That is Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain, accessed via Barr Trail at the end of Ruxton Avenue. But one need not hoof it 13 miles to the top for the sublime nature that can be felt on a visit to this gateway town. 

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.

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.

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.

Almost 50 miles north of Manitou Springs resides the little brother of the town's famous outdoor attraction. Challenge Hill has become the centerpiece of the state-of-the-art community park in Castle Rock that opened in 2014 and continues to expand. 

Jefferson County's Mount Falcon Park is a go-to escape for Denverites - though with the crowds, not all would consider it an escape. At the trailhead, it's easy to stop and stare at Red Rocks Amphitheatre's glory. Begin the ascent, best described as moderately relentless - never steep but steady and constant.

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. 

Of the summits from North Cheyenne Cañon Park, mounts Cutler and Muscoco are most popular.  Lesser known is Mays Peak, with a trailhead reached by foot or bike. The summit is less than a mile away, but the views are nothing short of marvelous.

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. And anyone who seeks them is guaranteed solitude and views.

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

For 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. 

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.

When 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.

Everyone 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.

Palmer Park is the rugged, wild escape that Gen. William Jackson Palmer intended for Colorado Springs residents when he donated the property. 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.

Wildflowers burst in the summer. Fall colors are brilliant in the fall. And the variety of mountain vistas make the trail, which ascends from Cascade, worthy of greater popularity.

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.

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs' most famous park, can be a less-than-ideal wild escape, especially in summer. Still, there's no denying Garden of the Gods boasts some of the most striking views around.

After hikers and mountain bikers debate how to spend their mornings and afternoons in North Cheyenne Cañon, they often decide on a loop trail that crosses Mount Buckhorn. The single track skirts a ridge from where the area's signature mountains are in clear view: Pikes Peak is joined by the likes of Cheyenne Mountain and Mount Rosa. This quick escape deserves the hype.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park encompasses 21 miles of multi-use trails that grant the rare prairie-to-peak experience. Peaceful grasslands meet diverse woods that meet the foothills. Of course, the centerpiece is the region's second most famous mountain to Pikes Peak: Cheyenne Mountain. One the park's premier paths is the Talon Trail.

Outside the town of Nederland is the rare alpine lake that is supremely scenic but doesn't require much physical prowess to reach. The fact that the trail to Lost Lake is so family-friendly contributes to its popularity.

This land remains a natural paradise to be enjoyed by hikers, bikers, equestrians and rock climbers who turn off U.S. 24 and quickly swap the city scene. There are countless ways to mix up adventure, as suggested by the trail maps posted at the often-busy parking lot. We recommend a loop that showcases much of the classic scenery this city has to offer.

A weekend drive to Boulder's Chautauqua Park entails a sometimes-lengthy search for a parking spot. And the hike to the Royal Arch sometimes means stopping for hikers coming through narrow passages - on our recent trip we thought a traffic light might be appropriate. But always, we're left breathless by the rock bending high in the woods at a stunning overlook. The relentless ascent also takes the breath away. 

Colorado is full of surprises. Trails and roads lead to all sorts of geological wonders in unexpected places. Outside Woodland Park, a U.S. Forest Service campground is called Red Rocks Group, but at the parking lot you won't find any sign directing you to the awe-inspiring namesake. It hides, bizarrely, in the woods a short distance away.

Blodgett Peak requires considerable skill and fitness. If in doubt, opt for the open space's many peaceful trails into stream-fed places of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Otherwise, strap on your sturdy boots and grab your hiking poles for this serious adventure up the prominent point in northwest Colorado Springs.