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.

Buckhorn Loop 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. Start from the canyon's "hub" parking lot at the top, where Gold Camp Road and High Drive meet. Start through the gate on the lot's west side, following the wide, dirt road. At 0.68 miles, a path bends to the right, up into the woods. The spur is maybe 30 yards after the sizable fire ring to the left; if you've come to the North Cheyenne Creek

Talon Trail, Cheyenne Mountain State Park Colorado Springs is fortunate that this former ranchland entered the public trust in 2006. 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. At some point, the Dixon Trail is anticipated to be finished and opened, leading visitors to the summit. For now, the park's premier path is the Talon Trail. From the Limekiln parking lot, start through the meadow and enjoy views of the mountain's rugged majesty. You'll hang left, following Talon's yellow

Manitou Incline Does any other trail in Colorado inspire so many addicts? The Manitou Incline has closed three times over the past three years for construction projects lasting three months, sending devout users into painful withdrawals. Their latest period of pain lust ended last week as officials gave the OK for Timberline Landscaping to lift the gate at the trailhead that had been in place since August, when crews began repairs on the upper-most portions of the former railway-turned- famous stair stepper. "Incliners" can once again find their strange euphoria at the foot of Pikes Peak.

Lost Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness 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, along with the fact that the crowds from Boulder are about 20 miles away. Parking can be tricky, especially in winter when the dirt road to the Hessie trailhead is closed. During any season, you're likely to find cars lining Eldora Avenue from the quaint village of cabins and abandoned structures. The hassle is worth it. The big, snowy paths frequented by snowshoers and cross-country skiers make this an all-season adventure.

Hogback Valley/Lion Trail, Red Rock Canyon Open Space For outdoor enthusiasts, it's a relief the initial plan for what is now Red Rock Canyon Open Space didn't work out. The private landowner had grand ideas for high-rise towers and commercial centers before the city of Colorado Springs' purchase in 2003. So the 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. The Lower Hogback Trail starts at the eastern edge of the east

Royal Arch, Boulder Whether we like it or not in Colorado, we have to share. We can't have the trails all to ourselves, especially when they lead to an awe-inspiring sight. 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. The climb starts immediately on Chautauqua Trail, up through the meadow where the city's famous Flatirons loom - the slabs angling high over

Red Rocks, Woodland Park 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. Off Colorado 67 north, turn into the lot and see the trail immediately to the passenger side. The singletrack heads south into an aspen grove. Don't expect a physical challenge, as the campground's trail system follows a flat surface that hardly changes. You're here for the massive sandstone formations that emerge through ponderosa pines not a half-mile away from

Blodgett Peak We cannot blithely recommend this trip up the prominent point in northwest Colorado Springs. Reaching the rugged, 9,423-foot summit is not for everyone. Heed city parks' warning found at Blodgett Peak Open Space's parking lot: "[R]oute finding can be difficult and treacherous. Serious injuries and fatalities have occurred on Blodgett Peak." While the trail system here caters to families and seniors on morning strolls, Hummingbird Trail is better suited for experienced mountaineers. It disappears in rocks and loose soil along harsh grades in Pike National Forest. Though downed logs directed us through the thick woods, landscapes change over time.

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

Visit while the summer lasts. It's best to see these two reservoirs while they're not frozen. Though they remain popular for ice fishing, the view isn't the same as when the sunlight dances on the water below conifer-covered slopes. See for yourself what makes this one of the area's best places for a quick, serene escape, a favorite especially for families with young kids. The trail is largely what brings bunches of city dwellers to the otherwise quiet hamlet of Palmer Lake, between Colorado Springs and Denver. The two reservoirs are situated behind the town's namesake lake, tucked into the rugged beauty of Pike National Forest.

What better way to support the facelift at the heavily used Bear Creek Nature Center than with heaping plates of Buffalo Gals barbecue, calico beans, colorful summer salads and a heavenly array of desserts. Smells from the grills filled the hills nearby had signaled the annual Happy Trails fundraiser on Aug. 25. Sharing all the good news was Todd Marts, county recreation and cultural services manager. Bear Creek Nature Center received $100,000 from Friends of El Paso County Nature Centers to help spruce up and update the popular 2002 exhibits that are showing a bit of loving wear and tear from 140,000 annual visitors. Another $150,000 comes from the county.