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.
It's not only the plentiful and free parking at the Challenge Hill's base that will be unfamiliar to Incline regulars. The steps are uniform, the steepness never changing significantly as it does at times up Mount Manitou. And rather than woods, the surroundings are defined by a zip line and sprawling playground. Philip S. Miller Park is a bona fide family fun zone, featuring also a field house with turf fields, batting cages, a golf simulator, a trampoline play area and a pool with a slide. A 7.4-mile trail network weaves through knolls around the park, linking with some quality singletrack.
But the best views await at the top of the Challenge Hill. The peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park rise in one direction, the hilly valley beyond the highway in the other. The impressive rock face known as Devil's Head is clear to the west, Pikes Peak to the south. A short trail loops back down the hill.
Trip log: 0.10 miles up the hill, 0.4-mile trail down, 168-foot elevation gain, 6,509 feet max
Getting there: Off Interstate 25, exit for Plum Creek Parkway and turn left. The park is on the left side of the road.
FYI: No dogs on Challenge Hill.