Description: Outdoors enthusiasts in Colorado Springs tend to stick to nearby parks and open spaces. Sure, it’s hard to go wrong with Red Rock Canyon Open Space, North Cheyenne Cañon Park and Ute Valley Park, to name a few. Then we complain about the crowds. Why not spread out the usage by, for example, going south on Colorado 115?

Past Fort Carson and Cheyenne Mountain State Park, the highway runs deep into unspoiled landscape: sandstone canyon sides and green foothills, the road cresting to glimpses of the Spanish Peaks and Wet Mountains. Hiding off a side street is Aiken Canyon Preserve.

The Nature Conservancy cherishes the 1,621 acres as “one of the last high-quality examples of the southern Front Range foothills ecosystem,” says the website. Signage recounts Charles Aiken, the ornithologist for which this birding paradise is named.

Beyond the signs, the trail loops through the varied mosaic: open meadows, woodlands of piñon and juniper, scrub oak and mountain mahogany, and tall forests boasting red outcrops.

The singletrack is well-maintained, on several occasions crossing the dry creek bed. At times, amid the natural splendor, it’s easy to continue through the gullies. In those moments, be sure to stay on the thin path, noting the logs and rocks keeping you in the right direction.

We began the loop by staying straight at the first intersection. The trail gently rises into the forested hills, at about 1 1/2 miles reaching a fantastic overlook. On the clear day we recently visited, we observed those twin Spanish Peaks that legend knows as “the breasts of the Earth,” as well as the snowy range beyond the mountains framing Cañon City.

Going down, come to the next intersection and continue the loop by hanging right. Pay attention in these woods, as we found the trail covered at times by rock and pine needles. The path enters the openness again, meeting that first intersection. Go left back to the parking lot.

Trip log: 3.55 miles round trip (loop), 452 feet elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Getting there: Off Interstate 25, take exit 140 for Nevada Avenue, which becomes Colorado 115 south. After about 15 miles, turn right onto Turkey Canyon Ranch Road to the preserve.

FYI: Open dawn to dusk daily. Hiking only. No dogs. No camping.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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