South Cañon trails, Cañon City

For the outdoor centric, the Royal Gorge region occupies a place in the imagination where the rafts rock and the waves rollick. This is whitewater country. More recently around Cañon City, another tradition has emerged, with the limestone cliffs of Shelf Road becoming one of Colorado’s premier venues for sport climbing. But most recently, the hardscrabble ground has become the platform for adventure. The singletrack keeps reaching farther into the rolling wilds — as if running from Cañon City’s prison reputation.

Fremont Adventure Recreation (FAR) is giving the town a new destiny. The organization, launched in 2010, has been behind the trail boom, working alongside the Bureau of Land Management to establish a trifecta of fun zones: South Cañon, Oil Well Flats and the expanding trail system on the north rim of Royal Gorge Park. Thanks to the Banana Belt climate, all three are rideable year-round.

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Among them, South Cañon might be the truest backyard-to-backcountry example. Ashlee Sack, FAR’s coordinator, mentions the treasured Lunch Loops of Fruita, so named for locals’ middle-of-the-day getaway. “Got an hour, do Lunch Loops. That’s our South Cañon.”

But if you’re a visitor, you could rack up several hours in South Cañon’s piñon and juniper woodlands, discovering the mountain vistas along the way. We recently toured Section 13, a 6-mile loop that connects with that rugged network sprawling another 11-plus miles. But rather than tell you what to do, we’ll use this space to give you a glimpse into the options. But don’t count on us for exact directions in the sometimes-difficult-to-navigate landscape; print a map at joinfar.org.

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If time isn’t an issue, FAR recommends Section 13 as a starting point. You can connect with Redemption, a delight for hikers who go a bit off trail to a slot canyon, clambering up to dinosaur tracks. Continuing west, Redemption meets the junction of Great Escape and Hard Time. Escape South Cañon with smile-inducing downhill, or add Hard Time by going northeast, back toward town and the system’s other popular entries: Ecology Park and the Eagle Wing trailhead.

Even stout riders walk their bike through the gnarly stretch of Hard Time to ReCycle, the trail suitable for kids from Ecology Park. It’s a breezy descent back to town on Mutton Bustin’.

Getting there: For the Eagle Wing trailhead, continue west on U.S. 50 through Cañon City, turning left for First Street, then right for Riverside Avenue, then left for Colburn Lane. Parking area on your right.

For Ecology Park, continue on First, turning right onto Temple Canyon Road (County Road 3). Parking is about a mile up the road. Less than a mile ahead from there is the small dirt parking area for the Section 13 trailhead. Park on the right side of the road, across from the trail starting between a fence post opening.

FYI: Hikers, bikers, equestrians. Dogs on leash.

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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