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.

History knows the area as “a paradise on the prairie.” In 1890, a dam altered the arid expanse, forming what the settlers knew as Lake Louisa. In 1933, the dam broke and Cherry Creek swelled, causing a horrific flood in Denver. Remains of the dam still are seen by those willing to venture.

For first-timers to Castlewood Canyon, a good introduction is had from the Canyon Point parking lot, which is surprisingly sizable considering the few cars parked there on our recent trip. The crowds stay away in the winter, when snow transforms the experience. If it weren’t for the footprints, we wouldn’t have known we were actually on a trail. You also can count on signage, as we did starting out on the trail marked ‘L’ for Lake Gulch.

We came to a refreshing overlook of a wide valley, seeing animal tracks that spanned to pine stands common to this Black Forest region. Far less common is the geology ahead — sand-colored rock walls and hoodoos.

Tall trees and shrubs line the path, which at about the half-mile mark comes to a stream-fed rock garden. The wildness of it all makes it hard to imagine the construction here: bridges to cross the water, fence posts to keep people on trail, steps to cover steep terrain. The Lake Gulch trail ends at a staircase leading to the dam 0.35 miles away. To the right starts the Inner Canyon trail — a splendid, rugged tour.

The initial scramble among boulders will make some uncomfortable. Along with the physical strain, the trail seems to disappear at times. But we had no problem finding footprints, and the scramble is brief, met by markers showing the way through the shady woods.

A long bridge crosses to the other hillside, and steps here make for the only noticeable ascent of this trip. The trail ends back at the parking lot.

Trip log: 2.15 miles round trip (loop), 225-feet elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Getting there: Off I-25, exit for Interquest Parkway, which turns into Colorado 83. Continue north for about 25 miles, to the left turn for the park. Through the entrance kiosk, follow signs to Canyon Point parking lot.

FYI: $8 park entrance per vehicle. Dogs on leash. Hiking only on Lake Gulch and Inner Canyon trails. Trails icy in winter; have traction. No camping.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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

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