Palmer Park is famous in Colorado Springs for representing a signature aspect of the city: how concrete quickly fades and nature takes over. This is also the case at a preserve on the Springs’ north side, where similarly between houses, there’s a break for intriguing rock formations.

Shall we call Sunset Mesa Open Space the miniature Palmer Park?

One big difference with Palmer Park is crowds. On this Saturday morning at Sunset Mesa, we spotted only one other group, a family picnicking on a sandstone shelf with views of Pikes Peak.

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Rock outcrops at Sunset Mesa Open Space overlook the urban sprawl of Colorado Springs' north side. 

Sunset Mesa is best described as a neighborhood park, with various access points from backyards. Herein lies the issue of respectfully entering the rugged tract owned by the city, which does not actively promote use due to undeveloped trails.

Nonresidents opt for a clear trail that runs between houses on Flintridge Drive, with some safe spots to park curbside. The trail briefly climbs between trees and shrubs before a clear, grassy stretch near Pikes Peak Christian School. Ahead, you’ll come across a bizarre hoodoo — a taste of what’s to come.

The terrain alternates between woods and open, sandy ground with swooping rock outcrops that lend the feel of an untamed desert right here above houses. We spotted plenty of tire tracks. Mountain bikers don’t have a whole lot of room to roam — some online reports show round trips of 2 1/2 miles — but neighbors get practice on short, downhill stretches along with rocks to huck and some surprisingly technical bits.

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The rugged landscape of Sunset Mesa Open Space stretches above a neighborhood in north Colorado Springs. 

While it’s not uncommon to make a full day at Palmer Park, that’s not the custom here. Sunset Mesa is suited for a quick round of fresh air and for a view of the mountains as they should be viewed in this growing city: unobstructed.

Trip report: 1.6 miles, 143 feet elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Getting there: Off Interstate 25, exit east onto Woodmen Road. Turn right onto Union Boulevard, then left onto Dublin Boulevard, then right onto Flintridge Drive. In less than a mile, look left (east) for trail that starts near yellow fire hydrant.

FYI: Dogs on leash. Stay off muddy trails in winter/spring.


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