It's been a busy year for El Paso County's parks department.
First, in March, officials opened Kane Ranch Open Space east of Fountain. Weeks later, they followed up with the debut of Santa Fe Open Space, on the opposite, northern side of the county.
The two offer distinct experiences. Kane Ranch is windswept prairie, while Santa Fe is situated in the hilly woods of Palmer Lake — a 65-acre slice of backcountry with singletrack that isn't too common across the county's open space portfolio. It's a humble, gorgeous network of 1.75 miles that hikers and easy-going mountain bikers will appreciate.
The open space shares a name with the adjacent Santa Fe Regional Trail, so named for the historic railroad. We started from Palmer Lake Recreation Area and followed the regional trail about a half-mile to the open space. A map is posted here; consider taking a photo to navigate the trails, which we found well-marked.
The trail starts through a meadow, overlooked by the rocky Ben Lomand Mountain. At the first split, we stayed straight, continuing to the next junction, where we went right on Burlington Trail to make our loop.
The path slightly ascends to your first view of Elephant Rock, which becomes greater at higher points. Our tracker read 1.54 miles when we stayed straight on Far View, rather than left. The panorama includes the idyllic town below and its signature, red-faced slopes, along with Mount Herman and the foothills rolling to Cheyenne Mountain. The thick oak reminded us to return for fall.
The trail swoops down to an old car and rusted equipment, relics of the ranching past here. We took the next right turn back to the Santa Fe Regional Trail.
Trip log: 3 miles round trip (out and back loop), 200 feet elevation gain, 7,292 feet max
Getting there: Palmer Lake Recreation Area at 199 County Line Road. Other access from Santa Fe Regional trailhead along Colorado 105 closer to Monument.
FYI: Park hours dawn to dusk. Hiking, biking and horseback riding. Dogs on leash.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE