In Colorado Springs and the colorful state beyond, opportunities for adventure are endless. And we here at The Gazette want to help you on your way.
Happy Trails is a continuing Gazette series that explores the best of what the Colorado outdoors has to offer.
It can be tricky finding a trailhead for Austin Bluffs Open Space. Start through the valley of University Park Open Space, tacking on the views with Pulpit Rock.
Lincoln Mountain Open Space is one gem within Douglas County's outdoor portfolio. Expect smaller crowds here north of Colorado Springs.
A short loop at Florissant Fossil Beds, where remain massive redwood stumps from millions of years ago.
Sundance is one of Cheyenne Mountain State Park's premier loops, along with Blackmer showcasing the diverse nature at the base of the granite monolith.
In Cañon City, often overlooked is the East Ridge Campground in Royal Bridge Park, but the Summit Trail from here, leading to Fremont Peak, should not be missed.
You’ve seen the landmark from Interstate 25 — the commanding promontory for which the town of Castle Rock is named. Now, exit the highway and take a closer look.
Past Fort Carson and Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Highway 115 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.
For all that Bear Creek Regional park offers — play sets, picnic pavilions, tennis courts, a dog park — the centerpiece is the trail network. Runners, walkers, equestrians and mountain bikers delight in 10-plus miles of dirt paths that weave through prairie and oak- and yucca-covered knolls.
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.
The Coyote Ridge Natural Area is a prairie-to-foothills experience near Fort Collins and open to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.
Garden of the Gods overflows with visitors in summer, while Red Rock Canyon’s far-reaching trail network offers solitude away from roads and equally intriguing rock formations.
In Colorado Springs, one doesn’t have to go far for the refreshing experience of water and mountains. Take, for example, the South Suburban Reservoir in Stratton Open Space.
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.
In Boulder, Chautauqua Park is the top choice for a quick taste of the great outdoors, but it’s nearly impossible to find a spot for your car on weekends, even early in the morning. Another option: The scenic views and grassy meadows of the Betasso Preserve.
The nearest national monument to Colorado Springs asks you to imagine a tropical place that existed 34 million years ago.
Tucked away in the Rio Grande Valley just outside of Santa Fe is what the Bureau of Land Management dubbed a “remarkable outdoor laboratory.”
It’s a curious place to begin a wild adventure. Piñon Valley Park is a green patch tucked in the neighborhood, complete with a playground and swing set. Cars are parked on the neighborhood curbs, near a fence that blocks motorists from the wide, dirt path running uphill. Welcome to the western gateway of Ute Valley Park.
The Cheesman Ranch trail is a great tour of Mueller State Park's beauty, but before you go, be sure you’re willing to commit to the full length. Be aware of the weather, too.
Fish Creek Falls is one of Steamboat Springs’ most iconic natural features, with the quarter-mile walk to the base of the 282-foot waterfall ranking as one of the top hikes in the northwest Colorado mountain town. But beyond the bridge, up a series of steep switchbacks, a second waterfall and a quiet lake are enjoyed by a few visitors who expend the extra effort.
Hartman Rocks “is one of Gunnison’s greatest gems,” declares the tourism website, dubbing Hartman Rocks “one of western Colorado’s best-kept secrets.” Not in mountain biking circles. Guardians of the 45-mile singletrack network say this high desert route rivals Fruita’s farther west.
Up, down, up, down. That’s the theme of the Elder-Fehn Trail at Catamount Ranch, a Teller County open space. It won’t appeal to traditionalists preferring a steady uphill that ends at some overlook. And that’s fine by the frequenters of this protected paradise.
At first glance, the trek up Uncompahgre Peak seems to require ropes, helmets and extensive climbing experience, for its north face is flanked by a 700-foot cliff. But with 7 miles and 3,000 feet of hard effort, you can bag this sixth-highest fourteener in Colorado.
If you’re looking for the quick satisfaction of conquering some steep switchbacks without spending an entire day scaling a fourteener, you’re in luck. Rising over the quaint town of Green Mountain Falls, the Crystal Trail fittingly has its share of rushing waterfalls.
In Manitou Springs, one peak rules supreme. That is Pikes Peak, America’s Mountain, accessed via Barr Trail at the end of Ruxton Avenue. But one need not hoof it 13 miles to the top for the sublime nature that can be felt on a visit to this gateway town.
The Blackmer Trail is one of Cheyenne Mountain State Park's premier loops, as it showcases a rare "transition zone," where foothill shrublands meet the montane forest ecosystem. High-altitude cravings won't be satiated, but anyone seeking a stroll or bike ride through serenity will be pleased.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park has higher destinations, such as Mount Muscoco. That's one of the wilder escapes, along with St. Mary's Falls. But the Columbine Trail, spanning the mouth of the canyon to the upper reaches, might be the best way to experience the park's beauty.
Every trail has a purpose. And while the trademark trail in Colorado climbs to high altitudes with unparalleled views, many others are designed to simply get users out of their houses. Take, for example, the modest loop at Bluffs Regional Park, essentially in the backyard of some not-so-modest homes.
West of Colorado Springs and past Lake George, the Tarryall Mountains are wrongfully overlooked. They're set upon the Lost Creek Wilderness, a stream-fed expanse of rocky wonder 50 miles from the Springs or Denver. While Coloradans are fixated on higher elevations, this serene escape awaits discovery. Lizard Rock is but one destination where the imagination runs free.
Flatlanders fare well on the short trail to a rocky top with terrific views in North Cheyenne Cañon Park. The scenery spoils those who hardly work up their heart rate, but that's the beauty of the Springs, where residents can feel deep in nature just minutes after the stress of work, for example.
Barneys Dome watches high over Ute Pass, an impossible-to-miss sight driving west from Colorado Springs. The rock formation appears like a throne. And indeed, anyone up for the hearty adventure is granted a seat with awe-inspiring views. But the dome is hardly ventured, and that might be for the best. Some route-finding skills are required, as well as some considerable fitness.
Almost 50 miles north of Manitou Springs resides the little brother of the town's famous outdoor attraction. Challenge Hill has become the centerpiece of the state-of-the-art community park in Castle Rock that opened in 2014 and continues to expand.
Jefferson County's Mount Falcon Park is a go-to escape for Denverites - though with the crowds, not all would consider it an escape. At the trailhead, it's easy to stop and stare at Red Rocks Amphitheatre's glory. Begin the ascent, best described as moderately relentless - never steep but steady and constant.
Between Colorado Springs and Denver, the most scenic stretch of Interstate 25 is near Larkspur. It's easy to look out the window and wish to be in that countryside, exploring those fields and cliffsides. At Spruce Mountain Open Space, you can do just that.
Manitou Springs is famous for being the gateway to America's Mountain. From town, people walk to Barr Trail and embark on the 13.1-mile hike to Pikes Peak. Lesser known are the trailheads of lower-profile mountains. They, too, are found in town, hiding in neighborhoods. And anyone who seeks them is guaranteed solitude and views.
Less than an hour's drive from Denver is an enormous outdoor hub. Hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders, rock climbers, anglers and hunters are all invited to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, its wild 12,000 acres sprawling across two counties. Not many state parks offer backcountry camping as Golden Gate Canyon does
Lake of Glass offers a rare, unforgettable experience above treeline. But if you've never been to Rocky Mountain National Park, be advised: This difficult should not be your introduction.
For residents of Colorado Springs and Woodland Park, Mueller State Park is a go-to, all-seasons getaway. Nearly 40 miles of trail web through 5,000 acres, where wildlife sightings are common in spring-fed meadows framed by forests and Pikes Peak granite.
Many consider the drive east of Colorado Springs dull, with nothing to see but flat prairie and steadily developing neighborhoods. But all eyes widen at a 750-acre expanse that emerges out of nowhere off U.S. 24. Throughout this colorful state, nothing is quite like Paint Mines Interpretive Park.
When climbing season comes around (June through September), novices look to 14,265-foot Quandary Peak as the way to break into Colorado's fourteener craze. None of the state's 54 summits above 14,000 feet should be viewed as easy, but this one outside Breckenridge is considered relatively friendly to fit beginners.
Everyone needs a quick escape. And in Colorado Springs, many find it on a path that enters silent woods - silent except for the rushing North Cheyenne Creek. They find solitude as they focus on the steady climb, counting seven lumber bridges on their way to a clearing.
Palmer Park is the rugged, wild escape that Gen. William Jackson Palmer intended for Colorado Springs residents when he donated the property. Templeton Trail can be difficult to follow. But it's central to the bizarre beauty of Palmer Park, where one never really gets lost among the bluffs and hoodoos close to the city's center.
Sprawling across 119,790 acres, and only 50 miles from either Colorado Springs or Denver, the Lost Creek Wilderness is stocked with countless wonders. One could spend a lifetime exploring the 130-plus miles of footpaths, feasting upon rock formations, lakes and mountain plateaus.
After hikers and mountain bikers debate how to spend their mornings and afternoons in North Cheyenne Cañon, they often decide on a loop trail that crosses Mount Buckhorn. The single track skirts a ridge from where the area's signature mountains are in clear view: Pikes Peak is joined by the likes of Cheyenne Mountain and Mount Rosa. This quick escape deserves the hype.
Cheyenne Mountain State Park encompasses 21 miles of multi-use trails that grant the rare prairie-to-peak experience. Peaceful grasslands meet diverse woods that meet the foothills. Of course, the centerpiece is the region's second most famous mountain to Pikes Peak: Cheyenne Mountain. One the park's premier paths is the Talon Trail.
This land remains a natural paradise to be enjoyed by hikers, bikers, equestrians and rock climbers who turn off U.S. 24 and quickly swap the city scene. There are countless ways to mix up adventure, as suggested by the trail maps posted at the often-busy parking lot. We recommend a loop that showcases much of the classic scenery this city has to offer.
A weekend drive to Boulder's Chautauqua Park entails a sometimes-lengthy search for a parking spot. And the hike to the Royal Arch sometimes means stopping for hikers coming through narrow passages - on our recent trip we thought a traffic light might be appropriate. But always, we're left breathless by the rock bending high in the woods at a stunning overlook. The relentless ascent also takes the breath away.
Colorado is full of surprises. Trails and roads lead to all sorts of geological wonders in unexpected places. Outside Woodland Park, a U.S. Forest Service campground is called Red Rocks Group, but at the parking lot you won't find any sign directing you to the awe-inspiring namesake. It hides, bizarrely, in the woods a short distance away.
Blodgett Peak requires considerable skill and fitness. If in doubt, opt for the open space's many peaceful trails into stream-fed places of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine. Otherwise, strap on your sturdy boots and grab your hiking poles for this serious adventure up the prominent point in northwest Colorado Springs.
Teller County's higher country is graced with big groves of aspen, making the forest just west of Colorado Springs a prime hiking destination as the tree leaves glow gold. You can't go wrong on the backside of Pikes Peak with the Crags Trail or the Lovell Gulch Trail we recently spotlighted in this space. Here, we propose an adventure that leads to a unique sight.
See for yourself what makes this one of the area's best places for a quick, serene escape, a favorite especially for families with young kids. The trail is largely what brings bunches of city dwellers to the otherwise quiet hamlet of Palmer Lake, between Colorado Springs and Denver.
If you're an outdoor lover living in Fort Collins, this trail doesn't sound like a good idea. "Hike these trails instead of Horsetooth Rock" reads a headline from the town's paper. Don't expect seclusion at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, where Larimer County charges $6 for day visitors. If the crowd and fee disappoint you, the views won't.
Seeking a quick escape into nature? You won't go wrong with this Monument-area trail, which comes with the added bonus of a scenic drive. Here we propose a short out-and-back, but perhaps you'll want to join the crowds who take Mount Herman Road to find a weekend camping spot in Pike National Forest.
The web of trails through Pulpit Rock Park offers fantastic views of the city and, from the top of the rock formation, a panoramic view of the Rockies. This park can be a choose-your-own-adventure. The loop around the park is about 4 miles, but a straight shot from the parking lot to the top of Pulpit is a quick and hard 2 miles.
The trail has become one of the city's most popular, and for good reason. For one, the views are spectacular. For another, it's a good workout. And, as beloved as it is, it still feels more secluded than other local outdoor hotspots, such as the Manitou Incline or some trails within North Cheyenne Cañon Park.
We in Colorado Springs are spoiled by the proximity of Mueller State Park, a gem among this state's protected places. The trails, which the park numbers for its organization, combine for 55 miles and are at elevations that average 9,600 feet. The plains-to-peak views are always easy to find. Here we spotlight trail No. 7, the one called Outlook Ridge, which loops on a rugged but family friendly route.
Say hello to all those crazies at the Manitou Incline. Wave as you go on your far less tortuous way. This historic trail starts directly to the right of the stair stepper's base, and while challenging at points, this option allows many more chances to breathe and enjoy the view.
The mountains overlooking Boulder inspire a longing to reach their summits. This trail leading up one is beloved by locals and venturers from afar. You'll realize the popularity as you search for parking on most days - limited spots go for $5 at the Gregory Canyon trailhead, but cars typically line the road to it as well as surrounding residential streets. Whatever the hassle, the hike is worth it. Vast panoramic views await anyone willing to take on the climb.