Preacher’s Hollow loop

The trailhead parking lot was empty on a summer blue-sky Saturday morning. You read that right. That’s what we found at our last visit to Mueller State Park, close to Colorado Springs but apparently far enough to avoid the weekend crowds of the city’s parks and open spaces.

There are other factors, namely the entrance fee. Also, there’s the space to spread out. Mueller boasts a 44 miles of trails touring 5,000 acres of forests and meadows.

One looks at the map and charts long loops. Or one keeps it simple, as we did on this Saturday, enjoying serenity that is increasingly rare on the Front Range outdoors. We spotted not another soul on the Preacher’s Hollow loop.

At the trailhead, we started left toward Never/Never Pond. The Pikes Peak massif and distant Sangre de Cristo peaks greet between the trees as the trail winds down to a V-shaped valley.

At the first junction, hang right for the wide path and stay straight at the next split, staying with the route marked by 4. We found the pond to be nothing much — never/never filling perhaps? — but charming nonetheless between hillsides and boulder piles.

Our tracker was close to a mile when we started steeply rising out of the hollow. It’s a sudden, harsh stretch over erosion-mitigating steps, but the best views of the trip reward up top. Go right on the flat, wide path, following to unobstructed scenes of the Sangres.

At the gate, we took the trail to the right, parallel with the road, arriving at the park’s visitor center. Here, the Wapiti Nature Trail briefly stretches to a junction; it’s left back to the parking lot.

Trip log: 2 miles round trip (loop), 450 feet of elevation gain, 9,686 feet max

Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Getting there: From Colorado Springs, follow U.S. 24 west toward Woodland Park. At the traffic light in Divide, go left onto Colorado 67. Park entrance in about 4 miles. Past kiosk, trailhead at second parking lot on left.

FYI: $9 entrance fee per vehicle. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding. No dogs on trails. Park day use 5 a.m.-10 p.m.

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