The convenient Santa Fe Regional Trail extends for about 14 miles from Palmer Lake south to the southern boundary of the U.S. Air Force Academy near Ice Lake. The trail follows the old right-of-way of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads.
Access the Northgate trailhead just west of Interstate 25 on the north side of Northgate Boulevard, right before the USAFA Northgate entrance. An out-and-back hike from here to Ice Lake is about 10 miles roundtrip. Walk up the short hill from the parking area and be sure to bear right at the trail intersection, heading south on a bridge over Northgate Boulevard.
The first two miles are an incredibly flat straightaway that closely parallels I-25. The traffic noise is muted by wonderful views to the west of grasslands, ponderosa pine woodlands, the Rampart Range and Pikes Peak. After about 2 ½ miles, the trail makes a sharp right turn, carrying you west as the traffic noise fades away. The terrain becomes more rolling and forested and you may see birds more typical of the lower mountains, like Steller’s jays and ravens.
After about another mile, hikers will reach Monument Creek, where the trail swings south alongside railroad tracks. An occasional train may chug along, adding some flair to the hike. Continue south along scenic Monument Creek, passing under South Gate Boulevard after about a half mile, then continue another mile to the Ice Lake parking area.
Continue another 100 yards to reach the aptly named and frozen Ice Lake, where hikers can take a break at the picnic table. To help preserve perishable foods, early settlers used large saws to cut blocks of ice in this area.
From the lake, retrace your steps back to the Northgate trailhead.
Joe LaFleur has lived in southern Colorado since 2016 and is a hiking enthusiast who hits the trails weekly. Contact Joe with questions or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hiking is great exercise, but can be hazardous. Always be sure to plan well, check the weather, bring a printed map, tell someone where and when you are going, and contact them when you return safely.