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Best Hiking in Colorado Springs: Top 5 Must-Hit Trails

Hiking Adventures in the Southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains


The city of Colorado Springs rests in the shadow of the Southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado

Colorado Springs, CO - Photo Credit: Jasen Miller


 

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Hiking in Colorado Springs

The second largest city in the Centennial State has a lot to offer, including fantastic access to the outdoors. From the giant peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the edge of the Great Plains, the diversity of landscapes makes this area of Colorado a particularly striking place to hike. In this article, we include our top 5 favorite regional hikes, selected to show you the very best that Colorado Springs has to offer. Happy trails!


Area Geography

Colorado Springs and its immediate area are defined by a cluster of peaks belonging to the Front Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains. The mountains rise to the west of town, culminating in the massive Pikes Peak. This famous 14,114-foot peak rises so far above neighboring mountains that it’s visible from distances of over 100 miles away. Driving west on I-70 from Kansas, it is the first mountain of the Rockies that you are able to see.

Like many cities in the Front Range of Colorado, most of the major recreational opportunities exist to the west, among the foothills and peaks of the Rocky Mountains. To the east of this range lie the vast Great Plains, a region hundreds of miles wide and checkered by private lands, farming communities, and scrublands. Stark and beautiful, the Great Plains are one of the defining physiographical regions of the US, but aren’t nearly as accessible as the public lands west of town.


Giant red rock formations jut out of the forest, with the snowy peaks of the Southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance

Photo Credit: Joel Tonyan



Climate and Best Hiking Seasons

Despite its high elevation, Colorado Springs can get quite toasty in the summer. The city and surrounding areas are in a semi-arid to arid climate. Hiking the lower elevation trails in the middle of the summer will be hot. The best times to hike in Colorado Springs largely correspond with the elevation of your hike.


If you’re hiking in a range between roughly 6,000-9,000 feet above sea level, the best months to hike tend to be April/May and September/October. If you want to hike in the summertime, head to the higher ground - roughly in excess of 9,000 feet. The taller elevations in the Pikes Peak region have average summer daytime highs between 60-85 degrees.


Make sure you check the weather before you head out - summer thunderstorms can be pretty nasty in alpine terrain. It has also been known to snow atop Pikes Peak at any month of the year as well. Mountain weather plays by different rules; check the forecast often before you go by using the following resources:

The view from the summit of Pike's Peak features the greater Colorado Springs metro area sprawled out immediately below, with the vastness of the Great Plains off in the distance as far as the eye can see

Pikes Peak Summit - Photo Credit: Chaz McGregor



Criteria and Important Information

The 5 hikes listed below are rated by the following metrics: overall distance, elevation gain, and difficulty. The difficulty is split into broad categories (easy, moderate, difficult, and very difficult.) All hikes are on established trails and don’t require any sort of permits for backcountry travel.


Any potential hiker should bring sun protection, ample water, appropriate layers, rain gear, maps (or downloadable mapping apps), and a stocked first aid kit. For high elevation hikes, make sure you are aware of the signs of altitude sickness (nausea, lethargy, lack of appetite). You can treat this by drinking tons of water and taking anti-inflammatory medicines such as Ibuprofen, but these are only temporary solutions. If symptoms persist, the best thing to do is to head down to lower elevations as soon as possible.


Remember, cacti and snakes are also common throughout the lower elevations of the Front Range; make sure you look down occasionally to prevent from stepping on either. Without further ado, here are 5 of the best hikes in the Colorado Springs area.


Top 5 Best Hikes Around Colorado Springs


Sharp red rock formations jut out of the lush green forest

Photo Credit: Lee Coursey



Garden of the Gods: The Central Garden Trails

  • Difficulty: Easy

  • Distance: ~1 mile

  • Elevation gain: +~30 ft.

The Garden of the Gods is a pristine area of red sandstone formations that seem to defy gravity. Various roads lead into and out of the park, making various loop option hikes available. There are also plenty of road pull-offs for those who’d rather treat it as a drive-through park.

For newcomers anxious to check the most dramatic formations, or people short on time, I recommend trying the Central Garden Trails near the Main Parking Lot - which are paved and wheelchair accessible. The area is a labyrinth of connecting trails, so make sure to bring a map or pick up a free brochure at the visitor center. This area is very popular, so expect to share the trails with others - especially on weekends!


Brown and white sandstone hoodoos and other formations abound throughout the Pulpit Rock area in Colorado

Photo Credit: Jessica Lamirand



Pulpit Rock Loop

  • Difficulty: Moderate

  • Distance: ~4.2 miles

  • Elevation Gain: +~560 ft.

Pulpit Rock is a set of dramatic rocks just east of I-25 that provides stunning views of the entire Colorado Springs area. The loop climbs Pulpit Rock and explores the adjacent area of Austin Bluffs. For a direct climb, you can take a 1.2-mile route straight up the rocks, but the loop is also great for a more relaxed adventure or trail run.

Compared to other popular trails, Pulpit Rock is much less crowded and can scratch that outdoor itch without taking you too far away from populated areas. Please note that there have been recent trail renovations in the area. Check the maps and signs at the parking lot for the most current route information.


A brown sign indicates Cheyenne Mountain State Park, with the aforementioned mountain looming just  beyond

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall



Cheyenne Mountain State Park: Talon & North Talon Loop

  • Difficulty: Moderate (Difficult if continuing on to Cheyenne Mt. summit)

  • Distance: 7 miles

  • Elevation Gain: +~950 ft.


Cheyenne Mountain State Park was once a private ranch, that is now open and available to the public. There are trails, camping, an archery range, and plenty of vistas throughout the area. There are also entrance fees, which you can find out about here.

Enter the park and continue beyond the visitor center to a parking area. Pick up the Talon trail and continue west, rising up to the North Talon Trail, which intersects the Talon trail on two separate occasions. Use any of the intersections to begin the North Talon loop portion and then return to your car.

The hike features a nice Great Plains-to-Rocky Mountains experience, with many views and rock outcroppings. If you’re feeling up to it, connect with the Dixon trail to tackle Cheyenne Mountain itself, although this is a far more difficult variation. Here’s a park map to help plot out your route in advance.


Stairs stretch for a mile along the steep slope of Manitou Incline, illuminated by the setting sun overhead

Photo Credit: Kylie Stewart



Manitou Incline

  • Difficulty: Very Difficult

  • Distance: ~1 mile

  • Elevation Gain: ~2,020 ft.


Part hike, part fitness challenge, the Manitou Incline is among the most popular outdoor destinations in all of Colorado. It’s so popular you have to reserve a place to hike online, which you can do here.

The trail is set on an old narrow-gauge funicular track, which was washed out in a flood back in 1990. What remains are nearly 2800 steps that rise over 2,000 feet over the course of a single mile. Think you have what it takes? You can access the trail from the town of Manitou Springs.


Pike's Peak looms brown and misty, a pile of gravel over 14,000 feet tall

Photo Credit: Mark Byzewski



Barr Trail-Pikes Peak

  • Difficulty: Very Difficult

  • Distance: 25 miles round-trip

  • Elevation gain: 7,390 ft.

There are many ways to get up to the top of Pikes Peak. You can drive the road, take the cog railway, or utilize any number of trails. The most famous approach, however, is hiking the Barr Trail. This massive endeavor scales the eastern side of the mountain, from the outskirts of Manitou Springs to the summit elevation of 14,110 feet above sea level.

There are many dispersed campsites along the way for overnighters, and the scenery is superb - showcasing the best features of the Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak area. If you’re thruhiking, get ready for a long and arduous adventure. Be prepared for wild changes in weather and temperature. Completing the Barr Trail is indeed a feat to be proud of.


A beautiful photo of the Milky Way in all its majesty lighting up the night sky over Colorado Springs and the Southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains

Photo Credit: Jeff Brown



After Trail Food

Hiking in Colorado Springs can make you hungry. After completing one of the hikes above, chow down at one of our favorite local spots.


After a great adventure and some post-hike food to boot, you’ll have a better understanding of the type of experiences the Colorado Springs area offers. Rest assured, there's plenty more to discover - try these, then go explore and find your own favorites!


 

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