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|October 9-15, 2008
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Legal trails… if you’re so inclined
Five scenic hikes near Pikes Peak offer workouts less crowded, grueling than Manitou grade
by Andrew Wineke
The Manitou Incline marches 2,011 feet over 1.02 miles. It’s a nasty, awful, grueling challenge — easily the toughest workout in the region, maybe the state.
But the Incline isn’t the only tough one around. If driving to Manitou, fighting for parking and jostling elbows with the tourists panting their way up the grade doesn’t sound appealing, there are other choices. Now, none of them is the Incline, but they’ll still get your quads burning and your lungs heaving… and let’s be honest, sometimes something less than a full, coughing-up-blood Incline workout is just what you’re looking for.
Also note that running the Incline currently requires trespassing on private property, although the city of Colorado Springs, the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railway and others are working on a deal to make it legal, whereas these options are 100 percent legit.
This brutal climb at the back edge of the Air Force Academy may be the closest thing you’ll find to an Incline workout aside from the real thing. And yet it’s also completely different from the Incline: a shady trail that follows a stream up, and up, and up to a rocky promontory with 360-degree views of Pikes Peak, the Rampart Range and, of course, the Academy at the peak’s base. Instead of the Incline’s railroad ties, Eagle Peak offers big rocks, and lots of them.
Length: 1.5 miles one way
Elevation gain: 1,900 feet
To get there: Take Interstate 25 to the North Air Force Academy entrance, Exit 156B, drive through the gate and follow the signs to the Visitors Center, as if you were going to the Cadet Chapel. Park at the center and cross Academy Drive to the west, where a dirt road leads up the hill.
The hike: Walk up the dirt road a quarter-mile, where a spur to the left goes to the (signed) trailhead. The path starts out rolling through the woods, climbing slowly along the creek, then suddenly rears upright as the creek turns into a waterfall and the trail climbs right beside it.
After a mile, and roughly 1,200 vertical feet, the trail mellows out in a peaceful meadow, then veers to the left for a final, steep scramble to the top of the peak. From the top, hike a few dozen meters west for a view practically straight down on the Academy.
This short, scenic hike above Green Mountain Falls offers good bang for your exercise buck if you’re near the west side, offering great views of the town and the valleys around it. Or, if you climb to the end of the trail at South Catamount Reservoir, you can get a good look at the west face of Pikes Peak.
Length: Three miles one way
Elevation gain: 1,640 feet
To get there: Take U.S. Highway 24 west to the Green Mountain Falls exit, follow Ute Pass Avenue west into town and park at the lake.
The hike: Walk west down Belvidere Avenue through downtown Manitou Springs and turn left onto Hondo Avenue. Hike up Hondo for 0.8 miles past the gate to the water tank. You’ll pass Catamount Falls, then see the sign for the trail. It scrambles through the rocks a short distance, then begins switchbacking up the hill. After a mile, and 1,200 feet of climbing, the trail levels out into a meadow. If you’re just on the trail for a workout, turn around here. If you’re looking for some nice views of Pikes Peak, continue another mile along Catamount Creek to the gate, then continue up the road to South Catamount Dam.
Although only the Middle Columbine section of the trail is anywhere near as steep as the Incline, the well-constructed path lends itself to running laps — and a few of those will put the hurt on anyone’s quads. Riding the whole trail on a mountain bike (or turning off after Middle Columbine, climbing to Gold Camp Road and descending on the Chutes) is a terrific option.
Length: Four miles one way
Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
To get there: Take Cheyenne Boulevard west to North Cheyenne Cañon Park and park at the entrance. The trail begins behind the Starsmore Discovery Center.
The hike: Columbine is divided into Lower, Middle and Upper sections, each just more than a mile long. The Lower section follows the creek for half a mile, then switchbacks up to meet the road at the start of Middle Columbine. If you’re on the trail for a workout, park here and run Middle Columbine, which switchbacks steeply up the canyon’s side, gaining 750 vertical feet before leveling out to a more comfortable contour that meets Upper Columbine and ends at Helen Hunt falls.
Short, steep, rocky — what’s not to like? On weekends, the Section 16 trailhead can be as crowded as Ruxton Avenue around the Incline, but it offers a good bit of exercise close to downtown.
Length: 1.5 miles one way, up to 6 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 800 feet
To get there: Go west on U.S. 24, turn left on 26th Street. Continue south to the four-way stop at Lower Gold Camp Road. Turn right and drive a mile to the trailhead on the right. There’s an overflow parking lot a block south on the left.
The hike: Follow the trail northwest and then west as it skirts the edge of Red Rock Canyon Open Space. Ignore the side trails and stay left at the intersection with the Paul Intemann Memorial Nature Trail. The climb gets steeper at this point, scaling a shady canyon on a trail of oftenloose rocks.
At the top of the canyon, turn southwest to continue down to High Drive on the Palmer Trail, eventually making a loop on Lower Gold Camp Road. Or turn east along the saddle, round the summit and follow a ridge to an overlook.
Although not as steep as the Incline, Blodgett certainly gives it a run for its money in terms of tough sledding, particularly a final push on the way to the summit.
Length: 2.5 miles one way
Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
To get there: Take I-25 to the Woodmen Road exit and head west. Stay right on Woodmen at the intersection with Rockrimmon Road. Drive five miles west and turn right into the Blodgett Peak Open Space.
The hike: Follow the two-track road for a mile. Stay left at a junction where the road goes to a water tank. When the road ends, continue on the trail to the north through the scrub oaks for half a mile. Arrive at a T intersection and turn left.
The trail contours along the mountain, switches back a couple of times, then squeezes through two giant boulders. This is when the going gets tough: The trail heads sharply uphill, gaining 500 vertical feet over loose gravel. The trail gains a saddle, then continues to the peak.
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