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Colorado Springs' most popular hiking trails, and a few overlooked gems

Insider 2017

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Garden of the Gods - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Garden of the Gods

Our geography and superb scenery remain a huge tourist draw and area asset. Traveling at foot pace ensures ample time to take in the sights while getting some cardio in. Here, we look at a trio of highly popular hiking destinations and another few that even longtime locals may not have devoted time to, including one trail newly added to the El Paso County system.

Garden of the Gods Central Garden

An iconic city park on a par with many National Parks.

The most visited place in Colorado, one of most visited parks in the entire country.

The views, especially at sunrise, are stunning. The rising sun makes the looming red rocks almost glow. It's worth setting your alarm and getting up early to see it. Bringing your camera to Garden of the Gods is a no-brainer.

The most popular trails are found in the central garden, and wind through the famous massive rock formations.

The Manitou Incline

Very tough and insanely popular — maybe too popular for its own good.

A grueling test of mental and physical strength for anyone who tries it. That's why Olympians, soldiers and athletes train there frequently.

The sense of accomplishment when you get to the top is one of the best you'll ever feel, but the 3-mile hike back down means it's not over yet.

Don't forget to shoot a selfie at the top with the Incline to impress your friends and family.

Pro tip: Do yourself and the locals a favor by taking the free shuttle from Old Man's Trail and El Paso Avenue in Manitou Springs.

Mount Cutler

Located in North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Colorado Springs' largest city park.

A relatively easy, family-friendly, 2-mile round-trip hike. Dogs are welcome, but must be leashed at all times.

Stunning views into Seven Falls, The Broadmoor hotel grounds and downtown Colorado Springs.

Take the well-marked side trail to Mount Muscoco, the highest point in any Colorado Springs city park, for an even more impressive view of the city.

Get there early, or go on weekdays — the very small parking lot fills up quickly.

Garden of the Gods Niobrara Trail

Despite its popularity, there are trails in Garden of the Gods that fall under the radar. Niobrara Trail, near the High Point parking lot in the southeast corner of the park, is one such trail. Running across an old earthen dam at the south end of two old reservoirs, the trail follows along a narrow hogback ridge. Go past the intersection with Ute Trail about halfway up the ridge, and continue north to see spectacular views of the valley floor below and a different perspective of the park's iconic red rock formations. Farther on, the trail runs into Valley Reservoir Trail, a short trail over an earthen dam that separates the historic Rock Ledge Ranch from the park. You can then connect to the Galloway Homestead Trail, which circles to the north around a hill that separates Rock Ledge and the park, and follow Chambers Trail south back to Valley Reservoir Trail, or drop down into Rock Ledge Ranch for an experience all its own.

Florissant Fossil Beds Shootin' Star and Twin Rocks trails

Located about 30 miles west of Colorado Springs, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is a great place to hike and snowshoe. It's bisected by Teller County Road 1, and most people visiting the monument go to the visitors center and use the trails on the west side of the road. But if you make your way past the visitors center — after stopping in to get a day pass — you'll find the Shootin' Star and Twin Rocks trails, two of the most scenic trails in the monument. They wind over undulating hills, through groves of trees and past a seasonal pond before traversing through a large, wide open stretch of prairie, followed by a grove of aspens, just before the turnaround point. After the visitors center, turn left on Twin Rocks Road followed by a left into the Barksdale Picnic area. The Shootin' Star Trail starts at the picnic area before it becomes the Twin Rocks Trail. This easy, approximately 6-mile round-trip hike is one of the least known in the monument, so chances are you'll have the trails and the sights all to yourself.

Ute Pass Trail

Overshadowed by its more popular neighbor, the Manitou Incline, Ute Pass Trail starts right next to the beginning of the Incline. An out-and-back trail at 6-miles round trip, Ute Pass Trail was recently added to the El Paso County parks system, and is part of what will eventually be a longer trail connecting Manitou Springs to Cascade, Chipita Park, Green Mountain Falls, Woodland Park and beyond. Other than a steep climb up and over a hill near the beginning, the trail is easy for the most part, following an old utility road parallel to Highway 24. The trail follows what was once a wagon train route over Ute Pass and is also believed to have been a popular trail with American Indian tribes who used to inhabit the area. There is even a large, old water pipe that crosses over the trail, suspended between two steel towers. At the turn-around point, there's an overlook up and down Ute Pass, with a mix of old and new interpretive signs and a large information kiosk.

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