From downtown Colorado Springs, it's a 20-minute drive to the 1,600-acre North Cheyenne Cañon Park (2110 N. Cheyenne Canyon Road, tinyurl.com/NCC-Park and cheyennecanon.org). Its proximity and incredible views have made the park a local favorite for more than 120 years. Stop at Starsmore Discovery Center (2120 N. Cheyenne Canyon Road) at the park entrance for maps and information about places to hike, mountain bike, rock climb and have a picnic.
The Columbine Trail follows the canyon up about four miles to Helen Hunt Falls. You can hike the entire length of it or park at one of several trailheads that mark shorter hikes, such as the mile-long Mount Cutler Trail, which offers panoramic views without a huge investment of sweat and tears. Seven Bridges Trail is a family-friendly shaded jaunt that winds its way across Cheyenne Creek and over seven wooden bridges. And yes, we've counted.
Continue up the paved road until it ends in a dirt parking lot, and you can hike on an old narrow-gauge railroad bed that once carried gold ore to the city from Cripple Creek. You can bike it, too; those new to the sport will appreciate the gentle slope of the wide trail, easier than the switchbacks of single-track Captain Jack's. The nearby 318-acre Stratton Open Space also offers several paths on which to test your mountain-biking skills, and the Chutes trail is well-known as a fun downhill ride.
Unlike the Cheyenne Cañon area, Cheyenne Mountain State Park (410 JL Ranch Heights Road, tinyurl.com/CMSP-park) does charge an entrance fee: $7 per vehicle to access 20 miles of trails. You can also buy a state parks pass for $70 per vehicle, which gets you 12-month access to all 42 state parks. It's well worth either investment: Cheyenne Mountain's 16 well-kept trails range in difficulty from easy to moderate, and mountain bikers dig the single-track options. There are picnic areas, campgrounds, an outdoor amphitheatre and a pavilion that can accommodate 200 people, all nearly within spitting distance of Fort Carson. Dogs and horses are not allowed on trails, but wildlife viewing and bird-watching are encouraged.
Water, water, everywhere
Now that we've mentioned bird-watching, we should add that a great place to do it is Big Johnson Reservoir/Bluestem Prairie Open Space (South Powers Boulevard and Bradley Road, tinyurl.com/Bluestem-Prairie). Several species of migrating shorebirds, gulls, sparrows, loons and other feathered visitors can be spotted from the gravel trail circling the lake. Pronghorn antelope and prairie dogs can also be seen in the area.
A lake with less wildlife and more recreation is Quail Lake Park (915 Cheyenne Mountain Blvd., tinyurl.com/Quail-Lake-CS). The lake is open for non-motorized boating and fishing, and there are also two volleyball courts, picnic areas and a fitness trail.
With 4,600 surface acres of water and 60 miles of shoreline, Lake Pueblo State Park (640 Pueblo Reservoir Road, Pueblo, tinyurl.com/LPSP-park) is the largest body of water in the area. Sailing, motor-boating, jet-skiing, waterskiing and fishing are allowed, but swimming is only permitted at the Rock Canyon Swim Beach from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For landlubbers, the park's 34 miles of paved trails are open to both hiking and biking.
Prefer bikes to boats? The 35-mile continuous trail that meanders north and south through the region welcomes both bikers and hikers. It's called the New Santa Fe Regional Trail (tinyurl.com/Trails-North-South and tinyurl.com/Springs-Trails) near Palmer Lake, becomes the Pikes Peak Greenway as it curves around downtown, and finishes as the Fountain Creek Regional Trail at Fountain Creek Regional Park (2010 Duckwood Road, tinyurl.com/Fountain-Creek). You'll find several picnic pavilions and recreation facilities, including a playground, volleyball and basketball courts, and horseshoe pits in the Duckwood Active Use Area. The park is also home to Fountain Creek Nature Center (320 Peppergrass Lane, tinyurl.com/Fountain-Nature), which offers environmental programs ("Ants on Parade," anyone?) and nature camps for children.
Kids will also find plenty of options at El Pomar Youth Sports Park (2212 Executive Circle, csyouthsports.org), including an in-line hockey rink, batting cages, natural-grass soccer/lacrosse fields, a synthetic turf field and baseball/softball fields.
With a skateboard park, BMX track, dog park, sand volleyball and other recreational features, it's no surprise that John Metcalfe Memorial Park (704 E. Ohio St., tinyurl.com/Metcalfe-Park) is one of the most visited parks in Fountain. And for disc golf, there are two 18-hole courses in the area, at Widefield Community Park (Fountain Boulevard at Drury Lane, tinyurl.com/Widefield-DG) and Cumberland Green Open Space (9614 Jimmy Camp Road, Fountain). The 17-acre Widefield park also has baseball and soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts and a playground.
Finally, on summer days when it's too hot to do much of anything else, kids can soak themselves and each other at the elaborate water play area at Deerfield Hills Park (4290 Deerfield Hills Road, tinyurl.com/Deerfield-spray).
Sweaty but stately
More refined outdoor activities are available as well. The Broadmoor (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com) is far from wild, with its swans and well-manicured foliage, but a lake in the center of the resort is surrounded by a paved walking trail with stunning views of the mountains. The five-star resort also has three golf courses, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and private lessons and tennis camps. Golfers can also practice their swing at the nearby Cheyenne Mountain Resort (3225 Broadmoor Valley Road, cheyennemountain.com), which puts an 18-hole golf course alongside a 35-acre lake.
Finally, if horses are your true love, there are two stables in southern Colorado Springs. The MM Equestrian Center (12393 Squirrel Creek Road, mmequestrian.com) has a full program of lessons, and riders can train with Tracey Powers, coach for the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Team. Hershey's Heavenly Horses (12 El Encanto Drive, hersheysheavenlyhorses.com) offers lessons for riders of all ages, boarding, trail rides, day camps and birthday parties.