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10 difficult hikes that are actually difficult

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A recent email from the local daily promised the "13 Most Difficult Hiking Trails in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region." Only thing is the list of "Most Difficult" hiking trails aren't difficult at all. In fact, most of the hikes listed were labelled as "moderate" — still a stretch for most of them. I felt like I fell victim to some lame clickbait.

I decided to put together a list of difficult hiking trails that really are difficult. Due to having a slight case of triskaidekaphobia — an extreme superstition involving the number 13 — I'll limit my list to 10 trails, presented here in no particular order.

1. Chautauqua Mountain, Palmer Lake

Whether you do Chautauqua Mountain as a long loop, or take the more direct and very steep, eroded and scree-ridden route up the north side to the top, this is a hike that will get your heart-rate up.

Palmer Lake, Elephant Rock and the New Santa Fe Trail from Chautauqua Mountain - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Palmer Lake, Elephant Rock and the New Santa Fe Trail from Chautauqua Mountain

2. Eagles Peak, Pike National Forest/US Air Force Academy

Eagles Peak, the big, craggy peak visible to the west of the AFA's Cadet Chapel is a short, steep, and rocky climb, with 360-degree views that make it worth the trouble.

AFA Cadet area as viewed from Eagles Peak - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • AFA Cadet area as viewed from Eagles Peak

3. Heizer Trail, Cascade

Less than 5 miles round trip — not including up to a mile round trip from the nearest parking to the trailhead — Heizer Trail is steep trail with lots of switchbacks gains almost 1900' in elevation from the trailhead to the top of Cascade Mountain. If that's not tough enough for you, continue on the trail to Forest Service trail 638, and take it to Barr Trail for a 15 mile round trip hike.

4. Mt Rosa, Pike National Forest

Whether you choose to do Mt Rosa as a long hike from North Cheyenne Canon, or as a shorter hike from Frosty's Park, there is no doubt this is a tough hike. Topping out at almost 11,500', the views make up for the exertion.

View from the summit of Mt Rosa - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • View from the summit of Mt Rosa

5. Devils Playground, Pikes Peak

Forking off of the very popular Crags trail, the 9+ mile round trip hike up Forest Service Trail 753 meanders through the woods before starting steeply uphill via a number of switchbacks. From there, it then goes pretty much straight up a very steep section to the Devils Playground along the Pikes Peak Highway. If you want more of a challenge, continue across the highway and follow the trail for a few more miles to the summit of Pikes Peak.

View from the Devils Playground - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • View from the Devils Playground

6. Bison Mountain, Lost Creek Wilderness

More than 13 miles round trip, more than 4,000' of elevation gain, topping out over 12,000' in elevation makes Bison Mountain one of the hardest hikes on this list. Add in an awe-inspiring, large summit with huge rock monoliths, and you'll be glad you did it.

View west from the summit of Bison Mountain - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • View west from the summit of Bison Mountain

7. Crystal Trail, Green Mountain Falls

A hidden gem, the Crystal Trail climbs almost 1400' in about 1 mile and many, many switchbacks. The payoff is seeing Pikes Peak looming large when you get to the top.

8. Barr Trail, Manitou Springs

Known as the most popular route to the summit of Pikes Peak, and also as the return route for users of the Manitou Incline, Barr Trail can be tough. Even if you're not climbing the entire 12 miles to the summit — which the distance alone makes difficult — the first 4 miles to the old experimental forest is challenging with lots of elevation gain, switchbacks and slippery scree.

Barr Trail - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Barr Trail

9.  Mt Esther Trail, Chipita Park

Hidden on a remote road, with next to no parking, Mt Esther Trail is part of the Ring the Peak network. It has almost 900' of elevation gain in about 1 mile (one way), steep switchbacks and nice views up and down Ute Pass and across to the Waldo Canyon burn scar. At the top, you can go right to continue on the RTP, or left to the Crow Gulch picnic area on the Pikes Peak Highway.

Panorama view of Ute Pass from the Mt Esther Trail - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Panorama view of Ute Pass from the Mt Esther Trail

10. 4-Mile Overlook, Dome Rock State Wildlife Area, Divide

Bordering Mueller State Park, Dome Rock SWA has a number of hiking trails. Much of the SWA is closed for most of each year for wildlife protection, but the hike to 4 Mile Overlook is open all year. 11 miles round trip, with much of the last few miles to the overlook being uphill, makes this a difficult trail in an area many hikers don't know about.

View from the 4 Mile Overlook - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • View from the 4 Mile Overlook

There you have it. Ten of the most difficult hikes in region that really are difficult.

Happy Trails!



Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 26 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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