Upper Sand Creek Lake
Before you know it, snow will be falling in the high country. Lots of trails, either due to seasonal closures, length, or difficult access will be close to impossible to do until spring or summer. Before the snow flies or trails close, here a few hikes to do this month. (Don’t forget: the days are g
etting shorter and winter weather can happen at anytime. Know your limits, check the weather and plan accordingly
Barr Camp via the Elk Park Trailhead
: Want to visit Barr Camp, but the thought of a 12 mile round trip hike up the Barr Trail and sharing the route with lots of other people doesn’t appeal to you? This is the trail for you. It starts at tree line, and then traverses the eastern face of Pikes Peak — joining the Barr Trail right at Barr Camp.
With the exception of two short, steep inclines on the return trip, most of the trail is flat and level with a few rolling hills. At about nine miles round trip, it’s a great hike during the summer and fall. As a bonus, take the short side hike to the Oil Creek Tunnel site.
To get there: Take the Pikes Peak Highway ($12 - $40 fees do apply) past Glen Cove and look for a sign on the right side of the road indicating 12,000’ above sea level. Turn left past the gate on the downhill side of the road and park at the trailhead a few hundred feet down. The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
Music Pass, Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes
: If you want stunning views and don’t mind a long hike, or want to do a nice overnight trip, do this one before it gets later into the fall. Located just south west of the town of Westcliffe, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, Music Pass, at about 11,444’, offers some great views of a number of 13,000+ foot peaks, a deep, beautiful valley and the high plains to the east. No one would blame you if you turned around after visiting the pass and taking in the view. But, if you want to enjoy a few high mountain lakes, you’ll want to go over the pass and into the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve
The 1.25 mile hike from the trailhead to the top of Music Pass is fairly strenuous. From there, there's another three-mile side hike to the trail leading to Lower Sand Creek Lake (11,471’). If you stay on trail 862 it’s another 1.75 miles to Upper Sand Creek Lake (11,745’). A sign at the turn to Lower Sand Creek Lake says it’s 1 mile to the lower lake, but on my trip my GPS measured it as closer to 1 1/4 miles.
The hike from the top of Music Pass to the lakes is moderate, but the length can make it difficult for some. Also, on the return trip, the three quarters of a mile to the top of Music Pass is steep and rather strenuous. My recent hike from the trailhead to the Upper Sand Creek Lake, including the side route to the Lower Sand Creek Lake, was just under 11 miles round trip. It’s possible to walk around the lakes in the fall, which we didn’t do, and that would add to the total distance.
To get there: From Colorado Springs, state Highway 115 to Florence, then state Highway 67 south to Wetmore. Go west on state Highway 96 to Westcliffe and then south on state Highway 69 for approximately 4.5 miles. From Highway 69 turn right at the sign for Music Pass (County Road 119/Colfax Lane). Follow the road to the “T” intersection and turn left. Follow the dirt road for approximately 12 miles to the Rainbow Trail trailhead. From here, it’s another 3.5 miles one way to the Music Trail trailhead. (The road is high clearance/4WD only. If going by car, you’ll need to stop here and hike the 3.5 miles to the trailhead before actually hitting the trail.) Total drive time from the Springs to the Music Pass trailhead is about two hours.
Dome Rock State Wildlife Area loop
: Formerly known as the Mueller State Wildlife Area, Dome Rock borders the south end of Mueller State Park — consider it the state park's lesser-known cousin. Dome Rock has a number of hiking trails, but about half of it ,including the Dome Rock the area is named after, is closed from the end of November to mid-July due to big horn sheep mating season.
This is a pleasant hike in the fall and, if done early enough, provides plenty of fall colors and wildlife viewing. On my recent hike there, I even encountered a small flock of wild turkeys on the trail. The loop around Dome Rock uses the Willow Creek (#40) trail, then the Spring Creek (#43) trail and the Dome Rock (#46) trail. Depending on which parking lot you use, you can do the trail clockwise or counter clockwise.
Although initially somewhat steep at the start, I suggest parking at the larger of the two lots and doing the loop clockwise. There are large signs with the trails at the trailheads, and I suggest taking a picture of them with your cellphone or camera for reference while on the trail. The entire loop is approximately 11 miles, most of it is on level ground. The trails are typically in very good condition, and about half of the hike follows along the Four Mile Creek. There are a few creek crossings, but the water level is usually low enough by fall to make them fairly easy.
To get there: Take state Highway 67 south from US 24 in Divide for approximately 4.5 miles and turn right onto County Road 61 (4 Mile Road). Continue down 4 Mile Road to the marked entrance to Dome Rock State Wildlife Area.
Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.