After years of legal wrangling, fund-raising, grant writing and a lot of hard labor, the area known as the South Slope
of Pikes Peak
opened for recreational use last fall, but only for a short period of time before closing for the winter season. It reopened this spring and you really should go before it closes again in the fall.
The South Slope Recreation Area
owned by Colorado Springs Utilities and encompasses three reservoirs at 11,000’ in elevation on the south side of Pikes Peak. Planning for opening the area began in 2007, with trail construction starting in 2010 by the Colorado Springs Parks and Utilities departments, the Friends of the Peak, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado and other contractors. Finally, in October of 2014, the area was open to users — hikers, equestrians, cyclists and anglers — by permit only.
There are two out-and-back trails in the recreation area, both of which start at a common trailhead on the shore of the McReynolds Reservoir. The McReynolds trail
, about two and a half miles round-trip, goes part way around the south and east side of the McReynolds reservoir, and is considered an “easy” trail. The Mason trail
, at a bit over nine miles round-trip, is a more moderate trail on the west side of the McReynolds and Mason reservoirs and ends at the Boehmer reservoir.
I hiked the Mason trail in early July with a few friends and found it to be a well-constructed trail that, even with record-setting rainfall, had suffered little if any erosion or washouts. The trail is fairly level at first, before gradually ascending. The trail runs almost entirely in a wooded area, making it not only comfortably shaded but also makes for a soft, nicely cushioned tread — not the usual hard, ground Pikes Peak granite tread usually seen in this area. Most hikers will find the trail to be moderate at most, but the 11,000’ elevation may be more of a problem than the trail difficulty.
Although our hike started in great weather, we did make it back to our car in time to avoid a sudden hailstorm, with only minutes to spare. If you plan to hike the Mason trail, plan on being at the gate right when it opens at 7:30, a later start may cause you to turn back before you can do the entire length of the trail before the 2:30 closing time. Big horn sheep are common in the area, and the furthest reaches of the Mason Trail may be closed when newborn sheep are present.
The area is only open Thursday to Sunday, from 7:30am - 2:30pm, until the last weekend in September when it’s scheduled to close for the season. Permits are required and are good for a single vehicle with up to eight occupants and must be purchased in advance for $15 — a ranger is on duty at the locked gate to make sure you have a permit.
The South Slope Recreation Area is a place of rare and unspoiled beauty. I highly recommend that you hike, ride, cycle or fish there as soon as you can.
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: email@example.com.