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Hiking trails in the Pikes Peak region worth your time and less crowded

Side Tracks

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The Crystal Reservoir, seen from Mount Esther, shines as it lives up to its name. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The Crystal Reservoir, seen from Mount Esther, shines as it lives up to its name.
In talking local trails, let’s make a few safe assumptions: If you’re a visitor who wants to hike, run or cycle, we’ll assume you’ve heard about Garden of the Gods and its numerous trails. Ditto for Red Rock Canyon Open Space, North Cheyenne Cañon Park and Mueller and Cheyenne Mountain state parks. We’ll also assume that the Manitou Incline and Barr Trail have garnered your attention if you’re more hard-core. If you’re a local, we’ll also assume you know these places as well as you know the layout of your own home.

So here, we’re focusing our hiking picks on slightly more obscure trails. These are the ones you may drive past when going to your favorite trail, or on the way to the usual trails every visitors guide tells you about. They’re not all overly difficult, and some are almost hidden in plain sight.

• The Town of Green Mountain Falls, in between Manitou Springs and Woodland Park, holds a number of nice trails. Catamount Trail’s the most popular, and it’s great, but people going to it drive right past another very nice option. The Mount Dewey Trail is a moderate-to-difficult, .86-mile hike to the top of Dewey Mountain. The peak holds pretty views of the town and Ute Pass, and from the summit, the easy Bratton Trail winds its way generally southwest until it meets the Catamount Trail. From there, turn downhill and follow the Catamount Trail to its trailhead at the base of the falls. This is a nice circle, but it does require walking on some roads to close the loop. To get there: Heading west, take the second exit for Green Mountain Falls off Highway 24. Take Ute Pass Avenue to the bottom of the hill and turn right onto Olathe Street and park immediately on the left. This is the only parking open to non-residents. Look for the signs on the north side of Olathe Street and follow them about a quarter mile to the start of Mount Dewey Trail. Follow the signs to make a nice long loop of a little under 5 miles.

• At the base of Mount Herman, just outside Monument, lies the U.S. Forest Service’s Monument Preserve. It has a long history as an experimental forest and headquarters of the Pike Hotshots firefighting crew, and it’s home to Monument Rock, visible from Mount Herman Road as people drive by on the way to the popular Mount Herman Trail. The preserve holds a lot of nice trails, but the best one that’s largely ignored is Forest Service Trail 715. It starts at a nondescript trailhead behind a gate at the corner of Nursery and Lindberg roads. The trail starts as a wide dirt road for around a tenth of a mile until it turns off to the left (look for the trail marker). It winds its way a little over 3 miles up to Mount Herman Road just a few hundred feet past the Mount Herman trailhead. From there you can 1) walk down to the Mount Herman trailhead and climb to the summit, 2) turn around, or 3) cross the road and continue on the upper section of Trail 715. The upper section is also known as the Limbaugh Canyon Trail, and is a bit more well known than the lower section of Trail 715.
Mount Esther hikers will earn an impressive view of Pikes Peak. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Mount Esther hikers will earn an impressive view of Pikes Peak.
• The Crowe Gulch Trail (also known as the Mount Esther Trail) near the base of Pikes Peak, is tucked away at the Crowe Gulch picnic grounds on the Pikes Peak Highway, 3 miles up from the tollgate. Park there and look for the trail going off to the left. It goes for about three-quarters of a mile before meeting up with the Ring the Peak Trail. Bear left, and continue on through some nice aspen groves and rolling hills. The trail is mostly easy/moderate in difficulty with the exception of a short but steep section where it joins an old powerline maintenance road. The trail follows the road, and after about 2 miles from where you started, it turns right off of the road, eventually taking you to the North Slope recreation area and beyond. Alternatively, you can bear left and continue on the road up a hill for a short distance. When the road crests the hill, look for a faint trail on the left that will eventually take you to the top of Mount Esther. It isn’t much of a trail and you may have to bushwhack a little, and then scramble up some very large boulders to get to a great view of Pikes Peak and the nearby Crystal Reservoir. Return by backtracking the way you came.

• If you’ve been down Highway 115 toward Cañon City, you’ve passed by Aiken Canyon Preserve, but perhaps had no idea it was there. The 1,621-acre parcel is home to about 100 species of birds, and also bears, mountain lions, fox, coyotes and more among pinyon, juniper and Gambel oak. Aiken’s main 4-mile loop trail is an easy, family-friendly trek, and there’s also a 1-mile side trail to an old cabin at the edge of the preserve, and a shorter side hike about halfway around the loop up to the top of a hill, with great 360-degree views. To get there, take Highway 115 south about 11.5 miles from South Academy Boulevard. Look for the brown sign for Turkey Canyon Recreation Area, but instead of turning left, turn right and park in the lot on the right, about 200 feet from Highway 115. It’s open year-round, dawn to dusk, dogs not allowed.

• If you’re seeking something more remote, more desolate and more disconnected from civilization, the Beaver Creek State Wildlife Area awaits you. Located southwest of the Springs, between Penrose and Cañon City, this is not the place for the beginning hiker. A loop hike of the Beaver Creek, Powerline and Trail Gulch trails (I highly suggest doing them clockwise) proves a strenuous 7-mile trek with elevation gain of over 1,300 feet. You’ll also have to wade across a creek numerous times, making it a difficult and potentially treacherous trip during spring run-off. Mountain lions have also been spotted along the trail, some with cubs ­— which is dangerous. If that doesn’t dissuade you, you’ll love this hike.

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