Sorry, boaters, you're out of luck.
If you're on the north side of the Springs — which, by our generous definition, extends as far as Larkspur — the opportunities for outdoor recreation are nigh limitless. Whether you hot-dog, fly kites or just hike-bike-golf like the rest of us, the Academy/Tri-Lakes area offers a multitude of ways to get your adrenaline fix and soak up some Vitamin D. In fact, you need never do the same thing twice all summer long, if you avail yourself of our tips, tricks and maps for leaving the beaten path behind.
Just don't expect to do anything involving a hull, a sail or a paddle. It might be called Tri-Lakes, but your best bet for the life aquatic just might be Wilson Ranch Pool (2335 Allegheny Drive, wilsonranchpool.com). For $6 to $8, you get the finest in summer boredom alleviation, with a beach-style zero-depth entry, current and vortex features, a three-spiral water slide and 25-yard lap lanes.
Sticking with man-made attractions, the 200-acre course at the King's Deer Golf Club (19255 Royal Troon Drive, Monument) boasts "the feel and design of the great Scottish courses" without the necessity of plaid accessories. In keeping with its position as a semi-private course, a non-tartan dress code and non-member playing fee are enforced, but the club's website (kingsdeergolfclub.com) compensates with Web-only price specials and online tee-time booking. You'll find similar amenities at the Gleneagle Golf Club (345 Mission Hill Way, gleneaglegolfclub.com), which drops the pretension and refers to itself as a "public" golf course, and the Pine Creek Golf Club (9850 Divot Trail, pinecreekgc.com), a more centrally located, if pricier, option.
For those who prefer to fling rather than putt when they golf, I offer this true story: During my college years, a bad breakup ended with the spurned paramour creating a new disc golf course in my honor — the eighteenth hole, of course, being my bedroom window. Luckily, with plenty of elevation changes, nice tee pads, and frequently alternated pin placements, the city's Cottonwood Creek Park disc golf course (7040 Rangewood Drive, springsgov.com) will allow you to drown your romantic sorrows in Frolf without tormenting your ex. The park also offers indoor swimming, picnic tables, soccer/baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts, and an inline hockey court with working scoreboard, penalty box and court lights.
Farther north, Sakuna Pines disc golf course (one-half mile south of the intersection of Black Forest and Shoup roads) is a legend among those heroic woodland sportsmen who hurl plastic discs at trees and scorn the name of Frisbee. The privately owned Sakuna Pines is open only to well-behaved members (and their guests) of Pikes Peak Flying Disc Club ($15 to join, ppfdc.com), the Professional Disc Golf Association (pdga.com) or Colorado Disc Sports Association (coloradodisc.com).
Using the Force
Good behavior's also a must at the U.S. Air Force Academy, but the necessities of showing ID at the gate and feeling the tickle of MPs breathing down your neck are worth it for the sweet freedom of mile upon mile of virtually traffic-free road biking — the best on the north side, although the ride from Woodmen Road and 1-25 to Gold Camp Road via the Garden of the Gods makes a close second.
If, as you're riding around the Academy, you notice a shady trail that looks perfect for an afternoon ramble, it probably is. The Academy boasts an extensive network of open-to-the-public hiking trails, with Falcon Trail, Forest Service Trail 713, Eagle Peak and Stanley Canyon tipped as standouts by those in the know. Download the "Military Bases" PDF at trailsandopenspaces.org/popular-trails for more information.
It's a well-known fact that the Academy is also a great entry point for the New Santa Fe Trail (PDF trail map at elpasoco.com). The new sections allow runners and riders to start the northward journey from as far south as Criterium Bicycles (6150 Corporate Drive, criterium.com), but we suggest starting from the parking lot at Ice Lake Trail on the Academy, enjoying the virtually deserted 5K-plus ride north to Palmer Lake.
There, the best bet is to eat a leisurely breakfast and work it off by doing a few loops around the Greenland Open Space Trail (accessible from the New Santa Fe Trailhead in Palmer Lake, tinyurl.com/49tknup). Just try not to run into any dogs or kite enthusiasts — the gently rolling hills and persistent high winds make for gorgeous views and great flying conditions, and the lack of, well, anything surrounding the space makes it a great place to let Fido lose the leash. The official site for doggy frolics, Devon's Dog Park, is accessible via East Noe Road, just of I-25 at the Greenland exit.
As long as you're that far north, a visit to Castlewood Canyon State Park (off Highway 83, five miles south of Franktown; visit parks.state.co.us for map) is imperative. A wheelchair-friendly interpretive nature trail on the canyon rim is just the beginning: Once you descend the canyon trail, climbing, bouldering and trail running opportunities abound. The main trail is a not-too-challenging loop with plenty of ups and downs, but more committed hikers can extend their jaunt with the offshoot leading to the site of the old Castlewood Dam. In summer, poison ivy and rattlesnakes give the experience added spice, but the gorgeous scenery and kid-friendly river swimming holes make it worth the risk.
North side hikers looking for rewarding trails closer to home can rely on the Palmer Lake Reservoir Trail (accessible via South Valley Road in Palmer Lake), a pet-friendly route suited to multiple difficulty levels. In addition to hiking, it's open to four-wheeling, biking, camping and fishing — the reservoirs are home to rainbow trout — and boasts a system of ice caves that, while unmarked, are worth seeking out.
A less-crowded option is the Mount Herman Trail, five miles away from downtown Monument on Mount Herman Road. The road leading to the trailhead is perfect for four-wheeling (read: bumpy as all get-out), and the trail itself offers vertiginous thrills for both hikers and singletrack enthusiasts, as it elevates 1,000 feet in just two miles. The view from the summit is arresting year-round, but hikers in late spring will be rewarded by a lush carpet of wildflowers along the trail.
Alone or ... not
Rounding out the highlights of north side bike culture is the Salsa Cycling Club, sponsored by the Rockrimmon location of Salsa Brava (802 Village Center Drive, rockymtnrg.com/salsabrava). We're not sure which is the more enticing half of this equation: the 10 a.m. ride through Ute Valley Park every Saturday, or the tasty post-ride specials on offer at the restaurant. Either way, it's an appealing proposition.
And thanks to Salsa's Briargate outpost (9420 Briar Village Point), it's a proposition open to runners, too — show up on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. for the Nacho Ordinary Running Club's (aheheh) neighborhood 5K followed by special food and drink deals for club members.
At points east, the University Village Colorado Running Club, sponsored by the UVC Shopping Center (5230 N. Nevada Ave., uvcrunningclub.com), is planning its inaugural jaunt for April 11 and every Monday night thereafter. Check-in starts at 5:15 at Smashburger, with the run scheduled for 6 and the walk for 6:15. The club sticks to the Pikes Peak Greenway trail system, but there's a wealth of alternatives just across the street, too: Austin Bluffs Open Space, which links to Pulpit Rock Park via UCCS, offers 585.5 acres of both paved and natural-surface loops for those who prefer their runner's high without the chumminess.
Other parks offer more varied fare. Ute Valley Park (1705 Vindicator Drive, springsgov.com) complements its hiking trails with mountain biking access and even some slickrock formations well-suited to hot-dogging (that's freestyle mountain-biking, BTW). As a bonus, 100 meters from the park gate on Piñon Park Drive is a small bouldering area with one bolted sport route and four toprope anchors as well as a long wall for traversing.
Meanwhile, Fox Run Park (2110 Stella Drive, Black Forest, elpasoco.com) shines as one of the most diverse, family-friendly spots. Playgrounds, picnic areas, sports fields and five 50-person pavilions are located in the south part of the park along with two ornamental lakes, one of which boasts a gazebo. Meanwhile, the northern section of the park, a wooded wilderness area, offers hiking trails that double as ideal snowshoe terrain.
Further inspiration for outdoor enthusiasts is available in spades. For printable maps and a handy guide to which local venues are wheelchair- or horse-friendly, check out adm.elpasoco.com/parks. More maps and conversational recommendations are available at trailsandopenspaces.org.