When talking about outdoor destinations on this side of town, you've got to start with North Cheyenne Cañon Park (2110 N. Cheyenne Cañon Road, springsgov.com and tfocc.org). This 1,277-acre swath of wilderness has been enjoyed by locals for more than 120 years. Take either West Cheyenne Road or Lower Gold Camp Road, and you'll be awestruck by the views.
If you're willing to get out of your car, you'll find 56 miles of trails for horseback riding, hiking or biking. (The Chutes and Captain Jack's are especially beloved by the mountain biking community.) You'll also find some attractions that require little sweat to enjoy: The Starsmore Discovery Center (2120 S. Cheyenne Cañon Road) offers an introduction to the park with nature exhibits and a bird-watching window, as well as tipi-raising workshops and programs for kids. Helen Hunt Falls and Silver Cascade Falls are an invigorating four-mile hike from the Discovery Center, and there are 318 more acres of trails and wildlife habitat to explore at Stratton Open Space, adjacent to the park.
Farther south, you'll have to pay to get into Cheyenne Mountain State Park (410 JL Ranch Heights, parks.state.co.us) near Fort Carson, but it's a pretty modest $7 per vehicle. And you could be busy here for days (although camping does cost extra). You can discover wildlife on the 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, or look up the GPS coordinates and hunt for a geocache. The park, which opened to the public in 2006, is home to deer, elk, red-tail hawks, black bears, cougars, coyotes, red foxes and golden eagles.
Something for everyone
Children are certainly welcome at all the above destinations, but there are a few places where attractions are geared more toward them specifically. Fountain Creek Nature Center (320 Peppergrass Lane, Fountain, adm.elpasoco.com/parks) includes children's programs and interpretive hikes among its wetland-oriented programming. Learn to spot and identify herons, hummingbirds, muskrats and more. Or just play volleyball or horseshoes (using your own equipment) while you picnic at the nearby Duckwood Active Use Area. There's also a playground, two soccer fields and walking trails around a pond.
Bear Creek Regional Park and Nature Center (245 Bear Creek Road, adm.elpasoco.com) offers nature programs for all ages and camps for kids, with miles of foothills trails, including self-guided nature and birding trails. While the nature trails are "foot traffic only," the regional trails allow horseback riding and leashed dogs. And a 25-plus-acre dog park, accessible via 21st Street, gives your pup the chance to run and play. (If you have a Houdini, just be aware that the fence may not hold him.)
Another dog park awaits at Cheyenne Meadows Park (3868 Glen Meadow Drive, springsgov.com), though the park is probably better known for its playground, soccer field, baseball diamond, basketball court, horseshoes and walking paths.
Similar recreational amenities are offered at the 17-acre Widefield Community Park (Fontaine Boulevard at Drury Lane, adm.elpasoco.com), which hosts youth and adult sports leagues. You get tennis and basketball courts, softball and soccer fields, a playground and a disc golf course. What more do you need?
Oh, batting cages and an in-line hockey rink? You can find those at El Pomar Youth Sports Park (2212 Executive Circle, csyouthsports.org); just consider waiting 'til April 9 (for the cages), and making reservations first.
A skate park? There's one of those, in addition to a playground, dog park, BMX jumping track, basketball courts, sand volleyball pits and baseball fields, in Fountain at John Metcalfe Memorial Park (704 E. Ohio St., ci.fountain.co.us).
Sixteen different water spray features, such as "foaming geysers"? That'd be Deerfield Hills Spray Ground and Park (4290 Deerfield Hills Road, springsgov.com), at least between June and mid-September.
If you prefer that your water comes a little more ... naturally, look at Quail Lake Park (Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard and Quail Lake Road, springsgov.com), which offers non-motorized boating, fishing and sledding. Or Big Johnson Reservoir/Bluestem Prairie Open Space (South Powers Boulevard and Bradley Road, springsgov.com), where ducks, gulls, loons, grebes and shorebirds pass through. (So please leave Fido at home.)
Of course, the area's biggest water attraction comes farther south at Lake Pueblo State Park (640 Pueblo Reservoir Road, Pueblo, parks.state.co.us), which offers more than 4,600 surface acres of water, 60 miles of shoreline and almost 10,000 acres of land. Boat or fish the Lake Pueblo Reservoir and Arkansas River (year-round), camp at one of three campgrounds, or spend a lazy summer day at the swim beach. Watch great blue herons ice-fish in winter, or catch a soft-shell or snapping turtle peeking out of a pond.
Riding and driving
With all this talk of birds and fish and wild animals, we probably shouldn't leave out horses. With two convenient stables in southern Colorado Springs (Brookside and El Encantos), Hershey's Heavenly Horses (hersheysheavenlyhorses.com) offers boarding, lessons, training workshops, trail rides and day camps.
Also, there's Fountain's MM Equestrian Center (12393 Squirrel Creek Road, mmequestrian.com). Its trainer, Tracey Powers, has coached the U.S. Modern Pentathlon Team and led the Cheyenne Mountain Riding Team to a 2006 Middle School National Championship victory.
And speaking of championships, The Broadmoor Golf Club (1 Lake Ave., broadmoor.com) is hosting the 2011 U.S. Women's Open Championship from July 4 through 10 this year. If you've got money (greens fees range from $90 to $235, depending on time of year and course played), you, too, can try your luck on one of three distinct courses with mountain views. The resort also boasts six tennis courts, including two available for cold-weather play under a lit, heated dome. In fact, in 2010, Tennis magazine ranked The Broadmoor No. 7 Tennis Resort in America.
Nearby, the Cheyenne Mountain Resort's 18-hole course (3225 Broadmoor Valley Road, cheyennemountain.com) winds around a 35-acre lake. An impressive interactive map on the website gives golfers tips and information about each hole.
Finally, if disc golf is your golf of choice, check out the Widefield Community Park course mentioned above, and the course at Cumberland Green Open Space (Campground Drive and Jimmy Camp Road, ci.fountain.co.us) in Fountain that opened in March. The 18-hole course is on a creekside open space that also has walking trails.