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Road Trip Hike: Alpine Tunnel Trail is a trip into history

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The trail follows the old railroad bed. In many places, the old wooden rail ties are still in place. There are some historical informational signs along the trail and views up and down Tunnel Gulch - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The trail follows the old railroad bed. In many places, the old wooden rail ties are still in place. There are some historical informational signs along the trail and views up and down Tunnel Gulch
One of the best things about hiking in Colorado, besides the great views, clean air, wildlife, and endless recreational opportunities, is history.

One can pretty easily measure the expansion of the country westward when hiking or cycling in Colorado.

Probably the easiest and most enjoyable way to view Colorado's history is by hiking the trails that got their start as railroad lines.

BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
There are many in Colorado, and one of my favorites is the Alpine Tunnel Trail, near the Hancock and St. Elmo ghost towns.

This hike has everything: It's remote, it's scenic, it's part of the Colorado and Continental Divide trails, and it has multiple destinations, depending on your time, skill set and endurance.



Most of all, it is full of history, which is embodied by the Alpine Tunnel Historic District, a restored area of the old Denver, South Park and Pacific railroad that operated from the 1880's to the early 1900's.

Hikers can visit the easy-to-get-to east side of the Alpine Tunnel, the slightly more difficult Tunnel Lake, or the more difficult - but well worth the effort - west side of the tunnel and the actual historic district. 

People willing to take the time to hike to see the abandoned and restored buildings and read the interpretive signs will find the trek a rewarding one.
See slideshow below for hike details

To Get There:  From Colorado Springs, take US 24 west to US 285, approximately 11 miles west of Hartsel. Turn left on US 285 and take it Johnsons Corner, just south of Buena Vista. At the traffic light just over the Arkansas River, turn left on US 285 and take it south for about 5.5 miles to Chaffee County Road 162, just past the Nathrop post office (look for the signs for the Mt Princeton Resort). Turn right onto CR 162 and follow it for 15 miles. Just before St. Elmo, turn left onto County Road 295 - look for the signs for Hancock and Alpine Tunnel. Follow CR 295 for about 5 miles to the trailhead. The trip from Colorado Springs to the trailhead takes about 3 hours.

Things You Need To Know:  County Road 162 starts out as a paved road and then becomes dirt  past the Cascade Campground. The dirt portion is wide and maintained year-round. County Road 295 is a bit rougher, and is not maintained in the winter. During most winters, it is impassable to all but snowmobiles and from spring to late summer may only be passable by ATV's. In 2019, the road was not passable by cars or SUV's until late June. In summer and early fall, CR 295 is passable with most vehicles and four-wheel drive is not generally needed, but at the minimum, a small SUV/crossover (think Subaru Outback or similar) is recommended.  At the end of July 2019, there was still snow on the part of the Alpine Tunnel Trail that went up the north side of the hill (from the east portal).  The last bathroom facilities are located on County Road 162 just prior to the turn onto County Road 295. The hike has varying degrees of difficulty, depending on which final destination you choose. See slideshow for details.

Be Good. Do Good Things.



Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for  almost 28 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (@hikingguide), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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