Located about two and a half hours from Colorado Springs, Poplar Gulch
is another hiking road trip destination
. Rising a couple of thousand feet above the ghost town of St. Elmo
, this hike doesn’t hold back from offering tremendous views of the surrounding mountains.
The well-marked trail starts near the eastern end of Tin Cup Pass
, beginning as a gentle walk through a forest before ascending a steep hill through a couple of long switchbacks. After about a mile and a half, the trail crosses Poplar Gulch creek
. (The crossing can be tricky in the spring during the snow run-off, so be prepared to turn around here.) On the other side of the creek, the trail runs along the east side of a long, wide meadow before entering a heavily wooded area. It continues on, passing tree line before dropping down to Cottonwood Pass
to the north. Most people hike to the meadow and then back to the St Elmo trailhead, a round trip distance of approximately six miles.
Poplar Gulch is best done from July through September, when the wildflowers are at their best and followed by the fall colors. Snow or muddy conditions due to run-off may exist into June.
The view from the trail and the meadow is dominated by several 12,000 and 13,000’ peaks, and several 14ers are visible from the northern part of the trail where it rises above tree line. To the south, an unnamed 13er just across the narrow valley from Poplar Gulch looms large, making for a good backdrop for photos.
To get there from Colorado Springs:
Take U.S. 24 west to U.S. 285 to Johnson’s Village. Turn left at the traffic light on U.S. 285 and go south for several miles until Chafee County Road 162 (just past the post office) and turn right. Follow CR 162 for approximately 15 miles to St. Elmo — the last several miles are dirt but passable for passenger cars.
If you have a suitable vehicle — that’s up to you — turn right approximately halfway through St. Elmo and cross the creek, then turn left and start up Tin Cup Pass. Approximately one-half mile from the start of Tin Cup Pass, look for a dirt road on the right and the sign for Poplar Gulch. The trailhead and parking area is just down the road on the left. You can also park in St. Elmo and walk to the trailhead.
After your hike, stop at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs
for a dip in the springs, or a bite to eat. The general store at the hot springs also has free guides to other nearby trails.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.