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Straight up

Barr Camp's a trip, but not too far away

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Barr Camp, the perfect spot to stop on your way up Barr trail to the summit of Pikes Peak. - CARSON BENNETT
  • Carson Bennett
  • Barr Camp, the perfect spot to stop on your way up Barr trail to the summit of Pikes Peak.

There is a place in the mountains, close to home for all of us in the Pikes Peak region, but secluded and far enough away to feel like a real getaway.

Barr Camp is only a few hours hike from Manitou Springs, offering an extended backcountry experience, a night in a cabin, camping beneath the stars, a midway point to the summit of Pikes Peak, or an afternoon picnic near a creek in the woods.

Barr Trail begins near the Cog Railway parking lot in Manitou Springs. The hike winds itself through strenuous switchbacks at first and then levels off for a long stroll to Barr Camp. It is 6.8 miles from the trailhead to the camp, with an elevation gain of 3,600 feet.

This is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Front Range, well worth the healthy burn in your lungs. The switchbacks at the beginning may give you pause, but keep putting one foot in front of the other, rest when you have a clear view of Colorado Springs, the eastern plains and Garden of the Gods through the ponderosa pine and scrub oak, and you will make it to the easier section of the trail before you know it.

Fred Barr, a Colorado miner originally from Arkansas, scouted the trail in 1918. He saved his money through the winter work months in order to spend time clearing trail in the summers. A renaissance man of his time, Barr believed that a person could have a much more intimate experience with nature by walking a trail rather than seeing it from a road or railway -- a minority opinion at the time, since the prevailing outdoor philosophy during the early 1900s advocated conquering nature, not discovering it.

But Barr was right. Anyone who has both driven up the Pikes Peak highway and hiked Barr Trail realizes that the highway is a convenient way to get to the top of America's Mountain, but walking the trail is much more fulfilling.

Barr finished scouting the trail on Christmas Eve in 1918 and spent the night alone at the summit of Pikes Peak. Three years later the trail was complete and he began construction of Barr Camp at 10,200 feet.

He built four cabins near a creek and aspen grove just below tree line between 1921 and 1924, called the cabins "chateaus" for marketing purposes and led burro-packing trips from the top of Mount Manitou to Barr Camp for the night, before summiting Pikes Peak in the early morning to avoid the all-too-familiar afternoon alpine thunderstorms.

Barr Camp is now a nonprofit organization under the authority of the U.S. Forest Service in the Pike National Forest. Tent spots are available for five to 10 bucks (suggested donation), or you can bring a sleeping bag and rent a bunk in the main cabin for $15 per night. My favorite camping spots are on the east side of the campground, far enough away from the main cabin that you feel as if you're out in the wilderness, and close enough for you to utilize the solar outhouse, large fire ring, horseshoe pit, volleyball net, filtered water and porch swings near the creek. (Tent spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis.)

There are a few lean-to shelters that require reservations (also $15 a night), or if you have a group of friends who want to spend a cool early summer night exploring the aspen groves around Barr Camp in the moonlight, you can rent an entire cabin for $100. A cabin sleeps 10, and the only interruption to friendly camaraderie and a good night's sleep will be the wind in the treetops and the quiet gurgling creek.

At 6 p.m. sharp the dinner bell gathers trail-weary hikers to the main cabin for an all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner. Seven dollars buys you one of the most satisfying meals you will ever have the privilege to consume. Everything tastes better in the woods. Breakfast in the morning is usually pancakes ($5).

The camp and the trail are still well maintained 82 years later, and nearly 20,000 people hike to Barr Camp every year. The main cabin is open year-round as a place for hikers and backpackers to stay overnight, an emergency medical center, and a place for the friendly caretakers to give out-of-towners or unthinking hikers useful advice, such as, "Hey, flatlander, your face is turning purple, you should go back down."

Even if you are just going up for the day, take rain gear, a fleece jacket, water and a first-aid kit, just in case. The Colorado backcountry is unpredictable, especially when the seasons are changing.

Plan a trip to Barr Camp this summer. It's a great place to sit back and enjoy the backcountry without being too far away from home.

-- Carson Bennett

capsule

Barr Camp and Barr Trail

For directions to the trailhead and parking lot, visit www.barrcamp.com

Reservations for lean-tos, the bunkhouse, or the upper cabin are required in advance and may be made online as well.

Payment in full by credit card is required to confirm reservations. There is a fee for cancellations.

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