When my husband and I meet riders who are new to the area, we always get the same question: Where do you like to ride around Colorado Springs?
Generally, we look at each other and then blurt out completely different advice. We both love mountain biking, and we both like a variety of terrain — so our garbled response isn't related to a mismatch of interests. It has to do with the weather each of us is envisioning.
See, the Pikes Peak region is home to "microclimates." You can drive an hour from Colorado Springs in February and either find yourself in a forested winter wonderland, or in a warm desert, where short sleeves seem like reasonable attire. If you're choosy about what trails you pick, you can easily ride year-round in relative comfort.
So grab a map from a local bike shop, or check out mtbproject.com, and start finding the best trails to ride using our tried-and-true method:
Winter is the bane of my existence. It's just so cold. And dark. And yes, I know all you fat-bike people get excited about taking out your monster bikes and drifting over the snow. Good for you. But, um, no thanks.
When it's cold, I like to go south. Believe it or not, about an hour's drive can make a world of difference. We hit up the trails at Lake Pueblo State Park on the regular. (Tip: Pay the $7 in cash to get into the park or buy a state parks pass. Yes, you can park outside the park without paying, but people get their windows smashed and their stuff stolen in those parking areas more often than you might think.)
Pueblo is warm and sunny through most of the winter, the trails are fast and flowy, with more thrilling terrain in the canyons. I love this park for the simple fact that I can go there in January and pretend it's September. Pueblo is a golden world, shimmery in the hour before sunset, with sky that seems to stretch to Kansas and trails that follow big cliffs that hover above the deep blue waters of the reservoir.
You may, in fact, be tempted to ride Pueblo year-round. But I wouldn't suggest it. The summers here are hot, and the snakes — and there are a lot of them — come out of hiding after winter. (My husband has — in a moment of panic — bunny-hopped a huge rattler there before.)
Our other go-to on cold days is Oil Well Flats in Cañon City. There are some more challenging trails here — Island in the Sky comes to mind — so good suspension is a big plus. Personally, I love this area, with its canyons, mountains and big rocks. Some people call Cañon City "the Fruita of Southern Colorado." And, while it's not exactly Fruita — sorry, but I've got to be honest — it can be pretty reminiscent at times. Plus, like Pueblo, it tends to be warmer than the Springs.
You do want to check trail conditions for both of these places. Cañon City can get pretty sloppy if it's muddy, and Pueblo is just not rideable in mud. (Pueblo's dirt turns to "peanut butter mud" — it sticks on your tires until your wheels won't turn. I once killed both of my derailleurs in 10 minutes of riding in Pueblo mud.) For Pueblo trail conditions, check the Lake Pueblo Trails Facebook page. For Cañon City conditions, try the Lower Ark MBA-LAMBA Facebook page.
Like I said, there are those microclimates to consider, so check around and see if you can find a dry spot to ride. If you can't, I'd suggest heading to North Cheyenne Cañon. It's pretty shady back there, so if it's cold, dress warm. But while other prime riding spots — Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Palmer Park, Ute Valley and Red Rocks Open Space — are absolute muck, the Cañon is actually, as my husband puts it, "superior" when it's wet. That's because the Cañon, which is home to the beloved Captain Jack's trail, is full of gravel and dust. When that stuff dries out, it gets pretty slidey. But with a little bit of moisture, it's a dream. Plus, the Cañon is, in my humble opinion, prettiest in spring. It's lush back there, with lots of vegetation and moss, and bubbling waterfalls.
Go west. There's no need to bake in the hot summer sun when the mountains are right there. A short drive (or ride if you're ambitious) will get you to a much higher elevation, where the air is cooler. Rampart Reservoir has a nice little singletrack circling it that's shaded with trees in most spots. The trail is usually clear from May through October, but check the bike shop website teamtelecycle.com if you want to be sure.
We also spend a lot of time at Indian Creek (worth the longer drive) and Buffalo Creek (if you haven't checked this out, you need to) during the hot months. Monument Preserve, likewise, offers an escape from the heat.
While the more adventurous among us might try to hit these trails in winter, I generally think of them as summer rides. And I look forward to riding them. The last ride that my husband and I took in Buffalo Creek in 2016 has been running through my mind all winter. It was late fall (2016's Indian summer was epic), and we stayed out until after dark.
Buffalo Creek has this amazing descent with spectacular views, and when the sun is setting the land turns golden and purple. It's so pretty, and the trail is so twisty, it would be easy to fall. Not because it's particularly technical, but just because you're having so much fun and you're distracted by the view.
Look, I try not to make any generalizations about our weather patterns. They're freaky. But most years, we get these amazing shoulder seasons. Late spring/early summer and late summer/early fall are absolutely stunning. The weather is still warm, but not hot, the days are long, and skies are blue. That late fall season can sometimes stretch into November or even December. And then there are those days in winter when it's suddenly dry and 60, or even 70, degrees out.
There is just no reason to leave the Springs on these days. Stay local. Ride our abundant open spaces. (Tip: If it's snowed recently, you may want to avoid really forested or shaded areas, which can get muddy.) Most of our trails are going to be magnificent in the shoulder seasons, from Palmer Park to Cheyenne Mountain State Park to Red Rock Canyon, Section 16 and Ute Valley. Really, you have your pick of the litter. Try to mix it up and check out the huge variety of terrain we have in the Springs.
What I've always loved about riding here is this feeling that I can pick my own adventure — with little effort, I can ride desert sandstone, or plummet down eroded granite, or climb through alpine singletrack. We're sort of a combo pack of beautiful places here in the Springs, so don't limit yourself to one area.