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Local hiking 101 

My hiking partner, Koru, and I spent the summer scoping out the best nearby hikes just for you. It was hard work, but we were dedicated to the cause. Full disclosure: Koru is my furry, four-legged, tail-wagging friend. Don't worry, though, she gives great advice.

Palmer Park is a true gift to local students: 730 acres of land containing 25 miles of trails, right in the middle of Colorado Springs (accessible via Paseo Road), convenient to UCCS, CC and PPCC's downtown campus. If you're looking for spontaneous hikes, picnics with friends, or just a quick break, we'd recommend this park. It's fairly easy to find an empty trail and, if you head to the top, you can capture the great views of Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs.

Red Rock Canyon Open Space, off U.S. Highway 24, is also a great place to head for the afternoon, though we tend to like it on cooler days because it's very open to the elements. Old mining areas on the eastern rim rocks are fun to explore and climb. Mesa Trail, which just keeps ascending, can help keep the freshman 15 away if the Manitou Incline ever gets boring. Plus, this park has two off-leash areas, a nice change of pace.

Further southwest are Bear Creek Regional and North Cheyenne Cañon parks. Go early or late, to avoid crowds, and you'll find a ton of variety: Your trail might run through the middle of huge rock formations, or beside creeks, and could keep you walking for an hour or all day. We've even hiked Cheyenne Cañon on a nice day in January. If you can't find what you're looking for in one park, take the unpaved Gold Camp Road (note: it's a perennial Best Make-Out Spot winner in our readers' poll) or High Drive (one-way from Cheyenne to Bear Creek, though according to posted signage, only open until October) to the other. Great trails to start with: Section 16/Palmer Trail in Bear Creek, or Gold Camp Road (the closed end) in Cheyenne Cañon.

Also around, but less explored by Koru and me, are Ute Valley Park on the northwest side of the Springs, Pulpit Rock Park just north of UCCS, Black Forest Regional Park east of the Air Force Academy, and Cheyenne Mountain State Park close to the Centennial Campus of PPCC. Just remember, anywhere you go, to pack out what you take in; even in smaller parks, trash cans are becoming scarce in our cash-strapped city.

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