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2013: North outdoors 

Exposure up here comes in all shapes and forms

Colorado Springs North Side

As you might figure (or notice when you look out your window), some north-end outdoor attractions were hit hard by the Waldo Canyon Fire last year. But many others have gotten some nice upgrades lately.

For instance, the 427 acres in Black Forest Regional Park (4800 Shoup Road, tinyurl.com/Black-Forest-CO) have been spruced up with the U.S. Forest Service, El Paso County and volunteers removing dead material and improving the trails, according to Larry Fariss, president of Black Forest Trails Association (blackforesttrails.org). The park's developed area includes turf play fields, tennis courts, a playground and two picnic pavilions, which were created in natural openings in the forest.

Meanwhile, in Black Forest Section 16 (tinyurl.com/BFSection16, not to be confused with Colorado Springs' Section 16) Fariss' association helped raise more than $5,000 of the total needed for the county to build a restroom facility near the trailhead of the four-mile square loop. The association serves as the county's Friends of Section 16 group, and helps maintain trails for the major parks and open spaces near Black Forest, including Homestead Ranch Park, with its 3.35 miles of trails, and the Pikes Peak Loop Trail, a five-mile trail in the Cathedral Pines area.

Fariss notes that there are plans to add 11 miles of regional trails, particularly in the Pineries Open Space and Black Forest Reserve, but they're based on never-guaranteed county funding — which is why you may want to get involved with groups like his. "There are ample opportunities to improve our open spaces, and the more voices we have in support of this, the more clout we have with the county," he said. "It can make a difference."

Another "friends" group, this one devoted specifically to Fox Run Regional Park (2110 Stella Drive, tinyurl.com/Fox-Run-park), recently helped raise money to complete construction of a dog park, which is set to begin this spring.

In the city

Inside Colorado Springs, the city's open spaces offer natural spots alongside established neighborhoods. Austin Bluffs Open Space (1910 Rimwood Drive, tinyurl.com/OS-Austin-Bluffs) comprises 585 acres of established hiking and biking paths, with most near Pulpit Rock. Two trailheads lead you into the area: one off of North Nevada Avenue by the frontage road near Interstate 25, and the other at the south end of Rockhurst Boulevard in the University Park development.

The 338 acres of Ute Valley Park (1705 Vindicator Drive, tinyurl.com/Ute-Valley-CS) — saved by the heroic efforts of Waldo firefighters last summer — present challenges for mountain bikers and nice, quick jaunts for hikers. The same used to be said of Blodgett Peak Open Space (3898 W. Woodmen Road, tinyurl.com/Blodgett-Peak-OS), but that area will be closed for the foreseeable future due to fire damage. Erosion control and revegetation projects will move forward this spring and summer, and after that reopening will be considered.

For those who prefer to bike in town, the city's 100 miles of trails make it easy. (Another 100-plus miles of planned trails have been identified for future expansion.) The main artery today is the Pikes Peak Greenway (tinyurl.com/Springs-Trails) and its 14 miles of concrete, asphalt and gravel that connect to an array of regional trails.

Up north, the Greenway links with the New Santa Fe Regional Trail (tinyurl.com/Trails-North-South), which extends through the Air Force Academy, past its major landmarks, and all the way to Palmer Lake.

Want to prepare yourself for more challenging trail riding? Spend a little time at one of the area's BMX tracks. There are two: one at Rampart Park (8270 Lexington Drive, tinyurl.com/Rampart-Park-CS) and one at the Richard "Goose" Gossage Youth Sports Complex (3225-3950 Mark Dabling Road, tinyurl.com/Goose-Gossage). The rhythm sections and jumps can help you practice handling skills.

Outta town

Want an escape? Castlewood Canyon State Park (off Highway 83, five miles south of Franktown, tinyurl.com/Castlewood-Canyon) delivers a variety of mild-to-moderate hiking trails, ranging from half a mile to four miles, which can be combined for a longer hike. Leashed pets are allowed on most.

Visitors can see the remnants of the Castlewood Canyon Dam that burst in 1933, unleashing a 15-foot wave of water that reached downtown Denver. Plus, the park presents a variety of children's nature programs. Deeper in the park, there are prime spots for climbing and bouldering.

Greenland Open Space Trail (1532 Noe Road, Larkspur, tinyurl.com/Doug-County-Green) provides great biking over an 11-mile system with a 500-foot elevation gain. Along the way, you'll see wildflowers, mesas, buttes and ponds, with plenty of picnic tables where you can stop and rest. About three-quarters of a mile from the Greenland trailhead is Devon's Dog Park, a 17-acre, double-gated, off-leash walking park sure to provide a workout for pooches and people alike.

Nearby, the trailhead at Spruce Mountain (13415 Spruce Mountain Road, Larkspur, tinyurl.com/Doug-County-Spruce) offers a number of trails, the most direct featuring a 1.2-mile switchback hike up the mountain. At the top, hikers will find a flat, 2.3-mile loop leading through forests and meadows with a lovely view of Pikes Peak's north face.

Heading south from Greenland, you can connect to the New Santa Fe Trail in Palmer Lake, but if you're looking for more of a challenge, the Palmer Lake Reservoir Trail climbs nearly 1,200 feet as it leads you along the three-mile round-trip hike. Passing the first reservoir after a mile, you'll see the second one at about 1.4 miles. Remember: No fishing, and no dogs or people are allowed in the first reservoir, and the second is open to fishing only.

Outside Monument is Mount Herman (everytrail.com/guide/mt-herman), where you can take a moderate 2.2-mile hike up to the summit, with excellent views of Palmer Divide. If you're in for a bigger challenge, try the Mount Herman Loop (everytrail.com/guide/mt-herman-loop), a moderate 8.6-mile that can be enjoyed by bikers or hikers. (Note to the former: This is not for beginners, and the trail must be done clockwise. The trail's east side is very technical with some ascending switchbacks.) Be sure to plan extra time for this trip.

Fun in games

For those keen on having a perfectly good walk ruined, the north side has several golf courses happy to oblige. Before loading up your clubs, be sure to check for online deals.

King's Deer Golf Club (19255 Royal Troon Drive, Monument, kingsdeergolfclub.com) is a semi-private course, but the public can take advantage of its eSpecials. The Scottish-style course features 200 acres of rolling hills, wetlands and views of Pikes Peak. Yardages range from 5,054 from the forward tees all the way to 6,710 yards from the professional tees, accommodating all skill levels.

The north offers two public clubs, both of which cover your greens fee on your birthday and promote other deals. At Pine Creek Golf Club (9850 Divot Trail, pinecreekgc.com), enjoy your free round playing the winding canyon-style course on the front nine and American-style links on the back nine. The overall length ranges from 5,314 yards to 7,194 yards, with grasslands and meandering creeks. There's also an elevated-target-oriented driving range, a practice green and short-game area.

Gleneagle Golf Club (345 Mission Hill Way, gleneaglegolfclub.com) also breaks the 7,000-yard barrier and has a driving range and putting greens. Get a sneak peek at the course's challenges with a virtual tour on the website. For more northern courses, visit golflink.com.

If you don't want to lug around a heavy set of clubs to enjoy a fairway, three disc golf courses fall within our north-side boundaries.

The private Sakuna Pines Disc Golf Course (ppfdc.com) near La Foret in Black Forest has earned a reputation as far and away the most challenging course in the state, and regularly plays host to the best disc golfers from around the country. It is only open to members of the Pikes Peak Flying Disc Club or the Professional Disc Golf Association, but membership to the PPFDC is a reasonable $20, and will get you into the tree-laden course for a year.

Jellystone Park Campground (650 Sky View Lane, jellystonelarkspur.com) is a private course that can be played for free by those staying at the campground; otherwise, it's $5 per game or $60 for a season pass. Check in at the ranger station when you enter the park and when you leave. The course blends several difficult short holes and long holes tucked among the trees and in the open, grassy fields. One amenity you won't find at other courses: your own goat caddy, which can be reserved (for $20) with 24-hour notice. If you land in the rough, the goat can help eat your way out.

The city's Cottonwood Creek Park disc golf course (7040 Rangewood Drive, tinyurl.com/Disc-Golf-Cotton) is the busiest course, with a good mix of open and wooded fairways and some elevation changes. This park also boasts a pool, playgrounds, soccer fields, an in-line hockey court and a network of walking and running paths, making it a popular northeast destination.

To get details and on ratings for nearly 100 Colorado courses, check sites such as dgcoursereview.com, the Pikes Peak Flying Disc Club (ppfdc.com) and the Colorado Disc Sports Association (tinyurl.com/C-Disc-CS). The Professional Disc Golf Association's site (pdga.com) provides maps for many local courses.

  • Exposure up here comes in all shapes and forms

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