Camping and hiking in the Springs' backyard 

Camp, hike, repeat

click to enlarge SIMOLY / SHUTTERSTOCK
  • simoly / Shutterstock

Colorado is a state full of outdoor recreation lovers. We hike, bike, run, rock climb, mountain climb, ski, snowshoe, go four-wheeling, and, of course, go camping. Whether you backpack into a remote spot or tow a pop-up sleeper, Colorado has almost limitless places to pitch your tent or park your camper, and some are right in the Springs' backyard. If you're looking to couple camping with hiking, or to find a quiet place to rest and get away from everything, we've got some suggestions for you.

In need of a nice campsite with great nearby trails? You'll find them in Mueller State Park and Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Both offer campsites to accommodate everything from RVs to tents, and many sites offer full hook-ups and camper service facilities. At Mueller State Park, the majority of the trails are accessible directly from the campgrounds or are very close by.

My suggestions for Mueller: After you've set up camp, walk to the farthest north end of the park, and take the Cheesman Ranch trail (Trail 17, tinyurl.com/MSP-trails). It's an approximately 5.25-mile loop — I suggest going clockwise. The route takes you through a wooded area and past several old barns before circling around with stunning views of Pikes Peak's west face. As the sun sets, follow the short Grouse Mountain Overlook trail (Trail 16) for a beautiful sunset panorama. Another option in Mueller is the Black Bear trail (Trail 13). The 5-mile out-and-back trail starts behind the camper services building, with expansive views of the Front Range to the west. For added enjoyment, take the 1.2-mile Osborn Homestead trail loop that starts and ends on the Black Bear trail, which takes you by the remains of an old cabin and through a gorgeous, wide meadow.

In Cheyenne Mountain State Park, you'll find that many of the trails are at the south end of the park (tinyurl.com/CMSP-trails) — the campground is in the northwest corner. Even so, all of the trails are easily accessible. Stretch your legs after setting up camp and head down to the visitor center. One of Cheyenne Mountain's choice trails is the pleasant, winding Soaring Kestrel trail, which connects to Coyote Run trail and leads you to the visitor center. From the Raptor Glen, Gobbler Grove or Swift Puma campgrounds, you can start on the Acorn Alley or Bobcat Way trails to connect to Soaring Kestrel; if you're camped in The Meadow campground connect with Soaring Kestrel from the east side of the loop. Another trail worthy of consideration is the Raccoon Ridge trail, beginning at the camper services building and connecting to Boulder Run trail. Once there, keep right onto the approximately 3.5-mile Blackmer Loop trail. You can stay on the loop until it returns to Boulder Run trail, or catch Cougar's Shadow trail running parallel to Blackmer trail. If you can't get enough of Cheyenne Mountain, the Talon, North Talon and South Talon trails can all be done in one approximately 8-mile round-trip hike from the Limekiln trailhead, located in the parking lot on the left after you pass the visitors center.

While not required, it's highly suggested that you make reservations in advance for campsites in any of the state parks (tinyurl.com/CSP-camping). Mueller has cabins available for rent, though they get booked up far in advance — it's virtually impossible to get one without a prior reservation.

If you're more interested in camping in the mountains, the nearby vast Pike National Forest has many designated campgrounds and allows for "dispersed" camping just about anywhere in the forest — anywhere except along FS Road 383 (see below). Make the most of your stay-and-play at the Crags Campground, with access to a number of trailheads. From the campground, the Crags trail (Forest Service Trail 664) is an easy 6-mile round-trip hike to what locals call the "Crags" — a rocky outcropping with breathtaking views to the west, north and east — making a great hike for your first day camping. A short distance up 664, Trail 664A cuts off to the right. A steep, strenuous hike, at about 4.5 miles from the Crags trailhead, you'll reach the Devil's Playground and Pikes Peak Highway. If you're feeling particularly energetic, continue on to the summit of Pikes Peak — Devil's Playground is a good approximation of being halfway there. This is a long hike, but well worth it. Plan ahead if you're going to the summit of Pikes Peak — get an early start and plan on being on the trail all day. If you're looking for something a little less strenuous, Trail 704 starts at the end of the road to the south of the Crags Campground. This gentle trail traverses some rolling hills and wide meadows, ending just under 4 miles away when it meets Trail 704A. You can turn back at the connection or go left on to 704A. A short distance from the connection, Trail 704A forks. Bear right toward Pancake Rocks (look for the sign) on 704A, or continue straight on Trail 704B to Horsethief Falls.

It's worth noting that the road to the Crags Campground and trailhead (Forest Service Road 383), the trail and the campground are closed to the public while dead trees are cleared by Forest Service crews. The area is expected to re-open in early summer. For more information about the Crags area and closure, contact the Pikes Peak Ranger District at 636-1602. The Crags Campground is first-come, first-served, and nightly fees do apply.

Happy camping!


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