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Hiking, cycling, and birding Chico Basin Ranch; Colorado Public Lands Day 

click to enlarge Chico Basin Ranch offices. The horses are friendly and will gently nudge you looking for treats. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Chico Basin Ranch offices. The horses are friendly and will gently nudge you looking for treats.
Southeast of Fountain, near the southern edge of El Paso County, the sprawling Chico Basin Ranch flies under most people's radar as a destination for outdoor recreation. That's a shame, because the 87,000-acre site has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts.

Once a popular hunting grounds for Native Americans, and then a shortcut route from the Arkansas River to Front Range mountain passes for pioneers and gold seekers, the land changed hands many times over the years. In the '70s and '80s, 80,000 acres were leased to the U.S. Army for the Pueblo Army Depot, and parcels on the west side of the ranch were sold off. In 1992, the Colorado State Land Board purchased the remainder, what was by then known as the Box-T Ranch, along with other adjoining parcels. In 1999, the land was leased for 25 years to the Ranchlands, a family owned ranch management company.

Now known as the Chico Basin Ranch, the land is a combination of working cattle ranch, birding paradise, school education venue, and a place for outdoor recreation. The recipient of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Statewide Partners in the Outdoors Award for 2019, the ranch works closely with CPW to host outdoor education, said Tess Leach, the head of Business Development for the ranch. According to Leach, there are about 3,000 visitors each year, with about half being students attending education programs.

click to enlarge One of the views while hiking on the ranch. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • One of the views while hiking on the ranch.

The ranch — dotted with lakes, sand dunes, hills, dirt roads and the remnants of old schools and  buildings— is an excellent place to hike, run, ride, or go birding. On a recent hike there, I observed pelicans — yes, pelicans — in one of the ponds, was greeted by some horses wandering around near the ranch offices, and hiked past the site of what was once a school.

click to enlarge A functioning hand water pump and old outhouse at the Lonestar School site at Chico Basin Ranch - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • A functioning hand water pump and old outhouse at the Lonestar School site at Chico Basin Ranch
click to enlarge A "pod" of Pelicans on a pond at Chico Basin Ranch - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • A "pod" of Pelicans on a pond at Chico Basin Ranch
click to enlarge Pikes Peak from across a pond at Chico Basin Ranch - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Pikes Peak from across a pond at Chico Basin Ranch











Things to know before you go: According to Leach, hikers, runners and cyclists are free to wander wherever they'd like to go on the ranch, and are not limited to established trails or roads. Motorized vehicles, however, must remain on roads. You may have to share the ranch with the 2,000 to 3,000 head of cattle that are on the ranch, and also the occasional wandering horse, bobcat, rattlesnake and a myriad of other game, waterfowl and birds. The ranch has an "Open gate" policy and is open 24/7/365 for people who want to visit. Visitors are reminded that the this is an operating ranch, and are asked to respect the privacy of the staff in and around living quarters, and offices. Visitors need to sign in at the kiosk in front of the ranch offices, sign a waiver, pick up a map, and pay a $15 fee per visitor ($10 per visitor for groups of 4 or more). There is no signage on trails or roads, so visitors should have good wayfinding ability. The trail map at the sign-in kiosk is not to scale and does not include mileages. The entire ranch is exposed, so make sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat and bring plenty of water. Dogs must be on leash when on the ranch. For more information about the ranch, visit their website.

To get there: The ranch address is 22500 Peyton Hwy South, however GPS directions occasionally lead to the wrong location, so follow the directions here.

The third Saturday of May is Colorado Public Lands Day, a day set aside to recognize the multitude of local, state and federal public lands in our state. There are many events around the state to celebrate the day, and you can find more information at copubliclandsday.com.

Be Good. Do Good Things.

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 26 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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