Hiking trails to see fall colors, National Public Lands Day, Creek Week 

It's fall in Colorado, according to the calendar. Never mind the lies the weather has been telling us, with temperatures staying above normal, and never mind that the aspens are late in changing color.

Even in the high country, where the colors should be at or past peak, they are just starting to change.

The good part is that Mother Nature's delay in getting the fall colors underway means I'm not too late to tell you of some of my favorite hikes to see fall colors. Of course, this isn't a comprehensive list of every nice fall colors hike — that would be almost impossible — and your list of favorites may be different. But, these are mine. Most are within one hours drive of Colorado Springs.

Crags Trail/Trail #664:  This trail is incredibly popular and for good reason. It's easy to get to, a fairly easy hike, and has great views at the end. Along the way, there are beautiful stands of aspens.

Horsethief Park/Trail #704: Starting at the Horsethief Falls/Pancake Rocks trailhead on the south side of the old tunnel on Hwy 67, hike up Trail 704 for about .75 mile.  Trail 704 turns left, and Trail 704A continues straight to Horsethief Falls. Turn left on Trail 704, which along this section is part of the Ring the Peak trail.  The trail goes through Horsethief Park for about another mile before it splits again at Trail 704C, with plenty of aspens to view and photograph along the way. Bear right on 704C to a small pond on the right and a stand of aspens. If you turn around here, your total hike is about 3.75 miles.

click to enlarge Fall colors in Horsethief Park - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Fall colors in Horsethief Park

Willow Creek Trail, Dome Rock State Wildlife Area: This off-the-radar place has some great hiking trails, and the Willow Creek Trail has the best aspens in the SWA. When you enter Dome Rock, park in the parking lot straight ahead at the bottom of the entrance road. The Willow Creek Trail starts there and goes due south. Although Willow Creek is part an 11 mile loop, the first 2 miles of the trail, which are steep, have the best stands of aspens. When the trail stops climbing, you've seen the best of the aspens and you can turn around.

Cahill Pond/Buffalo Rock/Cheeseman Ranch/Moonshine Trails, Mueller State Park: Almost any trail in Mueller State Park will have great fall colors, but these trails, at the far north end of the park, are my favorites.  Enter the park and take the main park road all the way to the end, and park at the Grouse Mountain Trailhead. Go north about 700' and bear right when at the trail intersection with the Grouse Mountain Trail. From there, take any of these trails to see magnificent stands of aspens, and nice views of the west face of Pikes Peak. Make a point of hiking all the way to the Cheeseman Ranch site, and include the buildings there in your pictures. Entry fees do apply to Mueller State Park. Dogs are not allowed on any trails in the park.

click to enlarge Fall colors in Mueller State Park - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Fall colors in Mueller State Park

Shootin' Star/Twin Rocks Trails, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument: Florissant Fossil Beds, the nearest National Park Service site to Colorado Springs, is rich in both natural and human history and home to a number of hiking trails. Of those, the Shootin' Star and Twin Rocks Trails, accessible from the monument's Barksdale Picnic Area, are the least used, and in my view, the prettiest trails there.  From the picnic area, take the Shootin' Star trail for about 1 1/4 miles, where it becomes the Twin Rocks Trail. At about 2 miles from the trailhead, a bridge crosses a creek and then turns right. From there to the end of the trail at the monument's border, there are several nice stands of aspens, including one next to a small pond that reflects the aspens around it. The hike, from the trailhead to the end of the Twin Rocks Trail is about 7 miles, round trip. Entry fees do apply to Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Dogs are not allowed on any trails in the site.

Now, something a little further away.

A bit over 2 hours south of Colorado Springs, the area around the small town Cuchara is often over-looked for fall colors. A drive on Colorado Hwy 12 up and over Cuchara Pass can almost be overwhelming with the vast amount of golden aspens. For hiking, the Dodgeton, Baker Creek and Indian Trails are my favorites in the area. Start at the Spring Creek Trailhead, just off of Hwy 12, a little over a half-mile south of Cuchara Ave (the side street with the eateries and shops). Explore these trails for some nice isolation and great views.

In other news, this Saturday, September 28th is both National Public Lands Day and Bike Your Park Day. Colorado State Parks are participants in Bike Your Park Day, and entry fees to all National Park Service sites - such as Florissant Fossil Beds - is waived for the day.

Saturday also marks the beginning of Creek Week, with numerous organizations, friends groups, neighborhoods, families and individuals banding together to clean up the Fountain Creek Watershed. There are plenty of opportunities to help. Find out more at the Creek Week website.

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  almost 28 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (@hikingguide), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.


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