North outdoors 

Don't let the flyovers fool you — it ain't just the Academy up here

This region, as we're defining it from Garden of the Gods Road up to Larkspur, makes for an easy trek to golfing with a Frisbee or a putter, and provides the kind of topography that's not too imposing for newbies and families on bikes or on foot.

That said, some trails will wipe you out. (Details on those and more can be found on smartphone applications such as AllTrails and EveryTrail as well as websites such as cospringstrails.com and trailsandopenspaces.org.) And if the hills and mountains don't get you, the MPs might: Many of the miles of trails fall within the confines of the U.S. Air Force Academy, so be ready to have your trunk checked and have a photo ID in hand.

Two wheels, two feet

For those who enjoy two wheels in town, the Colorado Springs Parks Department is replacing section of torn-up asphalt with concrete on various portions of the Pikes Peak Greenway (springsgov.com). This includes the section near Criterium Bicycles (6150 Corporate Drive, criterium.com), where many locals stop in for a snack, bathroom break or tune-up.

Store vice president Nic Ponsor says most bicyclists on that part of the trail have been riding mountain bikes or hybrids with enough tread to navigate the rough patches. If the city paved the whole trail, Ponsor says, it would make it more of an option for inline skaters, skateboarders and road bikers.

So where does Ponsor ride his mountain bike? He says, "a gorgeous place in the summer to ride or run" is the 13-mile loop single track around Rampart Reservoir (see here). And from there, riders can connect to the 13-mile Falcon Trail at the Academy. The somewhat challenging trail can be too technical for beginners, but is popular with skilled bikers who like the sometimes sandy, but often muddy, hairpin turns requiring you to pick a line and commit.

Riders can also hit the wide, meandering roads through the Academy and pick up the New Santa Fe Regional Trail (springsgov.com). It extends through the Academy by the stadium, chapel and other sites, all the way north to Palmer Lake. It also goes south, connecting with the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail and on to Fountain Creek Regional Trail.

Also at the Academy, hikers can take on the popular, but taxing, Stanley Canyon and Eagle Peak trails. Stanley Canyon is known for its views, but it'll make you work for 'em: The first mile is almost straight uphill. When it flattens out a bit, you get views of the Academy and the city, as well as spring wildflowers on the ground around you. Meanwhile, Eagle Peak is only three miles, but over that short distance it makes a 1,294-foot elevation gain.

Before trying the trails more likely to cause some knee-scraping, Ponsor recommends spending some time at the BMX track at Rampart High School (8250 Lexington Drive, asd20.org) or the dirt track section in the Richard "Goose" Gossage Youth Sports Complex (3225 Mark Dabling Blvd., springsgov.com). The rhythm sections and jumps help you practice handling skills, he says, upping your confidence.

An instant fix

Several city parks and open spaces bring nature closer to the masses. Austin Bluffs Open Space (springsgov.com) combines several properties for more than 500 acres of hiking and biking trails, plus an up-close view of Pulpit Rock (more frequently seen towering next to Interstate 25).

A ways west of there, Blodgett Peak Open Space (springsgov.com) has multiple trails for hiking and running, while Ute Valley Park (springsgov.com) has some challenges laid out for mountain bikers. Most are short, so they're a good option if you're short on time.

For something a little lighter, El Paso County is fixing up several parts of Black Forest Regional Park (4800 Shoup Road, Black Forest, elpasoco.com). Construction of a pedestrian bridge will create a quarter-mile loop around a fishing pond, says Jason Meyer, park planner with the county community services department. That adds to upgrades on three miles of trail and the closing of 4.5 miles of trail to keep the park sustainable. Crews will also build an equestrian trailhead as well as pave the parking lot and entrance road. The county is also working to refurbish restrooms at many of the parks, Meyer says.

Farther north at Fox Run Regional Park (2110 Stella Drive, Black Forest, elpasoco.com), the county has a 5-acre dog park in the works, along with trail improvements and bathroom upgrades. It already has playgrounds, ornamental lakes and pavilions.

For those seeking an even more manicured escape, the north side has several options for picking up a putter, driver or iron.

These days, many golf clubs, including these, offer online specials. King's Deer Golf Club (19255 Royal Troon Drive, Monument, kingsdeergolfclub.com) is semi-private but the public can still take advantage of their deals. Pleasing for a variety of golfers, tee yardages range from 5,054 yards from the forward tees to nearly 7,000 yards from the professional tees.

Gleneagle Golf Club (345 Mission Hill Way, gleneaglegolfclub.com) actually breaks the 7,000-yard barrier (at 7,230 yards for its "gold" tees), so it's probably best for single-digit handicappers, unless you believe the thin air will really make your ball fly. It's one of two public courses on the north end, along with Pine Creek Golf Club (9850 Divot Trial, pinecreekgc.com).

You probably know this already, but you don't need a set of golf clubs to enjoy a fairway. Three disc golf courses fall into our north-side boundaries, two public and one private.

The city's Cottonwood Creek Park disc golf course (7040 Rangewood Drive, springsgov.com) is the busiest around. And that's just one of Cottonwood's draws: The park also boasts an inline skating rink and pool, making it popular among multiple groups.

For more quiet, try driving up to Larkspur: the Jellystone Park campground (650 Sky View Lane, jellystonelarkspur.com) opened a course in 2010. Or get to know some people in the know, and see if they can help get you access to the private Sakuna Pines course in Black Forest.

For details on the more than 100 courses in Colorado, check sites such as dgcoursereview.com, the Pikes Peak Flying Disc Club (ppfdc.com), and the Colorado Disc Sports Association (coloradodisc.com).

Pushing the limits

OK, really want to make an escape?

Castlewood Canyon State Park (off Highway 83, five miles south of Franktown, parks.state.co.us) promises more variety than most state parks, including a wheelchair-friendly interpretive nature trail. Go deeper into the park, and you can take on some climbing and bouldering. Just consider buffing up your climbing skills, before you go, at Sport Climbing Center (4650 Northpark Drive, sportclimbcs.com.

Dogs not willing to wait for their new area at Black Forest's Fox Run park can enjoy freedom at Devon's Dog Park off the I-25 Greenland exit on East Noe Road. The accompanying Greenland Open Space Trail (cospringstrails.com/hikes/greenland.html) is an easy eight-mile loop with a 500-foot elevation gain; instead of the rocky canyons and cliffs elsewhere, this tours over undulating hills through native grasslands, limiting the crashing possibilities for bikers. Ponsor actually recommends Greenland as a great place for beginners to start riding. But don't speed through too fast — it's also known for colorful wildflowers.

Looking for something a little steeper? The Palmer Lake Reservoir Trail (from South Valley Road near Palmer Lake, farrunner.com/Courses/CSTRPalmerLakeTrail.html) has an 800-foot elevation gain in the three-mile round-trip hike. It's not the Incline (see here), but it gets you up high enough for picturesque views and even ice caves in winter.

If you want a few more miles, take a side route into the Pike National Forest. The 11-acre reservoir is also a prime fishing spot for rainbow trout, and is also stocked with channel catfish and bluegill.

Outside of Monument on Mount Herman Road, the Monument Fire Center (fs.usda.gov) area contains 22 miles of blue- to black-rated trails, and is another of Ponsor's recommendations. It has short one- to two-mile trails as well as six- to eight-mile trails, and they send you through scrub oak and ponderosa pines that can keep anyone on a bike, horse or their own two feet entertained for hours.

Also from Mount Herman Road, you can hit a trail to summit Mount Herman itself (everytrail.com/guide/mt-herman). With views of the eastern plains and also lots of wildflowers, it's a four-mile out-and-back with a steep climb that's prized by locals for being wonderfully not busy.


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