Saturday, May 9, 2015

Take a hiking road trip

Posted By on Sat, May 9, 2015 at 9:44 AM

click to enlarge Beulah Valley from Lookout Point - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Beulah Valley from Lookout Point
Getting tired of hiking your usual trails around Colorado Springs and looking for a new place to explore? Maybe you made a New Years resolution to try some different trails. Well now that we’re well into spring and on the fast track to summer, I’m talking about hiking “road trips” that you can do in one — possibly long — day.

For a quick day-trip, the Pueblo Mountain Park is a perfect hiking road trip. Located about 25 miles west of Pueblo in the Wet Mountains near the tiny town of Beulah, it offers a mountainous, forested environment with seven trails, most of which are of moderate difficulty. But it’s more than just hiking and great views; the park is home to the Mountain Park Educational Center (MPEC), which runs the park for the city of Pueblo. The MPEC also conducts educational programs for kids, operates a visitors center and lodging, and coordinates events at the park.

Take I-25 south to the Highway 50 exit in Pueblo and go west approximately 5 miles to Pueblo Boulevard. Turn south (left) for approximately 5 miles until Northern Ave (look for the Wal-Mart on the southwest corner). Turn west (right). Northern Avenue becomes Highway 78. Continue for approximately 23 miles until a fork in the road and turn left for approximately 2.6 miles and the entrance to the park.

The Tower Trail, on the southern end of the Pueblo Mountain Park, is a one-mile trail to a tower on a hilltop in the far southwest corner of the park. Although not actually used as a fire tower, it was built as a Works Project Administration (WPA ) project during the Depression era and closely resembles fire lookout towers that once dotted the western U.S. On your way up you’ll pass an intersection that is the south end of the Mace Trail. Stay to the left and continue up to the tower. The three-story structure is open to the public, so climb to the top for some great 360-degree views — including the valley to the northeast of the park.

On your way back down the Tower Trail, you’ll again meet up with the Mace Trail — an approximately mile-long trail running from the Tower trail to the scenic highway running north and south through the middle of the park. From its intersection with the Tower Trail, you’ll soon pass the Ranger Trail leading out of the park and into the San Isabel National Forest. Continue on the Mace trail, down the east side of a long hill and descending into a forested area where you’ll find the trailhead to the Scenic Highway. You’ll also pass a junction that is the south end of the Devil's Canyon Trail, and a short spur called Lookout Point Trail that leads to a breathtaking view into Devils Canyon and the Beulah Valley.

The Devil’s Canyon Trail is the most popular trail in the park; when you hike it, you’ll see why. Its trailhead is only about a hundred feet from the Mace Trail trailhead on the scenic highway, and you can do a loop by combining both trails. But proceed with caution: the trail descends gently from a hairpin turn on the scenic highway until it crosses a creek at the intersection with the north end of the Northridge Trail. Continue to the left and follow the creek, making a few crossings for about two-thirds of a mile where the canyon narrows between two towering, almost sheer cliffs. The trail continues gently uphill next to the creek through a narrow gap in the canyon before going to the right. (When I did this hike in mid-April, the water wasn’t flowing very fast and I was easily able to get through it. However, the constant flow of water and algae made for slippery rocks. Higher flows, such as those after a rainstorm, create a trickier passage, so carefully evaluate the condition of the trail and your skills before continuing.) If you can continue on, you’ll pass the south end of the Northridge Trail, where you can turn right and loop back to the beginning of the Devil's Canyon Trail, or continue on to the Mace Trail. Once your reach the Mace Trail intersection, turn left to go back to the trailhead — passing the Lookout Point Trail along the way — or turn left and meet the Tower Trail to check out the tower.

The Northridge Trail is just over 1.5 miles long and intersects with the Devil's Canyon trail at both its north and south ends. From the south end, it shares its path for a short distance with a creek — which can make for a slightly wet hike. Then it turns sharply uphill and continues on to the west side of Devil's Canyon. There are many great overlooks along the way and you’ll pass the Squirrel Creek Trail, which quickly exits the park and enters the San Isabel National Forest.

Pueblo Mountain Park is a small park that packs a number of very nice trails in a great setting. Next time you’re wondering where to go for a new hike, check it out. A color-coded trail map is available in PDF format on the MPEC website.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor and small business owner who has lived in Colorado Springs for over 23 years. He is the board president of the Friends of Cheyenne Canon and a member of the El Paso County Parks Advisory Board. You can follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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