The opening of the Pikes Peak summit this past Tuesday is welcome news for peak-baggers looking to tackle America's Mountain, and the June 24 opening of the new Summit Complex will mean both hikers and tourists will have a place to put their feet up when they reach the top. The new Summit Complex, and the summit itself, promise to provide not only a place for visitors to stop for rest, food and drink, but also to learn about the history of the Pikes Peak region — from 14,115 feet.
From the expansive views to the interactive displays, the gift shop to the dining area, the new Summit Complex is far removed from the Cold War-era bomb shelter charm of the old building. The new restrooms are designed to recycle water, greatly reducing the amount needing to be trucked up — and back down — the mountain. The roof's solar panels will provide much of the energy needed to power the building. The entire summit, with its elevated walkways, will be accessible to virtually everyone. The attention to detail in designing the building was such that there is not just one machine to make the unique Pikes Peak donuts, but there's also a spare machine (they're huge and had to be installed before walls were erected) in case the first one breaks down.
Even the vital and fragile tundra that had to be removed for construction was saved and replanted in protected areas on the summit, which should also serve to remind hikers to stay on the trail, especially above tree line and on the tundra.
There will still be construction work of some type going on at the top of America's Mountain until the end of July, meaning that parking will be limited until then, and most visitors will have to park at Devils Playground and take a free shuttle to the top.
Pikes Peak - America's Mountain manager Jack Glavan reminded hikers that they have to carefully plan their hikes so that they arrive at the summit in time for a pre-arranged ride. Weather conditions can dramatically alter your traveling time to the summit, and can even close the highway to traffic. While there is a shelter on the summit with an emergency phone, Glavan said Pikes Peak Rangers and/or El Paso County Search and Rescue would evaluate each circumstance individually and determine the best course of action. It's possible, he said, that a hiker may be told that they just have to wait until the next day before leaving the summit. While emergency rescue by El Paso County SAR is free of charge, you'll incur a charge of up to $500 to have a Pikes Peak Ranger give you a ride down the mountain. So plan ahead.
If you're looking for a Pikes Peak hike that's fairly moderate and fun, then the legendary Oil Creek Tunnel hike may fit the bill. Starting at about 12,000 feet, the hike on Elk Park/Trail 652 is replete with grand views of both the summit of Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs (look closely and you can see the Garden of the Gods). As with any trail that starts out down hill, it's a bit more difficult going back up, but the hardest part is only about a quarter mile long.
From the trailhead, follow 652 and hike a little under 1.5 miles until it meets Ghost Town Hollow/Trail 652A (watch for the well-worn and hardly readable sign) and follow if for just under a half mile. Along the way, you'll cross a creek created from the perpetual runoff from inside the tunnel, and you'll likely see some impressive wildflowers, too. There is some old machinery at the site, presumably used to create the tunnel (and no, it wasn't for a train to Cripple Creek). The tunnel entrance is blocked but you can shine a flashlight in there and get a look at it.
If you want to do a bit more, continue on Trail 652 for about 5 moderate miles until it reaches the Barr Trail at Barr Camp. Stop in, chat with the caretakers and then return. Want to do more yet? Go down Barr Trail until it ends in Manitou Springs, or go up to the summit for a one way total of around 12 miles either way (but please, plan accordingly). If you want a really big challenge, take Barr Trail down about a half-mile from Barr Camp, turn right onto the Mt. View Trail and then left onto the Lake Moraine Trail. Twenty-two miles after you started at Elk Park, you'll come out in Bear Creek Park. Even though the trail is generally downhill all the way, this hike is not for the faint of heart, the ill-prepared or less-than-physically fit. At 22 miles, this is a long and punishing hike.
To Get There: Take the Pikes Peak Highway (fees do apply) just less than a mile uphill from Glen Cove. Look for a gate on the left and turn there. The well-marked trailhead is a few hundred feet down the road and there's ample parking.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.