If you're like me, you prefer a nice loop hike to an out-and-back trek. On a loop, every step is different, offering a different view. Of course there are some great out-and-back adventures, such as hiking the many fourteeners here in Colorado, or any one of the beautiful alpine lakes that dot the Rocky Mountains. But a hike where you go until you end up where you started is almost always enjoyable.
This hike around the North Catamount Reservoir on the north slope of Pikes Peak is an enjoyable jaunt with a couple trail choices along the way. The views from this hike almost always include Pikes Peak or the reservoir — or both, and in mid-August, wildflowers were plentiful, especially along the trail nearest the reservoir.
Start this hike at Teller County's Catamount Ranch Open Space. From the parking lot, take the Elder-Fehn Trail (the only trail from the parking lot) for less than 1,000 feet to the gate at "Portal One." Turn left and follow the Limber Pine Trail about .75 miles and turn left when the trail meets the service road (also known as the Catamount Trail). As you follow the road, you'll have two choices. The first trail will be the Mule Deer Trail at about 1 mile from the trailhead, or the Blue River Trail (another service road) at about 1.1 miles. Since I'd previously hiked the Mule Deer Trail, I did the Blue River Trail this time. However, I do recommend the Mule Deer Trail because it's an actual trail and not a dirt road. Regardless, you'll end up at the same place — the shores of the reservoir.
If you chose the Blue River Trail, turn left onto the Mackinaw Trail, and if you came down Mule Deer, the Mackinaw Trail is just across the road. Measured from the top of the Mule Deer Trail, the distance to the Mackinaw Trail is the same, regardless of your trail choice.
The Mackinaw Trail hugs the shoreline of the reservoir until it gets to a dam at the reservoirs east end. The 2.3 or so miles of the Mackinaw Trail are, in my opinion, the nicest of this loop, with stunning views of America's Mountain looming over the reservoir. On this day, even with the sky filled with smoke from fires 1,000 miles away, Pikes Peak was majestic.
At about 4 miles from your start, the Mackinaw Trail comes out on a service road on the north side of the dam. Turn right and look for a hard-to-see trail marker a couple-hundred feet down, and then follow that trail until it comes back on the road at the end of the dam. If you miss the trail sign, just stay on the service road and cross the dam.
There is a parking area at the south end of the dam for the North Slope Recreation area, including a bathroom facility and a picnic table. At about 4.4 miles from the start, this is the halfway point of the loop and a great place to take care of personal business and to grab a bite before continuing the hike. When you're done here, you have two choices, both start within view of the entrance to the parking area: You can choose the South Catamount Creek Trail, which hugs the shoreline of the South Catamount Reservoir, or take the more direct Ridge Trail (another dirt service road). The South Catamount Creek Trail is about .6 miles longer but is more scenic and doesn't have the up and downs of the hilly Ridge Trail. Both the Ridge and South Catamount Creek trails meet at the same place, at which point, continue west a few hundred feet to the south end of the Limber Pine Trail.
From here, the Limber Pine Trail climbs steeply for a few hundred feet, then runs a ridge before a series of switchbacks through a nicely wooded area brings you down to the far west end of the North Catamount Reservoir. At about 7.75 miles (if you took the Ridge Trail) the trail meets the Catamount Trail (service road). Turn left here and a hundred or so feet down, turn right to rejoin the Limber Pine Trail for the final mile or so of the hike.
Things You Need to Know: The Catamount Ranch Open Space is open year-round, however the North Slope Recreation Area, where much of this loop goes through, is subject to varying seasonal hours. Dogs are allowed, but must be leashed. Motorized vehicles and horses are not permitted on these trails. Swimming is not permitted, and that includes your dog. Fishing is permitted with a valid fishing license. Open fires and overnight camping are not permitted. Bathroom facilities are available at the trailhead, but water is not available, either at the trailhead or the dam. Cell phone service is available on most of this hike, but may be spotty and should not be relied upon. As described, this loop is 8.86 miles with 1,314 feet of ascent.
To Get There: Take Highway 24 west from Woodland Park and turn left onto Edlowe Road (look for the fire station on the corner). Take Edlowe Road until you reach the trailhead/parking lot, just after the road changes from pavement to dirt.
Alternate Access: You can also do this trail by driving up the Pikes Peak Highway to the North Slope Recreation Area, and starting the loop from there. Fees and specific hours do apply, and parking is limited, with advance reservations suggested. Find more information here.
The Town of Green Mountain Falls issued a news release Thursday evening on the status of the closure of the Catamount Trail due to a land dispute. The update is printed here in it's entirety:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Green Mountain Falls, CO:
This Press Release supplements the one dated 4 August 2021 which stated the closure of the Catamount Trail.
While a portion of the Catamount trail remains closed due to the property dispute, the Garden of Eden, Catamount Reservoir, Thomas trail and Catamount Falls are still accessible. To access the Garden of Eden and Catamount Reservoir, hikers should hike up the Mt. Dewey trail; connect to the Bratton trail; then connect to the upper portion of the Catamount trail which is not disputed. This will add approximately 2 miles to the hike.
The Thomas trail and Catamount Falls may still be accessed via Hondo and Belvidere Avenues. Please respect the closure signs that have been placed on Catamount trail and do not hike that portion of the trail.
Town Administration is working diligently to resolve this matter as soon as possible. More updates will be made available via future press releases as information is available.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace