Get into a National Park Service site for free on National Public Lands Day

An iconic sight, the East and West Spanish Peaks loom high over southeastern Colorado, luring people to hike, camp, fish, backpack and even do some leaf-peeping. There are plenty of trails around the two peaks, including one to the summit of the West Spanish Peak, which at 13,626 feet, is the most eastern 13,000-foot peak in the United States. No peak east of it is taller.

The trail to the summit of the West Spanish Peak starts at the top of Cordova Pass. The hike on the West Trail is deceptively easy for about 3 miles, as it meanders through tall pines and past breathtaking overlooks. Then, when the trail breaks out of tree line at the base of the towering peak, things take a turn. From here, the “trail,” if you can call it that, climbs 1,800 feet in a little less than a mile on a route of rocks that range from fist- to mailbox-sized, each of which is just waiting to roll out from under you and make you wonder why you’re there.

The route to the top is steep and difficult, however, some well place cairns make finding your way a bit easier. On the treacherous downhill return, you can more easily pick out the trail. Near the top, the trail hits a saddle to the west of the actual summit and from there, follow a somewhat less rigorous trail along the ridge line to the summit. The summit, marked by a large pile of rocks, is a good place to sit, have lunch, plan your hike back down and contemplate what made you take leave of your senses and try this hike (I’ve done it twice, so I am questioning my own sanity).

West Spanish Peak summit pano

Here's a panoramic view to the north from the West Spanish Peak. The east peak can be seen in the distance on the right.

Why do it, you ask? Well, firstly “because it’s there,” of course. Isn’t that why we do almost any hike or climb? But, after getting past that bit of insanity, the second reason are the views. Not only are the 360-degree views, as you would expect, absolutely stunning, but as you look down towards the base of the mountain, you can see rock “fins” that radiate, much like the rays of the sun, from around the peak. It’s a pretty awe-inspiring view. And finally, there is the personal challenge, which is why I’ve done this peak more than once.

Things you need to know: West Peak Trail #1390 starts on the north side of Forest Service Road 46, at the top of Cordova Pass and across from the pass campground. A $7 day use fee applies. There is a pit toilet available, but no water or trash receptacles.

The trail enters the Spanish Peaks Wilderness after about .25 miles from the trailhead. Travel is allowed by foot or on horseback only; no bikes or motorized vehicles are permitted. Dogs are allowed. On my recent visit, there was loose cattle on the trail about .4 miles from the trailhead, so leashing dogs is advisable and hiking poles are a necessity on this jaunt. At a little over 1.5 miles, at the turn of a switchback, the Apishapa Trail cuts off to the right. Turn left up the switchback to continue to the peak.

To get there: From Walsenburg, take Highway 160 west for about 11 miles to Highway 12. Head south for about 22 miles through the towns of La Veta and Cuchara, and at the top of Cuchara Pass, turn left on to County Road 46/Forest Service Road 46. About 6 miles later, you'll arrive at the top of Cordova Pass. FSR 46 is a dirt road and is passable by almost anything other than the most low-slung vehicles.

Saturday, Sept. 25 is National Public Lands Day, the nation's largest single-day volunteer event for public lands. Also, entry fees to all National Park Service sites are waived for the day.

A schedule of events for Colorado Springs Leave No Trace Hot Spot Week

Colorado Springs' parks and open spaces will host Leave No Trace "Hot Spots" from Oct. 14-17. A team from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics will join park rangers "and local park and recreation advocates to provide area visitors, land managers, volunteers and the local community with information, service work and education that reduces outdoor impacts and promotes responsible recreation. The team will be focused on lessening impacts in Palmer Park and Stratton Open Space," according to a city news release.

I will be conducting the Nature Photography Hike at Stratton Open Space on Oct. 16, where I'll demonstrate how to photograph nature while practicing Leave No Trace principles. For more Hot Spot information, check out the links in the attached PDF. To learn more about Leave No Trace, listen to my podcast with Park Ranger Supervisor Gillian Rossi.

Shelf Road Survey

The Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) and the Royal Gorge office of the Bureau of Land Management are conducting a user survey to gather information about the current usage, satisfaction and needs at Shelf Road Recreation Area, which is north of Cañon City. A similar survey was conducted in 2014 and results were used to inform management decisions and improvements to amenities and facilities at Shelf Road. To take the survey, go to the RMFI website.

Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.

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