For sheer beauty and solitude, Colorado Springs' South Slope Recreation Area is hard to beat. Located on property owned by the Colorado Springs Utilities, the recreation area was off limits to the public until 2014, when it was opened to hiking, cycling and fishing.
Encompassing McReynolds, Mason and Boehmer reservoirs and located on the south slope of Pikes Peak, in the shadow of Almagre Mountain, the area is open to recreational use Thursday-Sunday from sometime in June to around the end of September. The exact dates vary from year-to-year, depending on weather.
I revisited the site for the fourth time a week ago, almost six years to the day of my last trip. There are few people on weekdays and this trip was no different. My two friends and I encountered maybe a dozen others, all of whom were there to catch fish. There are only two trails on the site — the Mason Trail, which mostly hugs the west side of the reservoir and then continues past it until it reaches the south end of the Boehmer Reservoir, and the McReynolds Trail, which curls around the south end of the McReynolds Reservoir, the southernmost reservoir on the site. Both trails start at the same place, a parking lot at the southwest corner of McReynolds. The 10-mile out-and-back hike on the Mason Trail is mostly an easy/moderate jaunt on soft tread through an evergreen forest, with the most significant elevation increase about 1.4 miles from the Boehmer Reservoir, as the trail hooks around a broad meadow that extends past the north end of Mason. The trail rises over a few switchbacks for about .6 miles before cresting a hill and then descending to the Boehmer Reservoir.
The views are breathtaking. On this hike, we were greeted with blue skies, some puffy white clouds and no wind, making the Mason Reservoir look like a giant mirror, all of which is a photographer's dream.
As the trail continues past Mason, it gently rises in elevation, and moves deeper into the forest. Here we found plenty of mid-August wildflowers, along with some signs of wildlife, including bear and elk scat. The trail crosses a few tiny streams and few bridges before getting to Boehmer. From Boehmer, the south face of Pikes Peak looms overhead, and on this hike, we observed (and heard...) the cog railway train chugging its way up to the summit of America's Mountain. The train was the only manmade sound on this entire hike.
From Boehmer, the return trip is a backtrack the way you came. About a half mile before returning to the trailhead, the trail crosses Boehmer Creek, and in the afternoon the sun is positioned so that the creek and the mountains in the background are perfectly lit. Don't pass without taking advantage of a great photo opportunity.
Things to know: Advance reservations are required. Passes are not available at the gate. The gate opens at 7:30 a.m. and closes at 3 p.m. To do this hike, you will need to be at the gate at 7:30, where a ranger will verify that you have a pass.
On this particular hike, three of us moving at a pretty good pace but stopping for lunch and photos were able to be back at the trailhead with about an hour to spare. Do not dawdle.
Passes are sold by the vehicle for $20 and are good for up to eight people per vehicle. Swimming, pets, hunting and equestrian use is not permitted. Non-motorized boating is permitted at McReynolds Reservoir only. Due to a nearby bighorn sheep habitat, access to Boehmer Reservoir is closed until July 15. Although printed material indicates the hike is about 9.5 miles round trip, two GPS's used on this hike had the distance at just over 10 miles. Your elevation during the entire hike is from around 10,500' to just under 11,000'. Bathroom facilities are available at the trailhead. There is no potable water on site, and there is no cell phone service (this could be a good thing).
Wednesday, Aug. 25, is the anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service, and admission fees to all NPS sites are waived for the day. Other fees, such as for camping or programs, are still applicable.
Speaking of National Park Service sites, in light of a surge of COVID-19 cases, the NPS has now mandated masks be worn in all NPS buildings, and crowded outdoor areas.
Also on Aug. 25, the Garden of the Gods will be having another "Early Bird Hike and Bike," where the park is closed to motorized vehicle traffic from 5-8 a.m.
A reminder that the Manitou Incline is closed until Monday morning for the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, occurring this weekend. Also, the reservation system for the incline has been expanded to allow for reservations up to eight weeks in advance.
A portion of the Catamount Trail in Green Mountain Falls remains closed due to a land dispute with a private property owner. In an emailed statement, Town Manager Angie Sprang says that the town is looking at an alternative route and until a new route is opened, the section of trail that crosses private property will remain closed. Alternate routes to reach the Garden of Eden and North Slope reservoirs are available.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Share the Trails