It is always exciting to hear about a new park or trail opening for use. There is the anticipation of a new challenge, new vistas or, well, just someplace new. Such was the case this past Monday when Douglas County announced the opening of Sandstone Ranch Open Space, a 2,038-acre parcel of land just west of Larkspur. Boasting 12 miles of trails and "spectacular views, expansive hay meadows, red rock formations and wildlife habitat," the news release from Douglas County Outdoors made for a good argument to visit as soon as possible. By Wednesday afternoon, I was there, hiking the trails with my loyal hiking companion Coal the dog.
The open space does have everything that was promised, with the exception of 12 miles of trails. Well, at least not quite yet. On my visit I found that the Sandstone Meadow Trail Loop was only partially open, with a fence blocking access to half of the loop, while construction of the trail is apparently still underway. Note to Douglas County Outdoors: This closure should be noted on the many, many maps posted around the park. Nonetheless, Sandstone Ranch does offer wonderful views, as promised, and an easy to moderate hiking, cycling or equestrian experience on soft, sandy trails.
How to Get There: From Colorado Springs, take I-25 north to exit 172. At the bottom of the off ramp turn left, then left again at Spruce Mountain Road. Take Spruce Mountain Road to Perry Park Avenue, and turn right. Take Perry Park Avenue to Colorado Highway 105 and turn left, and Sandstone Ranch is about a half-mile down on the right. As an alternative, from Highway 105 and Spruce Mountain Road in Palmer Lake, take Highway 105 north for about 7.3 miles to the trailhead.
Things You Need to Know: Sandstone Ranch is open to hiking, cycling and equestrian use. Dogs must be leashed. Motorized use is not permitted. The parking lot is expansive, with plenty of parking for cars and horse trailers. Porta-potties and trash receptacles are available at the trailhead, but nowhere else. Water is not available at the trailhead and there are no water sources available on the trails. The "Open Space" is very open, with little shade, so expect it to be a rather hot experience in the summer. Plan and prepare accordingly, especially regarding water. As of this writing, Sandstone Ranch was not yet featured in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife COTREX database, however the trail system is pretty simple and there are "you are here" maps at every trail intersection. Conceivably you could get lost there, but it would require some effort. Park hours are from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
Fall Colors Update: As of this past Thursday (Sept. 24), I observed that fall colors were looking very good along Highway 67 from Divide to Cripple Creek. Mueller State Park was still a little behind, but coming along nicely. If you're not sure if you want to do your local leaf peeping this weekend or next, my recommendation is to go this weekend. I've been told that areas further south are still a week or more behind, with Wolf Creek Pass, for example, looking good, but still at only 25 percent changed. While you're out leaf-peeping, don't forget to follow Leave No Trace principles!
In other news, Saturday, September 26th is National Public Lands Day, and entry fees to National Park Service sites is waived for the day. If you want to combine the day with leaf-peeping, it would be a good day to visit Rocky Mountain and Great Sand Dunes National Parks and nearby Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. For the best fall colors at the Florissant Fossil Beds, I suggest the Shootin' Star and Twin Rocks trails.
The Pikes Peak APEX bike race started on Thursday and will be ending on Sunday, with cyclists racing on many local trails. For a list of where the race will be run, and suggestions for other trails to use if your favorite is being used for the race, see my column from last week.
Be Good. Do Good Things.
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