Fall is here, and with it, leaf-peeping season. So far, this fall looks to be a great one. We've had plenty of moisture, and the aspens look healthy and vibrant. Keep your fingers crossed it holds up.
Invariably I am asked about places and trails to see fall colors, and while this is by no means a comprehensive list (Colorado is a big state), these are my favorite places in the Pikes Peak region (and a little beyond).
- Colorado Trail #1776, segments 5 and 6, Highway 285 at Kenosha Pass — Kenosha Pass is a perennial hotspot for fall colors and, with the Colorado Trail crossing nearby, you have the opportunity to get in some hiking while enjoying the fall colors. This area is VERY crowded on weekends, so try to visit on a weekday.
- Brookside-McCurdy Trail #607, Hankins Pass Trail #630 — Pick up the Brookside-McCurdy Trail at the trailhead just past the Twin Eagles Campground on Park County Road 77, about 15 miles north of Highway 24 in Lake George. Take trail 607 as it meanders in and out of groves of aspens. When it meets with Hankins Pass Trail 630, turn right onto 630 and follow it up for about .8 miles through dense stands of aspens until it meets the Lizard Rock Trail. Trails 607 and 630 are in the Lost Creek Wilderness Area and bikes/motorized vehicles are not permitted.
- Eleven Mile State Park — While known mostly for its fishing and camping, Eleven Mile also has a nice little trail system, and with it, stands of aspens against a backdrop of rock cliffs and the Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir. All the trails there are easy, and leashed-dog friendly. For more info, see my previous column here. Entry fees apply.
- Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument's — Shootin' Star and Twin Rock trails, on the east end of the site, are easy trails that pass through stands of aspens. The best part is a small pond on the Twin Rock Trail about 2 miles from the trailhead. For more information, go to their website. Entry fees apply. Dogs are not permitted on any trails. Entry fees will be waived on Sept. 25 for National Public Lands Day.
- Mueller State Park — In my opinion, this is the best place in close proximity to Colorado Springs for seeing fall colors. While nearly any trail there will be a colorful hike, for my money, the best trails are the Buffalo Rock, Cahill Pond and Moonshine Trails at the far north end of the park. As an added bonus, the views to the south from Grouse Mountain (also at the north end of the park) are stunning at sunset. For more information, go to their website. Entry fees apply. Dogs are not permitted on any trails.
- Dome Rock State Wildlife Area's — Willow Creek Trail goes through a dense stand of aspens on a rigorous uphill hike. Starting at the large parking lot at the bottom of the access road into Dome Rock and follow the trail south. The trail climbs steeply for about 2 miles through stands of aspens. Each visitor 16 and older must have a State Wildlife Area Pass or a hunting or fishing license. Dogs, bikes and motorized vehicles are not permitted.
- Horsethief Park, #Trail 704/Dome Rock #Trail704a — These two trails are insanely popular and very busy on weekends, so put these on your "when I have time during the week" list of places to visit. From the trailhead on Highway 67 near the old railroad tunnel, take Trail 704 until it turns left (north) at the sign indicating Horsethief Park. The next mile of trail winds through a narrow valley, with plenty of aspens. Instead of turning left at Horsethief Park, continue straight and then make a right at the Pancake Rocks Trail. The first mile or so of this trail is a bit more difficult as it climbs through a series of switchbacks and then continues on to the trail's namesake rock formation. Along the way, the trail goes through groves of aspens, but the real treat is the view from the Pancake Rocks. To get there, take Highway 67 south from Highway 24 in Divide for about 9.5 miles.
- Mt. Esther Trail #754 — Starting at the Crowe Gulch picnic area, about 2 miles up the Pikes Peak Highway from the entrance gate, the Mt. Esther Trail is an easy to moderate hike through tall grasses and stands of aspens. There is a nice concentration of aspens about 1.25 miles from the trailhead. As a bonus, this is also a great wildflower hike in the summer. Entry fees apply.
- Highway 12, through Cuchara — One of the most scenic fall colors drives, Highway 12 from LaVeta through Cuchara and to the top of Cuchara Pass always pleases. Hiking trails in the area included the Dodgeton, Baker Creek and Indian Trails network, which can be accessed from the Spring Creek Trailhead, just behind the water and sanitation district building just south of Cuchara, or from the Bear Lake Trailhead, at the end of Forest Service Road 422.
If you're wondering when to do your leaf-peeping, this fall foliage prediction map will help you decide.
When out hiking and leaf peeping, don't forget to follow Leave No Trace principles and minimize your impact on the environment.
The Pikes Peak APEX Mountain Bike Challenge returns to Colorado Springs from Sept. 23-26. Each day of the event will take place in a different park or section of national forest, which can impact your outdoor recreation plans. The event starts in Palmer Park on Sept. 23, during which all roads into the park will be closed until 5 p.m., however trails will be open but park users need to exercise caution as cyclists race through the park. On Sept. 24, the event will be in the Monument and Woodland Park areas, and on Sept. 25, the event will be in the Gold Camp Road area. On Sept. 26, the Challenge will be in Cheyenne Cañon. For details and suggested alternative trails for each day, go to the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance website. If you don't want to ride the event but want to join in on the festivities, you can take part in the APEX Outdoor Festival and Expo in America the Beautiful Park on the Sept. 25.
If you've got great photos of Colorado Springs city parks and open spaces, or of Cheyenne Mountain State Park, you have a chance to show off your stuff in two photo calendar contests. The Discover Colorado Springs Calendar Contest is now accepting photos until Oct. 5 to compete for a place in the Parks Department's 2022 calendar, while Friends of Cheyenne Mountain State Park is accepting submissions of the park for their photo calendar contest until Oct. 31.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.