Build Endurance on the Manitou Incline
From athletes training for the Olympics to five year olds, the Manitou Incline in Manitou Springs offers the best quick outdoor workout for miles around. With hummingbirds whirring about and a great view of Colorado Springs and the eastern plains below, it sure beats a trip to the gym. Each day during the warmer months hundreds of fitness minded people take advantage of the challenging 41% average grade (up to 68% grade) "stairway" of railroad ties up Mount Manitou. The roadbed for the former Mount Manitou Scenic Incline Railway was closed in 1990 after a rockslide again damaged tracks. Remains of the tourist attraction's summit house can be seen at the top.
I have reached The Incline's summit elevation via Barr Trail, but while on The Incline, I have yet to get beyond the halfway point where it intersects with
(a path which switchbacks all the way up Pikes Peak's eastern face). Greg, on the other hand, loves to take The Incline all the way to the top, always trying to improve his time. He took the photos in this article. Unfortunately, the one time he brought my camera he only made it to the false summit because darkness was approaching.
Directions: From hwy 24, take the exit for Manitou Ave and go toward the mountains. At the round-a-bout (pictured below) near the center of town, take a 3/4 turn onto Ruxton Ave. to head southwest. Just past the Cog Railway turn right after the red Manitou powerstation (next photo below where car is turning) up a steep hill to a small dirt parking lot.
UPDATE - The parking lot is now paved and there is a $5.00 fee payable by credit card only.
Elevation Gain: just under 2000 ft. from 6560' at the trailhead to 8550' at the top.
Distance: Roundtrip - just over 2 miles if you exit at the Barr Trail crossover with a 1,100' el. gain or just under 4 miles for the 2,000' el. gain to the top.
Difficulty: Strenuous going up and down, but a moderate descent if you take Barr Trail down.
On weekends from spring through fall, Pikes Peak summit hikers can fill the lot before sunrise and on nice weekdays shortly after 4 pm it can be difficult to find a spot. If the lot is full, park downhill along Ruxton Ave. by the Iron Springs Chateau Melodrama.
Above is shown the connector to the start of the incline trail from a corner of the Barr parking lot. The sign states "Future Incline Trailhead".
Below you can see the view shortly after starting the incline. Barr parking lot is visible to the right.
From this area you can see the beginning of Barr Trail's switchbacks. Wood steps were added in steep washed out areas during the summer of 2009, making it much easier to hike.
The land which The Incline crosses is privately owned in sections by the city of Colorado Springs, the Cog Railway and the Forest Service. To waive the owners of any liability, there is a "No Trespassing" sign, so it's actually not legal to hike the trail. However, they are working on changing that since everyone hikes it anyway.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2013 - The sign is gone! The trail is now legal for everyone to hike.
The views to the north aren't that scenic, but sometimes wildflowers dot the path.
After climbing for a few minutes, I have to remind myself to slow down. My lungs have difficulty keeping up with my legs. Greg has worked out a pace which allows him to keep climbing without having to stop to breathe more than a couple times.
Even though I've witnessed it on several occasions, it's still hard for me to believe people can run down these highly irregular steps without wiping out. It can be a very daunting feeling when new to The Incline to look up at what waits to be conquered. But looking down below becomes more rewarding with each step as the view opens up beneath you.
Because several sections require taking very large steps, we much prefer taking Barr Trail down like most Incline hikers, except we walk, unlike many who somehow manage to run down the switchbacks. The Incline is wide enough to easily accommodate passing hikers, but many portions of Barr Trail are single track, so we often flatten ourselves against the fence rails to let the speeders fly by. The high traffic and unleashed dogs can get slightly annoying, but the intense workout makes it all worth it.
As you ascend, keep an eye out for a dark brown log fence on your left signaling your approach to the Barr Trail connector at the half way point. Someone graciously improved the thin path (on right below) between The Incline and Barr Trail so people can cross over more easily now.
As Greg approached the false summit, he realized darkness wasn't far away and searched for a way to Barr Trail. He was told there was a path nearby, but he ended up just wandering through the woods downhill until he eventually hit Barr Trail.
The views near the top are very rewarding. I especially enjoy watching dark storm clouds and sheets of rain moving across the city and plains beyond. Once at The Incline's summit, hikers can continue on to Eagles Nest or summit Mount Manitou, which tourists used to do once they got off the 16 minute cable car ride. Or you can follow a trail to the left, which leads to Barr Trail. Bring at least a liter of water for the hike and keep in mind there are no facilities along the trails (there is a pit toilet at the Barr parking lot). Watch for rain in the afternoons. We've been drenched once so far and it wasn't that easy navigating the river that quickly appeared on Barr Trail as we descended.