Hiking Red Rock Canyon Open Space in Colorado Springs
When I asked a couple of hiking friends to join me in Red Rock Canyon, I was surprised to hear that these long term residents of Colorado Springs had never visited the 789 acre park on the west side of the city. They remarked on the beauty surrounding them and wished they had brought their cameras. True, the land wasn't purchased by the city until 2003, but, always eager to try new trails, my husband, Greg, discovered the park after living in the area just a few months. The red sandstone rocks resemble those in Garden of the Gods just a few miles north - only on a smaller scale.
Directions: From I-25 take the Cimarron St. exit west. Cimarron St. becomes US hwy 24. Soon after the 31st St light, go left (south) onto Ridge Rd. and you will see a parking lot on your left. You can continue past that lot, heading eastward to another one for more parking. I have never had difficulty finding a spot so far. You can also enter the park from 31st St. one block south of US 24 where you can fit horse trailers.
There are at least 13 miles of predominately easy trails. Even though the map marks the trails easy (green), intermediate (blue) and advanced (black), my friends and I haven't noticed much difference between them. Some paths have long gradual ascents and Section 16 trails toward the top right corner of the map (brown) get slightly more challenging. Next to the first parking lot there are a couple of portable toilets.
Greg hasn't tried the beginners freeride area yet, but it's fun to watch others traverse the teeter-totters, drops and bridges. It is located between the two parking lots. Apparently, there are plans to build two other sections nearby with swinging bridges and rotating teeter-totters, but I haven't noticed any preparation for them yet. There are a few narrow trails in the park with twists and turns and rocks that offer some excitement for mountain bikers, so we have had to jump to the side occasionally to let them pass.
Above is the beginning of Mesa Trail heading south from the freeride park. Toward the right are two small off-leash dog loops. I went up the steps to the left to take the two photos below. In the first photo you can see Red Rock Canyon Trail leading to the old quarry and the new pavillion, which offers some shade over looking a pond. The second photo shows the two ponds.
I then veered left to the Greenlee Trail (below), which is fairly smooth. When starting from either parking lot, a number of the trails can easily accommodate a jogging stroller for a couple miles or so.
At the intersection of the Greenlee and Quarry Pass Trails, the path gets rocky. If you turn left at the post, you soon find yourself in a large section of quarried sandstone.
In 1886 sandstone quarry operations began in Red Rock Canyon. Using costly machines to cut blocks of stone, they soon found a broad market for the easily carved Lyons sandstone for buildings, particularly in the Denver and Pikes Peak regions. They cut sandstone for over two decades and most likely lower demand closed the operations down. It is fascinating to walk through the quarried sections. There is a path where you can lead your horse up.
I enjoy going up the narrow steps carved into the rock, leading to the quarried section, but I don't enjoy going down them. If you don't care for narrow steps, you can opt for the easy trail the horses take nearby.
For the fearless, there are 85 climbing routes rated 4th class to 5.13. On nice days you can spot several groups of rock climbers with ropes and harnesses. If you wish to join them, you first have to get a permit from the Garden of the Gods visitor's center and bring the right equipment or face getting fined.
One day Greg and I decided to try something new, so we started from the second parking lot off hwy 24 toward the Lower Hogback Trail, then turned right onto Red Rock Rim Trail.
The continuous gradual climb made me tired and I found the scenery somewhat boring until we reached the top and could look down on Colorado Springs below. When we turned the corner we got a sweeping view of the quarry, the foothills and Garden of the Gods to the north (prominent red rocks upper right).
If we hike around twilight, we sometimes see deer close to the paths, but have never seen anything else besides birds. There is a sign warning about the presence of cougars. Because there are usually a fair amount of hikers and climbers around, I feel safe and don't bother to bring my bear pepper spray. Nevertheless, be on the alert and don't run should you meet up with one. Stand your ground, look big, holler loudly and, hopefully, it will creep away.