Hike Spruce Mountain for Sweeping Views and Abundant Wildflowers
About a 15 minute drive north of Colorado Springs is an easy to moderate trail leading to the mesa of Spruce Mountain. It was a true delight for me when I hiked it for the first time in early August of 2009 because we discovered fields of colorful wildflowers on the north side of the mountain. I also loved the views from the mesa, looking north to Eagle Mountain (photo above), east toward vast plains and buttes, then southwest toward distant views of Pikes Peak and the front range (below).
Directions: From I-25 (runs between Denver and Colorado Springs) take exit 163 (County Line Rd.) and head west for 2.5 miles to a T intersection where you go right on Spruce Mt. Rd. for 3.5 miles to a dirt parking lot on your left (entrance shown below).
Elevation gain: 500 ft. along several switchbacks to a flat mesa.
Difficulty: Easy if you stay to the north in the fields, but somewhat moderate for a 1 mile climb to the mountain's mesa. The trails are generally wide and smooth and inviting for novice to intermediate mountain bikers. Only the optional service road going down the northwest side of the mountain was a bit challenging for me because of some loose rock on a steep descent.
It's very nice that there is a port-a-potty in the parking lot and I found it well maintained. The trailhead here starts at 7120 ft. with a flat path that soon heads uphill on the left. Heading right (or straight) will take you to the wildflower fields.
Even though it was a Saturday, we only saw a few people as we headed up several switchbacks through a Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir forest, following the "upper loop" signs. There were a couple of benches along the way for resting.
In mid March of 2010 we ventured to Spruce Mt. again, hoping the snow had melted enough to make the trail passable. It was a good thing we brought the Yaktraks for traction on our boots. We really needed them while climbing up the slippery snowpacked switchbacks on the northface to the mesa. Up ahead a couple was trekking along with their ski poles. We found the mesa path was a mix of dry, muddy and snow covered sections.
It wasn't long before we were rewarded with beautiful views as we approached the top. We saw trains down below to the right.
The walk along the mesa has a lot of trees and many overlooks with interesting rock outcroppings. Windy Point (photo below - el. 7640) has the best views and the wind gusts are noticeably stronger there. If you step away from the cliff's edge, it makes a nice picnic spot with great views of Pikes Peak, Greenland Open Space and the area buttes.
If you have young children with you, keep them close by around the drop-offs. When we were there in March, 2010 we saw a guy on the edge of Windy Point waiting to be rescued because he injured his leg slipping on the rocks. The rescue team decided it was easier to lower him down the cliff with ropes to an emergency vehicle than transport him all the way across the mesa to the parking lot. I wished I had been at the bottom to see his face as he came down.
Continuing northeast on the Upper Loop Trail .5 miles past Windy Point are views of Eagle Mountain (private property), flowering fields and buttes. In this area is a junction to the steep service road which takes you to the wildflower fields below. They've added a helpful sign noting that it is .5 miles to Eagle Pass Trail (at the base of the Service Rd.) and 2.3 miles back to Spruce Mt. trailhead.
I slipped a little on the loose gravel as I went down and marvelled at how a park worker's truck was able to meander up the rough road carved with deep ruts. We had seen small patches of wildflowers around the mesa, but near the bottom of the service road, my excitement grew as larger bunches of color started to appear along the forest edge.
Once we reached the fields, we turned right onto Eagle Pass Trail (junction shown below). Soon we were surrounded by huge areas of bee balm, aster, butter and eggs and many other types of wildflowers. I was thrilled that such a vibrant display could be found so close to Colorado Springs. I enjoyed it even more than "The Garden of Eden" near the top of Catamount Trail by Green Mountain Falls. 2009 had been a good summer for rain, so perhaps the wildflowers won't be quite as impressive in the future.
The path back to the parking lot was flat and easy with wildflowers to view all along the way. Veer right at the split for the quickest route back to the parking lot. I found it odd that I spotted so few butterflies with the numerous blooms around. A few hummingbirds darted about - they love bee balm.
Below I have included various wildflower photos from the hike and identified most of them. They peak in July, but most still looked great in early August. If you cannot see the flower name by placing your cursor over the photos, I have named them from top to bottom (left to right when side by side). The first six flowers are Wavy Leaf Thistle, Butter and Eggs, Tansy Yarrow, Blanket Flower, Silver Lupine and Broad Leaved Arnica.
The next six flowers are Rosy Paintbrush, Nodding Onion, Hoary Alyssum, Pine Drops, Scorpion Weed and California Poppy.
The next four flowers are Gay Feather, Rydberg Penstemon, Mariposa Lily and Scarlet Paintbrush.
The next four flowers are Bee Balm or Horsemint, Sticky Geranium, Aster and Bee Balm in white and purple.
The next four flowers are Scarlet Gila (more coral), Scarlet Gila, Hairy Evening Primrose and Bristle Thistle.
I could identify only a couple of the last six flowers: Prairie Clover, unknown, unknown, unknown, Broom Senecio and unknown.