Stanley Canyon and Reservoir
On a warm day in July of 2009 we failed to reach our destination of the Stanley Reservoir approaching from the east by the Airforce Academy. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the rigorous climb, partially shaded path and views during our 2 mile roundtrip. Though around 1000' higher, I found the Rampart Reservoir trail (approaching from the west) to be easier.
Difficulty: Moderate. 2 miles roundtrip. Trailhead elevation: 7,500', Stanley Reservoir elevation: 8865' (el. gain - 1,365'). The path starts out very easy then climbs quickly with a few tricky sections over slippery rocks and stream crossings. The last mile is easy through a meadow and woods.
Hours: The trail is open when the Academy is open to visitors: 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. (those with a military/govt. ID have access from 5 a.m. to sundown). Call the Visitor's Center ahead of time to see if there are any visiting restrictions for your hiking day: 719-333-2025. Each hiker will have to show their driver's license to the guard and may have their car searched.
Directions: From I-25 take the south entrance to the Airforce Academy (exit #150) and head west for 2 miles along S. Gate Blvd. Then turn left onto Pine Dr. and go 4 or 5 miles, past Community Center Dr. On your left will be a dirt road before the hospital and go less than a mile to the parking lot (below). Though there are 2 large lots, they can get full.
The path starts as an easy road at a gate between the two parking lots (on right - photo above). It doesn't take long before you can enjoy some views of the Academy grounds and plains to the east.
Signs mark the way (Stanley Canyon Trail 707 and Stanley Reservoir 707) before you get to the main trail.
Initially, when the path starts to climb, it's easy to get good footing. Then the path gets more narrow. The views improve toward the east and one side of the canyon starts to appear up ahead.
I didn't like the trail in the photo below because we had to cross over long slanted sections of rock with a drop off to the left. Here's where carrying a child on your back can get a bit awkward, but we saw two other guys with child backpacks farther down the trail.
As we veered right into the canyon, we could hear water rushing far below. It was cooler in the shade and I saw a beautiful wildflowers here and there. I could breath easier as the climb became more gradual.
As the trail continues, it meets up with the stream. There are many small waterfalls to enjoy along the way. We stopped to eat by the stream and splash in the cool water.
There is a lovely waterfall in the distance on the left (lower left). Then we stopped, stumped by the seemingly impassable section ahead (lower right). You can either scale the sloping rocks that can be a bit slippery or you can wade through the river. I didn't want to get my boots wet and Greg wasn't sure about his balance with his load, so we turned around reluctantly. In the winter ice can be another hinderance along with higher water levels in the spring from snow melt.
At the time we didn't know that a meadow wasn't too far ahead. We had covered most of the difficult section in the first mile and if we had tackled a couple more hard areas, it would have been smooth sailing the rest of the way to Stanley Reservoir.
This is a popular trail with frequent hikers, but not so many that we felt crowded. I really enjoyed the scenery, but wasn't too excited about returning soon because of the somewhat difficult sections, though a hiking pole might help. I wouldn't recommend this trail for very young children.