A Quick Retreat to the Wilderness
UPDATE - This trail is currently closed due to the Waldo Canyon fire of summer 2012. It may be a couple of years before it re-opens. Vegetation has to be establised to prevent mudslides.
A popular moderate hike a few miles west of Colorado Springs offers sweeping views of Pikes Peak, Waldo Canyon and the city. The trailhead is right off Hwy 24, making for easy access attracting many hikers, but once you get about a mile into the hike, the crowds start to thin out, the noise of traffic is left behind and tranquil woods with a stream surround you.
Greg and I hike Waldo Canyon several times per year, including winter because a large portion of the trail faces south, allowing the sun to melt the snow quickly. Still, it's best to wear something like Yaktrax on your boots because there can be hard packed slippery sections in the shade.
The parking lot fills quickly when the weather is good. Some people park on the south side of Hwy 24 along the shoulder if the lot is full.
The trailhead is on the east end of the parking lot. Your heart gets pumping right away with several flights of stairs to climb.
Distance: Somewhere between 6.2 - 6.7 miles.
Elevation Gain: 1,050' (trailhead 7,100' and summit 8150'), but if you factor in the small hills along the way, the overall elevation gain is 2,250' according to the map.
Time: Allow 3 to 4 hours for a hike. 1 to 2 hours to bike.
Difficulty: Moderate due to length and elevation gain. The trail itself is predominately smooth with a few short steep sections.
Directions: From Colorado Springs head west on Hwy 24. Go 2 miles past the light for Cave of the Winds/west end of Manitou Springs bypass. Look for a small brown hiking sign on right, then parking lot will be just beyond a short curve to the right (north) side of road.
The map below appears at the trailhead showing the trail which includes a 3 mile loop marked by a wood sign after a small meadow. Most hikers go left in the the winter because there is a shaded steep slippery section that is easier to go up than down.
Soon the trail levels off as you walk above Hwy 24 and head toward a lookout point over the highway.
Below is a view toward the west along Hwy 24.
From the lookout point facing east toward Colorado Springs.
Below we are leaving the overlook and proceeding toward the first ridge of the canyon.
It is about 1 mile to the first ridge. At the top is an unmarked detour on the left leading to Cascade, a small town farther west off Hwy 24.
From the top of the ridge looking northeast, you start to see ridges of rock formations. The trail soon has a few short steep sections in the shade where traction on your boots is helpful in the winter.
The following photos of Pikes Peak (looking south) and Waldo Canyon are views you can enjoy once you turn right at the 3 mile loop. These were taken during three different hikes. It is off this side of the loop that you come across a connector trail to Williams Canyon (takes you to Manitou Springs), which I found to be very scenic as I love being surrounded by red cliffs.
The photos below were taken along and just beyond the river, which you encounter when you turn left at the loop. The path climbs upward through the forest. I was thrilled during our hike in July when I came across numerous wildflowers and butterflies in this section. I was frequently switching back and forth from my macro to my 300mm zoom lenses. After you cross the creek 5 times, be careful to note the sharp switchback to the right, otherwise, you may end up on Rampart Range Rd. if you follow the river for too long.