The longer I live in Colorado Springs — just over a month, as of this writing — the more I understand its irresistible appeal, not just to tourists, but to lifelong adventurers like me. Even though I fell into the city’s lap by lucky happenstance — just as I did in Dublin — I’m feeling luckier and luckier every day to have bounced into the bosom of the Front Range as I discover more and more of its natural and human-made treasures.
This weekend, I set my sights on Red Rock Canyon Open Space for a leisurely family walk. Formed a few million years ago (give or take) and procured by the city for public use in 2003, this multi-use open space — a term I’d never heard before moving to Colorado — has since become a popular playpen for outdoor sports of all flavors: hiking, biking, dog-walking, rock-climbing, paragliding, and a whole list of other extreme sports of which I’m not yet familiar. (Let’s say cakeboarding, riding a skateboard down a steep mountain trail while eating stale, leftover birthday cake salvaged from a supermarket dumpster. Stranger sports do exist.)
On this, our first visit, we planned to loop through the east side of the park, heading down into the shallow canyon to the lake at its bottom and back to the 31st Street trailhead. For an easy, accessible walk through the different colors and characters of the park, follow this five-mile loop.
From the 31st Street parking lot and trailhead, zigzag up onto the plateau of the Lower Hogback Trail. Take the left diversion (heading south) when the trial flattens at the top to the Hogback Valley Trail. You’ll be climbing steadily through the native grasses and wildflowers of the mesa, getting a better and better view of the city of Colorado Springs and the vast plain of Southern Colorado to the east.
As the Hogback becomes the Lion Trail, you’ll loop back to the north and get your first view of the shallow canyon. Here, you can continue the short version of the loop by remaining on the high ground of the Red Rock Rim Trail, eventually meeting back up with the Lower Hogback Trail near the 31st Street trailhead.
Alternately, you can go into the canyon by taking a left on the Red Rock Rim trail and a quick right on the Red Rock Canyon Trail. This namesake trail angles gently down the canyon through the smooth rock formations of the rusty red hue that gave the state of Colorado its name. These exposed, easily accessible rocks were coveted by early Colorado Springs builders, who established a quarry in the canyon, now preserved as a historic site and, although human-made, it has become an integral part of the story of Red Rock Canyon. From the main trail on the canyon floor, you can divert to explore the quarry, climbing the miners’ stairs carved directly into the smooth rock face to examine more closely the perfect lines of cut stone.
At the bottom of the canyon — after following either the main canyon trail or the slightly narrower Red Rock Canyon Path that parallels it to the west — you’ll reach the lakes and the event pavilion; if you’re lucky, there might be a wildlife lecture or demonstration here on the day of your visit.
After a rest in the shade of the pavilion, continue north to the end of the canyon and the north parking lot (Highway 24). To circle back to the 31st Street lot, take the steep path heading east to meet up with what should be the familiar prairie grasses of the plateau of the Lower Hogback Trail. Follow signs for the 31st Street trailhead and zigzag back down to the parking lot to finish your walk.
Where to go from here
After a satisfying walk through Red Rock Canyon, consider a stop in Manitou Springs, the touristy-but-fun resort village at the base of Pike’s Peak. You probably won’t have enough left in the tank to climb the Manitou Incline, but I’d wager you’ll have the strength to raise a glass at Manitou Brewing Company.