For those who live in the shadow of Pikes Peak, the hulking mountain is a convenient landmark for direction-giving (“go towards the mountains”), a willing model for sunrise/sunset/first snowfall pictures, and a significant player in weather patterns.
It’s also a playground shared for millions who visit the region each year.
Pikes Peak, 14,115 feet, is one of Colorado’s 54 mountains known as fourteeners, peaks with more than 14,000 feet in elevation. Its silhouette defines the region and frames the city of Colorado Springs below. And its forested flanks that reach from foothills to alpine tundra hold miles of hiking trails, sparkling reservoirs, bubbling creeks and breath-zapping views.
There are three classic ways to reach Pikes Peak’s summit: The Manitou & Pike’s Peak Cog Railway, a favorite among armchair (or railcar) explorers; the Pikes Peak Highway, a 19-mile paved road that snakes up the mountain, and Barr Trail, a 12.7-mile uphill route used by runners, hikers, and skilled mountain bikers.
But there are also other ways to have fun on this famed mountain. Here are 6 ways:
1. Selfies at Crystal Creek Reservoir
There’s a trio of reservoirs on the north slope of Pikes Peak – Crystal Creek, South Catamount and North Catamount. Crystal is the lowest of the three, and it glimmers alongside the Pikes Peak Highway. This is a great place to experience the riches of the peak. Walk along the shore and choose your spot for a day of trout fishing. This is a quiet oasis on the mountain – boats are allowed, but must be hand- or electric powered. And it’s a great place to take a selfie, as the summit of Pikes Peak looms charismatically on the horizon behind you.
2. Picnic perfect
Crow Gulch Picnic Area is three miles from the Pikes Peak Highway tollgate, and it’s a perfect place for a to spread out a blanket with some snacks. Robber jays and chipmunks will join you at this small, wooded picnic area. After lunch, take a hike through the tall grass into the woods on the Mount Esther Trail. Six miles round-trip, the trail heads uphill through a wildflower-filled meadow into a mixed growth forest and provides a birds-eye view of Crystal Creek Reservoir.
3. Think of the Garden of Eden, with a fish dinner.
The Catamount Trail begins in the tiny streamside town of Green Mountain Falls, and ends at the shoreline of South Catamount Reservoir, where you can fish from the shore. Halfway up the trail, you’ll reach the Garden of Eden, a mossy green bench on the mountainside.
4. A devil of a playground
Barr Trail is the traditional hand-powered route from bottom to top of Pikes Peak. Devil’s Playground Trail is a much newer route, much shorter route, and some say, an even more picturesque route. Start at The Crags, a popular trail on the south side of the peak, and head uphill. Soon, you’ll reach tree line and the stark landscape from which Devil’s Playground gets its name.
5. All downhill (OK, mostly downhill)
The Pikes Peak Highway is open to cyclists, but if you don’t have the lungs and legs to tackle this brutal 19-mile uphill road, you can do it backwards. Local cycling outfitters (Challenge Unlimited and Pikes Peak Mountain Bike Tours) offer bike tours down the highway. This road can be frightening to drivers, but on a bike, its curves are simply thrilling. (But be forewarned: downhill doesn’t mean ALL downhill – there are stretches at the 13,000-foot level and at Crystal Creek Reservoir that require pedaling).
6. Drop into Barr Camp
This is best experienced in the fall, when the Manitou & Pike’s Peak Cog Railway isn’t so busy. You have to purchase a ticket from the Railway and inform them that you are getting off at Mountain View, a station along the way. Hop off the train to the admiring gazes of tourists (“wow, they are climbing a mountain!” ) and cross the tracks to the short trail that leads to Barr Camp. This is the popular resting spot for those who are climbing Pikes Peak, and its inviting deck is hard to leave. If you can tear yourself away, you can experience Barr Trail in 6.5-miles downhill.