Surrounded on three sides by Pike National Forest, Green Mountain Falls, Colo., is a tiny town with an impressive trail system built around bubbling creeks, rushing waterfalls, a picturesque lake... and cinnamon roll French toast.
That's right — the thick, cinnamon-and-sugar-crusted confection is a signature dish of The Pantry, a restaurant that has caused late starts for hikers for more than 60 years. Open year-round, this homey joint, located next to the town’s Gazebo Lake (named after the nearby Victorian gazebo) makes for the perfect gathering point before a day on the trails. And considering the fact that the roads in Green Mountain Falls are unpaved, narrow, and hilly, and hikers aren't allowed to park on them, all trips into the surrounding woods must begin at the lake. Coincidence that the Pantry is just around the corner? We think not. it’s not allowed to park vehicles on them. As a result, most hiking trips start at the lake, which has a parking lot.)
But The Pantry’s French toast isn’t the only exceptionally sweet thing about Green Mountain Falls : There are also 20-plus miles of trails , all non-motorized and carefully tended by local volunteers, four open to mountain bikes and two open to horses. The town’s location in a narrow valley, where the sun drops behind the hillsides early, means miles of cool forest for summer hikers and crisp, chilly afternoons during the fall and winter, which can also bring snow and ice to the trails.
Two notable trails intersect with the Ring the Peak Trail, which is the path that winds around Pikes Peak: they are the legendary 6,800-mile, cross-country American Discovery Trail and the Ute Pass Regional Trail, a 40-mile route. Both pass through the town on a bicycle and pedestrian lane on Ute Pass Avenue.
Below are a few more highlights from local trails, ranging from easy to difficult.
Easy: The Kirkpatrick Trail is a two-mile round trip with a modest vertical gain (especially by Colorado standards) of 400 feet, featuring one of the town’s most photogenic waterfalls, Crystal Falls. The Wallace Reserve, which encompasses two miles of trails, is a 95-acre open space preservation project that hooks into the Kirkpatrick Trail and crosses Crystal Creek at Crystal Falls.
Moderate: Dating back to the 1940s, the 2.5-mile Thomas Trail parallels the town from the hillside above, connecting Crystal and Catamount Falls and boasting 700 feet of elevation gain.
Difficult: A two-mile path with a vertical gain of 1,400 feet, the Crystal Trail heads to the Crystal Reservoir, a part of the North Slope Recreation Area on Pikes Peak. It’s one of two trails that connect with Ring the Peak Trail. Another difficult option is the Catamount Trail. With a 1,430-foot elevation gain over three miles, this trail zigzags on tight switchbacks right from town up to the North Slope Recreation Area’s South Catamount and North Catamount reservoirs. It also connects to the Ring the Peak Trail. Near the Belvidere Trailhead for the Catamount Trail, look out for a cabin named the Hummingbird cabin, which dates back to 1898. Midway to the reservoirs, a highlight is the Garden of Eden, a green, mossy meadow tucked into the forest.
Whatever trail you choose, be sure to head back to the lake afterward for a post-excursion pint and pizza at The Blue Moose Tavern, located next to The Pantry. It’s been a popular gathering spot for decades – dig into the Mountain Man pizza, a meat-lovers dream piled high with elk sausage.