On June 26, 2012, a massive wildfire exploded on the hillsides of Colorado Springs. The fire would eventually sweep over more than 18,000 acres.
The majority of the damage occurred on mostly public land within the Pike National Forest, a 1,100,000-acre swath of mixed pine and spruce that lies in Clear Creek, Teller, Park, Jefferson, Douglas and El Paso counties. There, the fire burned for nearly a month. When the final embers had cooled, the forest had been changed forever.
The fire was named for the place it began, Waldo Canyon, which was one of the most popular close-in hiking trails in the region. But it also impacted Rampart Reservoir, and the Rampart Range Road (Forest Service Road 300), which stretches from Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs to the reservoir.
Miles of hiking and biking trails, four-wheeler routes, picnic and camping areas, and favorite fishing spots were off-limits. Forest managers, aware of the dangers of the charred landscape, kept the burn area closed for more than two years.
The Waldo Canyon Trail is still closed; its trailhead blocked off with a concrete barricade and its trail bed destroyed by erosion. But this month, the Forest Service reopened Rampart Range Road, with some caveats: It’s for day use only, and there’s no camping, campfires or parking outside designated areas.
Watch for falling dead trees and limbs, steep slopes, and stump holes. Forest Service district ranger Oscar Martinez says, “Expect a changed condition. This is not the same forest that many remember prior to the 2012 wildfire. There are many dangers, so be very cautious with a plan of escape when the winds increase or it starts to rain.”
If you’ve been missing Rampart, plan on getting out there before December, when it will be closed again until next spring. Here are a few ways to get your Rampart fix:
1. Check out the Rainbow Gulch Trail . This popular connector to the Rampart Reservoir loop trail is great for a day hike or bike ride. It’s a short, 3 mile roundtrip, mostly level route that ends at the curvy banks of the reservoir. Walk this trail in the morning, and you’ll encounter anglers going back and forth to the waters that are stocked with trout. This is best reached from the town of Woodland Park, about a 20-minute drive from the trailhead.
2. Pack a picnic. The Promontory Picnic Area is perched on a steep hillside above the water; most days (especially in the fall), you’ll have the area all to yourself.
3. Bike around. The trail that loops around the water is a mountain biker’s dream – it is fast, with some technical spots, but it’s also doable for most skill levels, and its length – 14 miles – adds to the challenge.
4. Snap the perfect photo. Rampart Range Road winds about 20 miles from Garden of the Gods to the reservoir. Along the way, you’ll find signs of beauty in the aftermath of the fire, and some obstacle-free views of Pikes Peak.