Cañon City sits at the mouth of the Royal Gorge, where over millions of years the Arkansas River has carved a dramatic canyon that looks just as imposing from the top along its famous bridge as it does from a raft in the canyon’s exhilarating whitewater rapids. If you don’t quite feel up to plunging through the Gorge on a boat, Bighorn Sheep Canyon above town is a milder alternative. Commercial outfitters offer trips on both.
The Tunnel Drive Trail begins on the west side of town and runs a gentle two miles above the Arkansas River. Drive a little farther south into the Wet Mountains, and Newlin Creek Trail makes an excellent forest hike. Looking for a longer trip? The Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area is only a 30-minute drive and offers great desert hiking up an impressive series of gorges. Just be sure to bring water shoes or sandals because you’ll likely have to cross streams.
Sport climbers have long known about Shelf Road, an historic route to the gold fields of Cripple Creek. There are plenty of technical climbing routes and also plenty of camping. The area also has two commercial hot springs, Desert Reef and Dakota Ridge, both of which are clothing-optional. The area is also a popular mountain biking destination, with a mild climate and trails that are often snow-free all winter. Upriver, in the Texas Creek area, off-road vehicle enthusiasts will find a wealth of roads and trails to explore.