Challenging, rewarding trail in Manitou Springs — and a wild access point

Cameron’s Cone and the mountains around Manitou Springs in view from the Ute Trail. Photo Credit: Seth Boster, The Gazette

Despite its many rewards — fitness, scenery and history — Ute Trail in Manitou Springs is too often overlooked. Perhaps that’s due to it sharing a starting point with the Manitou Incline. The masses opt for that famed trail while this one is missed.

Even more missed is an alternate starting point, one offering a more rugged side of nature and intriguing glimpse into history.

Rattlesnake Gulch is part of what’s considered one of the country’s oldest migratory routes, used for centuries by Native Americans to reach hunting grounds and Manitou’s mineral waters. Later, Rattlesnake Gulch became a bustling path for gold seekers heading west.

Now it is silent, benefiting the solitude seeker.

Heading up Ruxton Avenue, at the back of the Incline Base Camp gift shop, see the clear path stretching behind condo buildings. It bends around impressive outcrops before entering the gulch, scampering up between steep slopes crowned by red rocks.

Prepare for a lung-busting, leg-burning half-mile. The terrain is made even more challenging with chutes of Pikes Peak granite, the loose material that some call “kitty litter.”

The trail crests at a water tank. Ahead, a post points straight and left; straight toward Cascade for a longer out-and-back trip, or left back toward Manitou, to the best views found along Ute Trail. We went left, bound for another ascent.

The views are greater with every switchback: Waldo and its adjacent canyons scraping the sky to the north, the city glistening in the east and the plains appearing like a distant ocean. Atop the trail, coniferous hills emerge and Cameron Cone soars higher.

From the top, go left. The vistas accompany you as the trail steadily winds down. At the bottom “T”, head left, back to the base of the Incline and Ruxton Avenue.

Trip log: 2.25 miles round trip, 1,136 feet elevation gain, 7,221 feet max

Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

Getting there: Free parking and shuttle runs to Incline from 10 Old Man’s Trail in Manitou Springs.

FYI: Hiking, biking. Dogs on leash. Icy in winter; wear traction.

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