At Garden of the Gods, a quick escape on dirt

Palmer Trail, Garden of the Gods

One either comes to the Central Garden, the most dramatic part of Garden of the Gods, and proceeds through the sandstone cathedrals or looks around for an escape route.

The sidewalks packed with picture-taking tourists can be less than enticing. For solitude, turn around, looking north of the parking lot, across the street where the Palmer Trail begins.

Colorado Springs’ founding father could not have predicted the many motors that would one day rumble through the city’s greatest nature sanctuary. But Gen. William Jackson Palmer would surely appreciate his namesake footpath. Here, one quickly swaps concrete for dirt, fumes for fresh air.

The trail starts by fenced-off grassland and rock gardens where bighorn sheep roam. It seamlessly rises along the hillside, lending awesome perspective of the Central Garden’s red slabs jutting from the greenery.

The trail weaves into thicker pinyon and juniper where we could hear a woodpecker and birdsong — no more motors. The trees clear to reveal the foothills sloping out toward Cheyenne Mountain. Pikes Peak emerges along with other signature promontories: Cameron’s Cone and Mount Rosa.

The Palmer Trail meets other paths touring the park’s western peripheries. With a handy map, one could continue on to classic sites such as Siamese Twins and Balanced Rock. At 1.28 miles of this trip, we crossed the road for the Scotsman picnic grounds, opting for a short loop.

We stayed left on the Scotsman Trail, ascending to a Central Garden marker at a point where the rock crown known as Kissing Camels appears clear in the sky. For however disruptive the sidewalk crowds are, the geology is never less captivating, the marvels with names such as Tower of Babel, Sentinel Rock and Three Graces.

Trip log: 2.36 miles round trip (loop), 253-foot elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Getting there: From Garden of the Gods’ main entrance off 30th Street, the Central Garden parking lot is the first along the one-way loop road. Trailhead across the street.

FYI: With limited space, consider parking at Rock Ledge Ranch adjacent to entrance. Dogs on leash. Icy in winter; bring traction. Stay off trails when muddy to prevent damage.

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