If you’re into mountain sports like climbing, mountain biking, and trail running, the weekend seems to point you in one direction: due west of Denver. Every weekend thousands of outdoor enthusiasts stream onto I-70, seeking the peaks that tower above the Front Range. But I-70 can quickly turn into a traffic nightmare, and an hour drive can easily double. Instead, try looking southward toward Colorado Springs and its endless outdoor recreation opportunities.
Hop on I-25 from Denver and in only one hour you are in Colorado’s second largest city, Colorado Springs. It might be surprising for some, but the Springs is home to a vast variety of outdoor recreation opportunities sure to please even the most hardcore weekend warriors. Whether you are a trad climber, a downhill mountain biker, or an accomplished trail runner, Colorado Springs has terrain for you.
Climbing in Colorado Springs
For the trad climber looking for slabby, red sandstone, head to “America’s Favorite Park,” Garden of the Gods, and cruise up sandstone trad lines on Montezuma’s Tower or Twin Spires. Or, for slightly more solid sandstone, head up trad lines on Kindergarten Rock such as New Era or Monster Crack. Remember to head to the Visitor’s Center for a free permit to climb legally in the park.
While Garden of the Gods does provide fun climbs right in town, for those looking to get away from the crowds and try their hand on some granite, head to Turkey Rocks about an hour from Colorado Springs. With over twenty trad lines in one area, this makes for an excellent half day of fun crack climbing on Pikes Peak Granite.
Mountain Biking in Colorado Springs
Ready to rip that shiny new downhill mountain bike? Palmer Park, only a few minutes off of I-25, provides technical and fun cross-country trails. Those looking for extended downhill should head to the foot of the Rockies and park at Stratton Open Space to start the uphill portion of the legendary linkup of Captain Jack’s to Gold Camp Road to The Chutes trails.
The most straightforward way up to get to Captain Jack’s is to hop on your bike and ride up Cheyenne Canyon road, taking it until it ends at Gold Camp Road. Take a left on Gold Camp Road, and hang right until a single-track trail materializes out of the pines. Follow this trail up to the top of Captain Jack’s, your highest point of the ride, and soak in the views before beginning your descent. Cruise down the gravel trail, which re-crosses Gold Camp Road after about a mile, and continue on through a series of rollers and fun drops before hitting Gold Camp Road for a third time. Take a left, and head downhill, enjoying the sprawling views of Colorado Springs and the Great Plains as they extend out below you. Finally, for the concluding section of the trail, hang right onto The Chutes, arguably the best flowy trail in Colorado. Keeping an eye out for riders coming up hill, fly down banked turns until you are dropped right back at your car. There is a reason why some pro mountain bikers list this as their favorite ride in the country.
Trail Running in Colorado Springs
For trail runners, Colorado Springs offers all levels of terrain. The obvious choice for those used to running marathons, or even ultra-marathons, is the Barr Trail. However, with over 7,000 feet of elevation change and 23 miles of trail, the Barr Trail is as grueling as it is famous.
For the more casual runner, head to the parking lot at the junction of Bear Creek Road and Gold Camp Road for the Section 16 loop. Throw on your sneakers and ascend alongside Bear Creek, home to the Green Back Cutthroat Trout, a fish that exists only in this small creek! Leave the creek taking a single-track trail on your right, and fight your way up past a beautiful waterfall until you reach a high ridge with stunning views of the city and the surrounding peaks. The trail follows the ridge until dropping down towards Red Rock Open Space. Hang right at the bottom of the ridge to loop back to your car.
After a day of vigorous recreation, swing by Phantom Canyon Brewing Company for a locally brewed beer and a bison burger while you shoot pool in the upstairs lounge. Looking for a faster option? Walk around the block to local pizza joint, Bambino’s Urban Pizzeria, where in minutes you can indulge in a wood-fired pizza.
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