The most popular trail in the Pikes Peak region is not really a trail at all, but a former tramway route that ascends steeply up a mountainside above Manitou Springs. The tourist train stopped running in the 1980s, but the railroad ties remained. The route climbs 2,000 feet of elevation in a mile, a ridiculously steep hike that became popular through word-of-mouth among Colorado Springs athletes in the 1990s, despite the fact it was on private property. That didn’t stop 500,000 people a year from hiking it by the late 2000s, and in 2013 the trail finally became a legal trail. It begins above the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and goes up. And up. And up. There’s a spot about halfway up known as “the bailout,” where a short side trail leads to Barr Trail and an easy hike down. The grade then becomes an astonishing 68 percent as it nears the “false summit,” which looks like the top but definitely is not. Finally after 200 more feet it arrives at the summit, where you’ll find a ruined train station and great views of Manitou Springs. Hikers are asked to descend via Barr Trail, not on the Incline, so follow a side trail downhill to Barr Trail and back to Manitou Springs – if you can still walk.
Though I lived in Colorado Springs for 10 years, and spent 4 of those years as the outdoor recreation reporter for The Colorado Springs Gazette, I never hiked the Incline until shortly before leaving town in the winter of 2013. I was glad to have done it once but also glad I was leaving and would never have to do it again.
- The parking situation on Ruxton Avenue can only be described as “madness.” Be prepared to pay to park or utilize the free shuttle from behind the Tahine Restaurant. Under no circumstances should you park in Cog Railway lot, as you will be ticketed and towed.
- Dogs are not allowed on the Incline.
- In winter, both the Incline and Barr Trail are usually snow-covered, so be sure to bring boot spikes or some form of traction.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
–R. Scott Rappold