Explore Colorado’s Newest Trails in the Royal Gorge Region
A father and son enjoy the view over Red Canyon in the Royal Gorge Region. Photo courtesy of Royal Gorge Region.
Situated just far enough off the Front Range to be a hidden gem and nestled just right between the Wet Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Range to boast more warm and sunny days than neighboring areas, the Royal Gorge Region is a beautiful area of southern Colorado just waiting to be explored. For those that explore the mountains on their mountain bikes or hiking boots, the Royal Gorge Region has become a new must-visit destination with world-class terrain and trails that are equally welcoming to both hikers and bikers. From historic hikes that trace the path of ancient dinosaurs to singletrack that travels through geological wonders, there’s endless ways to explore and discover the wilderness of the Royal Gorge Region. We’ve put together an overview of some of the region’s favorite trails for all experience and skill levels.
1. Low Impact Trails
Arkansas Riverwalk Trail
The Riverwalk Trail, a mild 7.5-mile pathway, follows the river through the historic and most scenic parts of Cañon City. The trail is mostly flat, and if you’re out with your family for a casual jog, bike ride, or a walk, there are fitness stations along the way so that you can make the most out of your recreation.
Pro Tip: Dogs are allowed on the Riverwalk Trail, provided that they are leashed.
Getting There: Popular access points with parking areas are Centennial Park, Sell’s Lake (off 9th Street), MacKenize Avenue Trailhead, and Tunnel Drive (the furthest point west on the trail).
Graneros, Hogbacks Open Space
The Hogbacks are the geological wonder of Cañon City. Within the rock lies layers of fossils, remnants of an inland sea that covered Colorado millions of years ago. The Graneros trail winds along the Dakota Ridge formation in the Hogbacks. It’s a flowy, fun beginner’s mountain bike trail with a couple of technical sections to challenge those ready to take their skills to the next level. Hikers can also enjoy this trail and the beautiful surrounding scenery. For more about the geologic history of Cañon City and the surrounding area, visit royalgorgeregion.com/the-history-of-the-canon-city-area.
Pro Tip: The Hogback trails are made of clay soils, and thus are slippery and dangerous when wet. Stay off the trails after precipitation.
Getting There: From Main Street in Cañon City, head north on 5th Street for about 0.5 miles until you reach Floral Avenue. Take a left uphill and parking will be on your left (south) side of the road.
Overlook Loop, Royal Gorge Park
Head to the Royal Gorge Park for some of the most gorgeous views in Colorado. Over 100 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed this area, eventually giving way to Ute Native Americans, and eventually, pioneers headed west. You can enjoy views of this river-carved canyon from the Overlook Loop, accessed from the Elk Horn Picnic Area.
Pro Tip: Hike and bike with caution because many points along this area have steep cliffs and drop offs.
Getting There: From downtown, head west on US Highway 50. At the turnoff for the Royal Gorge Bridge, turn left and follow County Road 3A until you reach your trailhead.
For more information about visiting the Royal Gorge Region, visit royalgorgeregion.com.
2. Moderate Trails
Temple Canyon Park
In 1881, workmen for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad re-discovered this stunning rock formation that forms a natural amphitheater. Evidence of human life can be found through the area dating back to Ute Indian Tribe ceremonial use. The area was acquired as a city park in 1912. Steep switchbacks ascend to flatter terrain that follows a creek. The trail can either be 0.6 miles or 1.25 miles one-way depending on the starting location.
Pro Tip: Check the stream flow in early summer before attempting the longer version of this trail as high waters can make the trail impassable.
Getting There: For the shorter hike, take 1st Street south for approximately 1 mile, and take a right onto Temple Canyon Road (CR3). Continue on this road for an additional 5.1 miles. You’ll see a turnoff on your right (north); take this and follow it to the terminus (about 0.5 miles). You will see the trailhead past the restrooms. For the longer hike, do not take the turnoff, but continue an additional 1.25 miles to the next restroom facility located just before the bridge. This hike will require you to cross the creek at various locations, some of them not well-marked.
Red Canyon Park
600 amazing acres of red rock make up this formation formed 290-296 million years ago. The Fountain Formation was a series of streams carrying eroded sediment down from the Rocky Mountains. Today, this local favorite park can be explored either on trail or off.
The Arch is one of the most interesting sites in the park. From Red Canyon Road, follow the park’s road approximately 1.5 miles until you reach a notable pull-off on your right. From this parking area, hike in a west south-west direction until you find the arch.
Pro Tip: The park’s trails are best for hikers, picknickers, and walkers.
Getting There: From Highway 50, head north on 15th Street and continue for 0.9 miles. Turn right (east) on Central Avenue and continue for 1.0 mile. Turn left (north) onto Field Avenue and continue for 2.2 miles. At the Y, travel north on Red Canyon Road for approximately seven miles. Red Canyon Park will be on your left.
Section 13 offers unmatched views of Cañon City and the surrounding area. Hikers and bikers can enjoy a full 6-mile loop that connects LAMBA Chops and Hotshots trails. Follow Hotshots to the upper meadow to reach the highest point on the trail. A fun descent awaits bikers.
Pro Tip: This trail is best for the spring and fall. In summer, the area gets very hot so bring lots of water and sun protection.
Getting There: From the west end of Cañon City, take Highway 50 to 1st Street and turn south. Continue for one mile. Turn right (west) onto Temple Canyon Road (CR 3) and continue for 1.9 miles. (If you start going downhill on Temple Canyon Road, you’ve gone too far.) Park head-in at the small dirt parking area on the right (north) side of the road. Access trails through the fence opening on the opposite side of Temple Canyon Road.
There’s so much to see and explore in the Royal Gorge Region. For more information, visit royalgorgeregion.com.
3. Challenging Trails
Dakota Ridge, Hogbacks Open Space
This trail is for the advanced mountain biker, hiker, and trail runner. The trail runs along the top of the Dakota Ridge crest and descends from the ridge on steep bedrock. The Dakota Ridge Hogback Formation is composed of layers of sediment and fossils preserved from an era millions of years ago when Colorado was covered by an inland sea.
Pro Tip: The base of the trails is clay, so conditions can be dangerous after rain or snow. Also, traffic will ruin the trails, so practice Leave No Trace policies by waiting for the trails to dry.
Getting There: From Main Street in Cañon City, head north on 5th Street for about 0.5 miles until you reach Floral Avenue. Take a left (west) uphill and through the Sowback formation. Parking will be on your left (south) side of the road. (*This is where Skyline Drive descends into town.)
Hard Time, South Cañon Trails
Hard Time, one of the trails that makes up the 10 miles of singletrack that also connect to Section 13, is a technical and difficult climb. The steep ascent and descent offers some amazing views in addition to challenging terrain.
Pro Tip: To ride a bike from downtown to the Eagle Wing Trailhead, just take a short jaunt on the Riverwalk and head up Colburn Lane.
Getting There: From downtown, turn right (south) onto 1st Street. Follow 1st Street to a Y in the road, where you will bear right (west) onto County Road 3. Travel about 1.0 mile and you will see the parking lot for Ecology Park on your right.
Island in the Sky, Oil Well Flats
Follow the Fire Canyon trail to begin at the lower section of Island in the Sky, riding clockwise. The Island in the Sky section begins in a tall pine tree grove and quickly ascends to an open meadow near the top of the ridge. The top of the ridge is rocky, but hikers and riders are rewarded with beautiful views of cliffsides, Cañon City, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance. The descent finishes when the Island in the Sky trail meets Fire Canyon trail again.
Pro Tip: If you’re hiking, you might choose to start in one of the two upper parking lots, instead of lower lots.
Getting There: From downtown, head east on Main Street or Highway 50. Turn left (north) onto 15th Street and continue for 0.9 miles. Turn right (east) on Central Avenue and continue for 1.0 miles. Turn left (north) onto Field Avenue and continue for 2.2 miles. Continue north at Y intersection with Red Canyon Road. Travel on Red Canyon Road for 3.7 miles. Turn right (east) on dirt road (first available right-hand turn after Red Canyon Road crosses to the east side of Fourmile Creek) and continue to parking lots.